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Rebecca Nash writes:

Some anthropologists of religion work with people who seek unmediated contact with their gods. Their ethnographies contrast the experience of word as text (scriptural religions) with the immediate word (through a prophet or visions). Christian apostolics have told one anthropologist, ‘We don’t use the Bible, we receive the Holy Spirit, live and direct’.

Live and direct. Curiously this is the same claim that television news makes every day in the era of cheap satellite links and rolling news, but usually the live connection is to a reporter or an expert giving their mediated view of events, with technology – and graphics – providing a patina of immediacy.

And certainly, during the Obama campaign, there was plenty of mediated coverage, through more channels than ever before.  It became too easy, too occupying during the campaign to catch up on events by logging on to YouTube, skimming political blogs, monitoring poll data, reading coverage in magazines and newspapers. All of these channels were harnessed skillfully by Obama – his messages seemed to be everywhere. Alongside this, the media itself played a filtering role, interpreting messages, constructing meaning, and shaping opinion.

But every trend has its counter-trend. The more that’s recorded and interpreted, the more that people want to experience the live event for themselves, without interpretation. I think this desire for an unmediated experience explains in part the huge crowds at the ritual of Tuesday’s inaugural ceremony in Washington, DC.

I left work early myself to see the ceremony ‘live and direct’ (granted, on TV from my couch in London). As an American living in London I knew I wouldn’t have the self-control to watch it later, when the analysis and the commentary would have kicked in. But it was the kind of event where update and analysis were beside the point – the shared live experience, the immediate Word, not the text, was what mattered most.

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