A Three-Part Theory Of Media: When It Goes Wrong

Last Column I explored my latest media theory – that all media we create can have three parts do it:

  • Evocative: Emotions and thoughts that it induces.
  • Directional: The direction it provides, the guidance, the inspiration.
  • Informational: The information it imparts.

Different forms of media focus on the three elements differently and do them differently. A good bit of short Kindle erotica is probably not heavy on the Informational or the Directional – it’s Evocative. A humorous historical speech focuses on the Evocative and Informational in right combinations.  Good media has the right elements to it, in the right combinations, and will differ markedly from other forms.

A good creator knows how do handle the individual elements, how they interact, and how to do them right.

Now beyond giving us yet another way to analyze media before I come up with another theory, I think this three part model also provides a useful tool to understand pathological relations we can form with media. It’s a way to understand why people can take media wrong, are deceived, or get the wrong messages.

Perhaps a bit of a dark message, but media is like anything else we put into ourselves – drugs, ideas, concepts, religion, etc.  We might as well be aware of how it can go wrong so we can be responsible about our intake of media.  Much like other things, I prefer we learn how to be responsible, not have someone do it for us.

So let’s dive into how this model can be used to diagnose when media goes wrong – or does wrong – or when people do.

Media Can Deceive

Deceiving people via media sounds easy – you lie to them. But really a good lie can be evaluated in the three part model.

First, the lie evokes emotions, perhaps terror or the desire for something.  This helps people get motivated (to do or believe the wrong thing).

Secondly, the lie promises a direction – the way to Fight The Enemy or to Get The Thing.  The Evocative element makes people buy into this Direction.

Thirdly the lie provides information – in the form of misinformation to solidify the deception.

Think of really, really good lies, good propaganda. It’s an emotionally charged little internal universe that seem pretty consistent once you’re inside of it. It pushes all the right buttons, it seems right.  Deceptive media uses all three elements against people.

Of course, if you’re on the lookout for deceptive media, and you notice, say, some misinformation, that alerts you to look for the other elements (Evocative and Directional) to see just how you’re being lied too. Maybe someone made a mistake . . . maybe not.

Media Can Allow For Self-Deception

Decades earlier a friend, an intelligent fellow, referred to a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode as a model for implementing certain legal structures. I noted (rather surprised that I had to) that a fictional construct was not evidence the idea was good.  It was made up.  What would make someone make a declaration that something totally made up was a model to follow?

Actually I think we do it all the time.

We as humans are naturals at filling in the blanks and I think we expect our media to contain all of the three elements: Evocative, Directional, and Informational. If we don’t make concious choices (say, to enjoy a good crappy film or tolerate a boring guide), then our own minds may fill in what’s not there or assume something unreal is real.

Down deep we expect communication to be Evocative, Directional, and Informational.

I especially notice this when people treat simple entertaining media that rarely goes beyond the Evocative as being somehow true. To assume you learn about actual sex from Pornography or some enjoyable shoot-em-up game says something about the real world is to be deceived. The creators may not be trying to deceive you (they probably aren’t), but people fill in the blanks and deceive themselves.

I think a good pice of media is one that is itself and is thus hard for those using it to project onto. Ironically, I think this is why we may take bad media too seriously – the gaps in it are filled by us.

Evocation Addiction

Evocative-heavy media is something that can be addictive. We all love a good high of emotion and thought, and there’s plenty to provide that.  But Evocative-heavy media may not provide anything else – no information or direction. It can become a kind of mental sugar high, boosting us, but ultimately empty.

We may keep seeking emotional highs by consuming more media.  Yet, we keep getting nothing, and keep looking.

We might even assume we’re getting somehing out of value as its’ such a thrill, or it “makes us think” – only to realize were the same we were before.  Much as noted above, we can project onto our media – and a good Evocative high probably make it even easier to project.

Occupy Mind Street

I am a person who loves worldbuilding and settings, obscure facts and trivia. I love to know stuff – in short, I love the Informational part of most any work of fiction or nonfiction.  I will read notes and guides to fictional worlds quite happily.

But there is limited value in this for many of us.  The Informational aspects of fictional worlds is relevant to those worlds, but not necessarily other aspects of life.  If you’ve ever dealt with people who are obsessed with fictional settings, you have to wonder “what’s the point?”  However if you’re the kind of person who gets a high from Information, this makes total sense.

For some of us, we might want to watch how deep we get into fictional Information.  The Three Part theory lets us identify something that we may dive far into – something with a highly developed Informational component.

Looking Back

Once you think of media as having three parts to it, it’s easy to see how it can be used for deception or self-deception, for distraction or confusion. But if we’re aware of how the Three Elements can cause us to develop (or encourage) unhealthy media habits, we can stop ourselves – or notice when someone is trying to take advantage of us.

That of course lets us develop healthy relations with media.

– Steven Savage