The Message of the Medium

"The whole world is watching!" protesters can be heard chanting in the final sequence of Medium Cool as filmmaker Haskell Wexler self-reflexively turns the camera toward his audience. The whole world, or at least much of the television-viewing public in America, was watching the violent riots that occurred outside the 1968 convention in Chicago; thus the moment became a potent symbol of a decade marked by division. The turbulent week, in which reporters and cameramen were beaten alongside political demonstrators, reveals the extent to which the media's presence shapes events even as they unfold. The Democratic National Convention and the demonstrations outside were both pseudo-events—premeditated media spectacles planned for the purpose of being recorded and reported. This can be seen in the glut of promotional materials that preceded the August convention and protests, in the abundance of cameras and journalists present inside and outside the International Amphitheater, and in the nature of the events' pre-coverage; widely publicized predictions of violence became self-fulfilling prophesies. Wexler's film, because it was written well before the Chicago riots, itself is a document of the pseudo-event's self-fulfilling nature; its existence shows the degree of accuracy with which the forecasted convention violence was accomplished. Moreover, Wexler underscores the predetermined and theatrical quality of the pseudo-event by incorporating scenes of real footage like that of the National Guard riot dress rehearsal, which almost perfectly foreshadows later events. By using documentary footage of a significant historical moment to expose the media's role in perpetuating the pseudo-event, Wexler implicates the camera and the viewer; he asserts that reality has consequences that witnesses are responsible to acknowledge. Medium Cool argues that the camera can be used as a powerful weapon to influence society; the film illustrates and indicts the theatricality of American reality in an age increasingly mediated by television.