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The hardware and software of Trumpism: A figure/ground analysis

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This article probes into Trumpism using McLuhan’s idea of figure/ground analysis. To make visible the hidden ground behind a salient figure (or figures), the dichotomy of instrumental and environmental approaches to media effects is introduced. The widely used instrumental approach is rooted in the long-standing Lasswellian tradition of communication studies (‘who says what, in which channel, to whom, with what effect?’). The instrumental explanations of Trumpism are unavoidably reductionist, as they focus on figures and, therefore, overemphasize rationality and agency in media use. On the contrary, the environmental approach focuses on hidden ground and explores what environmental forces originate from new media’s proliferation and how these forces reshape habitat and inhabitants. To apply this view, the article examines the environmental factors within the news industry and social media that are favourable to Trumpism: the commodification of Trump by the media, the morphological conflict between broadcasting and engaging modes of agenda-setting, the built-in polarization of social media and others.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 0000000419369430York University

Publication date: March 1, 2020

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  • EME explores the relationships between media, technology, symbolic form, communication, consciousness, and culture. Its scope is interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. Media ecology provides a rich philosophical, historical and practical context for studying our increasingly technological and mediated society and culture with an emphasis on historical context.
    Media ecology scholarship emphasizes a humanistic approach to understanding media, communication, and technology, with special emphasis on the ways in which we have been and continue to be shaped and influenced by our inventions and innovation. The Media ecology approach is predicated on understanding that media, symbols, and technologies play a leading role in human affairs, and function as largely invisible environments affecting the way we think, feel, act, and organize ourselves collectively.
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