Form and Content: The Disappearance of Ideology

In my last post on Murdoch, I made the following observation: that for Murdoch, “Communication is not to convey a point of view; rather, it is to express a commercially viable aesthetic heart”. I later concluded “you are free to be as you like – impulsive, mad, bad, hysterical – but you must never believe in anything you become; it was always intended as a pleasure with no destiny, a commodified response to support your chosen screen.”

In researching the Murdoch post, I found myself watching a lot of Fox News and was fascinated by, among others, Sean Hennity.

What is striking in Hennity’s work, and in fact in much of what goes on in the most extreme performers of the Fox network, is that ‘content’ is not the point, but rather that ‘the form’ is the whole point. ‘Content’ is simply one component playing a part in the production of a wider, more complex, aesthetic agenda. The role of ‘content’ in the above perhaps is to completely disappear in the wake of a more confused aesthetic/sensual form.

By ‘content’ here, we mostly mean the point being made; that represented by rational and considered argument or a logical exposition, a desire to get to the heart of some matter or to give a well supported opinion on some matter. It concerns a ‘point of view’ and ‘the truth’. In the above, the Muslim cleric has a point of view; Hennity simulates a point of view.

‘Form’, on the other hand, though it may be part of and work towards the content, is a more elaborate communicant and has become more apparent in the wake of more complicated new media. Beyond text and the printed page – which were ideal for communicating ‘content’ – we now have sound and image; our nervous system responds to body language, vocal intonation and the juxtaposition of colours and images, emotions, ideas and sounds etc. It responds even to the friction between ideas or in the lack of respect for ideas. In ‘form’, what we have is an aesthetic totality of which ‘content’ is only one variable of the more complex whole. As McLuhan said, ‘the medium is the message’, and today, with the likes of Murdoch or Hennity, it is the medium that is being managed for the sake of something beyond content and more elaborately experienced. ‘The experience’ itself is perhaps what is here being managed. Art today may be about ‘the arrangement of complicated, immersive experience’.

In the Murdoch post, I held the view that ideology becomes meaningless and that any adherence to an opinion or critique that claims to negate the system can, in effect, only participate in the system. To fully accept this view, it must be accepted that our being immersed in aesthetic form has become the dominant factor in our desire; we desire a full, involved ‘experience’, our desires are reducible to experience and the market may sell us these experiences. Ideology then becomes a part of experiential form. In extending the technological handles of every aspect of our nervous system into the world, the market has been able to begin managing every aspect of our experience. Moreover, we have come to want more complete and total experiences. As McLuhan states:

“Anything that is approached in depth acquires as much interest as the greatest matters. Because ‘depth’ means ‘in inter-relation’, not in isolation. Depth means ‘insight’, not point of view; and insight is a kind of mental involvement in process that makes the content of the item seem quite secondary.” (McLuhan, Understanding Media,p. 379)

An Example: Richey Edwards, Content and Performance

The negative or critical statement betrays a disjunct between the person uttering it and the thing it critiques – a negative critique is an alienated critique and it supposes things could be other than they are. This disjunct is the essence of ideological content and reveals an alienated man. In the world of complex aesthetic form however, the negative critique no longer has this relatively simple role, but rather enmeshes itself with a more complete aesthetic/emotional aspect. Ideological critique implodes into an overall aesthetic performative form, in part for others and in part for oneself. Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers marks a superb example of this phenomenon – alienation, glamour, ideological self-abuse, narcissism intellectualism as a violent posture – famously carving his own authenticity into his forearm was as much a performance as an ideological attitude or assertion of meaning.

For Edwards, a band was perhaps the first Virtual World or social network profile – a place to perform an identity, produce onself as a social sign, to signify iconically rather than be, mundanely. Social meaningfulness has shifted from the neighbourhood or community to the screen or stage and it has done so in part through our involvement with commodity. The screenwriter Dennis Potter once observed that adverts had gone beyond selling the product and begun to sell something else: “Capitalism now is about selling all of you to all of you, but they don’t know what it is they’re selling. […] One day, we’re going to find out what it is.” What it was perhaps was the transcendental magic of existing ourselves as a complex and affecting vital pattern; the fetishistic manner through which products or mental attitudes and postures can help invest us as such a pattern. In any case, this sense of performing self is now bound up with the meaning of any ‘content’. Any expression of content means to involve yourself with performance and the sign. It is thus, perhaps, that we can no longer take ourselves or others too seriously when we present ourselves through the world of ideological or critical postures.


  1. With the increasing sensual complexity of new media, it becomes obvious that there is more to its message than just its content. The output of a given medium therefore may be broken into content and form, ‘content’appealing to reason and making up its argument or point, and ‘form’ being the textural, aesthetic structure on which this point appears. ‘Form’ is not rational, but made up of patterns, emotional juxtapositions, synaesthesic sensual blending etc.
  2. The extension of the handles of human sensation into the world allows for the technological production and management of experiences. As such, ‘content’ is reduced to overall experience, collapsing as it does into ‘form’ for the sake of that experience. Form becomes the message and form is an experiential collage which makes use of reason as much as unreason. ‘Experience’ is a complex sensual pattern made up of form and content. As such, content, ideology, point of view pale in their significance.
  3. Life’s mystery therefore becomes the subject of artistic manipulation or economic exploitation. Ideology, poetry, evil, negativity, alienation, love, romance all fall into the world of experience and the production of experience. Moreover, the individual themselves begins to carry themself as such an expression of experiential form. One may adopt the postures and gestures of s rockstar to portray the aloof, cold hedonism of the rockstar. Likewise, Lynx deodorant contains animal pulling power.
  4. This collapse of content, ideology, point of view into the textural form is neurotic/schizophrenic in the extreme – it is so because content as a performative form undermines content itself. It may even warrant a break from content altogether. It is thus we can conclude: “you are free to be as you like – impulsive, mad, bad, hysterical – but you must never believe in anything you become”.
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