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Media Virus! Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture Paperback – February 6, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

Have you ever noticed that the word "media" refers both to the tool for disseminating information in human societies as well as the substrate upon which geneticists grow bacteria and viruses? Rushkoff has written one of the more provocative and insightful analyses of the paths of conceptual infection in human media, and about the techniques and goals of those who spread media viruses. This fun, hip, yet insightful book is well worth buying.

From Publishers Weekly

This provocative title suggests the author will follow the familiar route of explaining how popular culture manipulates its audience into complacency. On the contrary, Rushkoff (The GenX Reader) asserts that media "viruses" empower audiences both to become more actively engaged with the media and to challenge the status quo. Viruses, e.g., rap song "Cop Killer" and the videotape of the Rodney King beating, are controversial, compelling images or ideas that allow countercultural politics to infiltrate mainstream media. The hidden agendas Rushkoff explores here are thus subversive ones. His readings of various media outlets, such as TV shows like The Simpsons and Ren and Stimpy, as launchpads for antiestablishment messages about alternative lifestyles, are smart and interesting. But his conclusions about the revolutionary potential of media viruses are not always substantiated by his analyses, and his use of techno-jargon makes his arguments often difficult to follow. Author tour.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345397746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345397744
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,341,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Winner of the first Neil Postman award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity, Douglas Rushkoff is an author, teacher, and documentarian who focuses on the ways people, cultures, and institutions create, share, and influence each other's values. He sees "media" as the landscape where this interaction takes place, and "literacy" as the ability to participate consciously in it.

His ten best-selling books on new media and popular culture have been translated to over thirty languages. They include Cyberia, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Nothing Sacred: The Truth about Judaism, and Coercion, winner of the Marshall Mcluhan Award for best media book. Rushkoff also wrote the acclaimed novels Ecstasy Club and Exit Strategy and graphic novel, Club Zero-G. He has just finished a book for HarperBusiness, applying renaissance principles to today's complex economic landscape, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out. He's now writing a monthly comic book for Vertigo called Testament.

He has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries - The Merchants of Cool looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture, and The Persuaders, about the cluttered landscape of marketing, and new efforts to overcome consumer resistance.

Rushkoff's commentaries air on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR's All Things Considered, and have appeared in publications from The New York Times to Time magazine. He wrote the first syndicated column on cyberculture for The New York Times and Guardian of London, as well as a column on wireless for The Feature and a new column for the music and culture magazine, Arthur.

Rushkoff founded the Narrative Lab at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and lectures about media, art, society, and change at conferences and universities around the world.

He is Advisor to the United Nations Commission on World Culture, on the Board of Directors of the Media Ecology Association, The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, and as a founding member of Technorealism. He has been awarded Senior Fellowships by the Markle Foundation and the Center for Global Communications Fellow of the International University of Japan.

He regularly appears on TV shows from NBC Nightly News to Larry King and Bill Maher. He is writing a new monthly comic book for Vertigo, and developed the Electronic Oracle software series for HarperCollins Interactive.

Rushkoff is on the board of several new media non-profits and companies, and regularly consults on new media arts and ethics to museums, governments, synagogues, churches, and universities, as well as Sony, TCI, advertising agencies, and other Fortune 500 companies.

Rushkoff graduated magna cum laude from Princeton University, received an MFA in Directing from California Institute of the Arts, a post-graduate fellowship (MFA) from The American Film Institute, and a Director's Grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He has worked as a certified stage fight choreographer, and as keyboardist for the industrial band PsychicTV.

He lives in Park Slope Brooklyn with his wife, Barbara, and daughter Mamie.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Alex Burns ( on April 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Since its release in 1994, 'Media Virus' has become Douglas Rushkoff's most influential and most popular book.
Rushkoff skillfully dissects such 'memes' as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Rodney King beating tape, and the pervasive influence of MTV editing. He finds Queer sexuality in 'Ren & Stimpy', social agendas with John Morgenthaler's 'Smart Drugs' campaign, and closes the book with an insightful and rare interview with the influential musician, raver, and performance artist Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Pigface, Thee Majesty).
Much of what Rushkoff has written has become de facto teaching within university media courses, and Rushkoff's insights have been clarified and commented upon by many other social theorists and cyberpunks. This is a valuable book because its accessible easy to read style makes it a good introduction to a field that many find foreboding, difficult or complex. Rushkoff is careful to include case-studies and examples such as detailed semiotic analysis of 'The Simpsons', and to provide the relevant historical and industry contexts. The book's influence can be seen by the prevalence of Madison Avenue techniques subsequent to the book's publication, and the popularity of mutant media.
Well worth checking out!
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Eric H. Roth on January 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
While some academics still worry about people watching television, Douglass Rushkoff celebrates the power of individuals to create their own media presence in "Media Virus."
In a witty style, Rushkoff praises the MTV generation for their ability to do - and understand - more than one thing at a time. Written in 1994, the book's seems a bit dated in its predictions... and more than slightly optimistic in speculating about the liberating aspects of new media to resurrect the political passions of Americans. Media Virus remains an excellent overview of the tensions and possibilities that television presents for political activists.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "socrates_eight" on November 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
The information in this book, while it was written, was used primarily by artists. The whole concept of a media virus is basically twofold. 1)To make a subversive or controversial message (meme) seam innocent, harmless, or impotent. 2) To make that same message propagate itself through some means, including that very same controversy that you originally try to hide. Intrusion and propagation. Injection and infection. Just like a real virus, or a computer virus, only a media virus is a mind virus, a mental image, sound, slogan, event, or whatever, that gets into your head, stays there, and spreads itself by means of your mouth and vocal chords.
The book was meant to be, I believe, a mental exercise of awareness. It's tone and content seam more reminiscant of a late night cafine and marijuan-induced intellectual discourse than a research book. However, that doesn't mean that whats in the book won't teach you anything. Far from it. Some people in the advertising industry thinks of the concepts in this book as the next step in the evolution of marketing. Now that I've read the book, I can see lots of "media-virus" tactics used in advertising, from the simple, (the energiser bunny, floating from commercial to commercial), to the more complex and subversive (Calvin Klien's psuedo-kiddy porn jean commercials which got banned).
A media virus is, to put it simply, the most effective way available to those in the media to get a message from thier mind into the minds and conversations of the average viewer. If you've ever talked about a commercial before you've seen it, because somebody mentioned it, you're probably talking about a media virus.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 1997
Format: Hardcover
_Media Virus! Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture_ by Douglas Rushkoff is about the manipulative influence
of the media on our lives. Rushkoff asserts that influences from the media replicate through popular culture the way that biological viruses do, and further, can be engineered for maximum efficacy.

Examining television programs such as "Ren and Stimpy," which
he believes promotes homosexuality, to media events
such as the O.J. Simpson trial, which he believes is indicative of society's inability to cope with spousal abuse and interracial marriage, Rushkoff
points out that much of what we watch on television consists of pointed messages carefully encapsulated in seemingly innocuous carriers. Rushkoff also points out that media viruses can be injected into popular culture from the bottom up through the use of the
alternative media and the Internet.

Interesting and provocative, this book, itself a media virus,
shows us how easily we as a culture can be manipulated.
However, there were times in the book that I thought Rushkoff was giving more credit than was due in attributing certain effects to their creators. This book is highly recommended for those with an interest in the psychology of the media and how people can be influenced by it.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By chulas_friend on September 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book has some interesting analysis of television programming and political campaigns but fails with attempts to compare pop culture and chaos theory. In this regard the author misunderstands fractals and confuses feedback (the cycling of an output back into its original source) with ordinary propagation (the progress of an output to successive new points). Since the chaos "virus," to use the author's terms, pervades the book, this is a serious flaw in my opinion.
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