| From "The Golden Age of Objectivity,"|
Illustrated in clean black-and-white (with baby blue accents) panels drawn by Josh Neufeld, The Influencing Machine is an engaging graphic novel detailing the ever-evolving ways in which information flows. The emphasis here is on information as "news," though concepts are applicable to broader arenas. Using balanced evidence, and an impartial voice, author (and NPR journalist) Gladstone deftly moves chronologically from ancient Guatemala to award-winning journalist Robert Wright, filling in gaps with a who's who of journalism including Dan Rather, Edward R. Murrow and Albert Camus.
Through examples from a variety of historic touchstones in which communication, or lack thereof, plays a role in impacting the American perception of events, Gladstone demonstrates how those in control of information's flow are capable of shaping the message in an effort to have it reflect there own best interests. The majority of scenarios shared by Gladstone are large scale efforts that are fairly common to anyone with even a superficial understanding of history, most notably (and perhaps obviously) the Vietnam and Iraq Wars. Gladstone reinforces the familiar with anecdotes from scientists (like those at the Max Planck Institute), journalists (George Seldes) and others that offer a variety of perspectives on the "machine."
|From "The Goldilocks Number," page 51.|
A thought came to me as I read: each year, educators at our school will suggest the offering of a media literacy course. Whether due to a lack of awareness of potential resources such as The Influencing Machine, or because there are secondary agendas at play, in application, these "courses" often become opportunities to inform on the evils of social networking. One of the things Gladstone and Neufeld do very well with their tome is illustrate (ugh!) the roles we has senders and receivers of information have in either objectively pursuing our own answers to questions or in questioning the answer we are given. If this doesn't get to the heart of media literacy, or rhetoric, than I'm unsure what does.
In an educational climate that promises to seek making high school students "college and career ready," you need look no further than the author's own reasoning as to why The Influencing Machine as suggested in an interview with NPR: "I wrote a 2,000-year history of the media and a manifesto as to why it is the way it is and what one needs to do to make it be the way we want it to be — all in panels, about 160 pages, 2,000 years and tons and tons and tons of end notes. And I think it's because it's so compressed. It's a useful book, because every chapter, rather than completing the discussion, is kind of a launch for discussion, because you really have to say things in very, very few words."
An accessible read recommended for news junkies, educators and those hoping to see the message both shaped and authentic.