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Sounds blare and pictures flash frantically across the screen. This may seem to be an accurate description of every commercial aired on TV, but such commercials are actually symptomatic of a much more important cultural shift. Arthur Hunt argues that there is a conceptual transformation taking place today, as we move from an emphasis on the "word" to the predominance of the "image."
Hunt focuses on the contrast between a Judeo-Christian heritage, characteristically word-dependent-and paganism, typically image-dependent. As people trust experience and visual representations to interpret their surroundings, they focus less on content and more on sensory appeal. Hunt argues that movements like the Protestant Reformation, Puritanism, and the beginnings of the American nation were all created and sustained in an environment that transmitted its ideas through words, while historical shifts to emphasize image have occurred during periods like the Dark Ages. As the word, both written and spoken, is devalued, there is a renewed descent into paganism.
A wide range of issues-education, politics, entertainment, postmodernism-are brought together in an incisive, illuminating way. This book examines trends in today's culture and churches that lead away from a word-centered world and into an image-soaked world ripe for propaganda and a demagogue.
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Arthur W. Hunt III is associate professor of communications at The University of Tennessee at Martin. His writings have been featured in Touchstone, Modern Age, The Christian Research Journal, and Explorations in Media Ecology: The Journal of the Media Ecology Association. He is the author of Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Manmade Environments (Pickwick Publishers) and serves on the editorial board of Second Nature, an online journal for critical thinking about technology and new media in light of the Christian tradition.Review:
Because the cultural back alleys my writing sometimes takes me into, I have to read a lot of books on Christian engagement with culture. That said, The Vanishing Word is one of the best on this subject I have ever read--it is memorable, prescient, pithy, courageous, wise, and . . . in the hope this word is still legal, right. --Douglas Wilson, Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho
Reminiscent of Jacques Ellul's Humiliation of the Word, Hunt provides an excellent exploration of the dangers of image media displacing word media. He offers extensive contemporary application, in terms of postmodern sensibilities, to Ellul's assertion in Propaganda that 'people manipulated by propaganda become increasingly impervious to spiritual realities.' He puts a sharp point on this in his penultimate chapter, 'Formula for a Führer,' revealing his media ecology credentials, by demonstrating that communication media are never neutral. --Gregory Edward Reynolds, pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, NH, author of The Word Is Worth a Thousand Pictures: Preaching in the Electronic Age, and editor of Ordained Servant: A Journal for Church Officers
This sane, sobering, and penetrating book explains how technologies of communication shape the minds and lives of us all. Professor Hunt is a student of rhetoric and the history of ideas who brings a critical eye to what most people take for granted today: the dominance of images in our postmodern world. His scholarly expertise combined with his theological acumen makes for an arresting read. --Doug Groothuis, Denver Seminary
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