Larry Gaudet's Media TherapyGutter Press, Hardcover, 276 pages, $24.95
Reviewed by Hal Niedzviecki
"Just as we are now trying to control atom bomb fallout," warned aphoristic electronic sage Marshall McLuhan in the Sixties, "so we will one day try to control media fallout." In Media Therapy, former corporate speech writer turned novelist Larry Gaudet imagines a world that makes good on McLuhan's prediction. He crafts a future of fragmented illusions where corporate cyber-shoguns, lonely "prophets of convergence", implant us with pre-fab yearnings and are ultimately destroyed by the crisis in meaning they helped to create.
For Gaudet, much as it was for McLuhan, we are in the process of shifting away from commodity, away from the body, and toward intangible slip-streams of information: on-line religion, virtual sex, hidden corporate fiefdoms. Adrift on a swirl of conflicting media currents, our personalities blur, our minds think in sound bites of "scriptwriter delirium" (in which our lives become "meaningful patterns of inter-connected cinematic events akin to a movie plot"), and we teeter on the cliff of a total propaganda breakdown.
Clearly, we need media therapy, a way to wash our minds clean of mental pollution, and rediscover who we truly are. In other words, we clear out the myriad conflicting headlines, plot points and jingles and replace that artificial media world with a holistic sense of self. Does Gaudet think such therapy is likely to replace conventional treatments for an ever expanding roster of mental pathologies ranging from panic to depression? In a word, no; as it turns out, media therapy is a scam, and those who get sucked into it come off as uselessly new age. Crows one convert: "We have to identify the movies on our mental shelving, and sort out how they got there, and which ones we should keep and which ones we should let go." Typical of the sarcastic, callous world this novel portrays, media therapy is nothing but a data collecting diversion that will ultimately be offered en mass to the public via the contrivances of credit cards and the world wide web.
Which isn't to say that media diseases like "scriptwriter delirium" and "main character grandiosity" aren't real problems, both today and in Gaudet's future. A proliferation of "vanity" websites, book publishers and pseudo-documentaries suggests that more and more of us are manufacturing narratives in which we are our own hero. We are also hiring a growing multitude of ghost writers, public relations hacks, publicists and marketing gurus to assist us in getting our narrative out into the public. Despite this, we feel cheated, less real than ever.
Our predicament is similar to the one that Gaudet's anti-hero, corporate maverick bloodsucker Paul Devorer, find himself in. After a life of playing cyber-god, he desperately tries to return meaning to his existence by scripting a life in which he really is god. Paul's story, the central but by no means sole narrative in this spiralling book, is told to us through the narration of Nick, former corporate propagandist hired by Paul to facilitate the conversion of his memories into an epic worthy of a deity. But, alas, Paul's memoir is flawed from the beginning. Fraught with media cancers it is nothing more than a "corrupt act of personality exploration" in which he insists on erroneously abridging his life to appear as a "story of unique merit held together with compelling themes."
Paul dies before the text can be completed -- victim of a literal corporate "take over" of his island protectorate -- and the narrator, attempting to cleanse himself of too many years as a company flack, decides to tell "a version of the truth" he can live with, a less celebratory tale of Devorer and media therapy. So it's really Nick's story of Paul as told in overlapping fragments fraught with sprawling asides and CanLit jibes (in a cleansing exercise, Paul returns to his native PEI to fish lobster) that makes up this dizzy novel.
Alas, Media Therapy attempts too much - it is at once a bitter satire of corporate life, a work of media criticism, a veiled autobiography and a paranoid sci-fi classic. Nonetheless, those willing to brave Gaudet's cruel Canada of robot-sharks, terrorist tax haven sects, and erection holistics will be rewarded. What Media Therapy lacks in coherence, Gaudet more than makes up for with detailed insights that salvage even his most extreme tangents. This is a prescient portrait of a dystopic Canada where we have lost the ability, indeed the right, to reconcile our everyday lives with the disembodied fantasies we can buy but never attain. Heir to McLuhan, ultimately Gaudet is writing not about the future, but about a present day media fallout from which, as of yet, we have no protection.
Gaudet entry in Author Listings
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