Martin Luther and trump: a
look into ‘new media’ and how it has effected politics.

 

New media and as an
agent of change (intro):

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Looking back at history can often help us better
understand the events of the present and perhaps even help us better predict what’s
to come. One interesting thing is the role that the “new media” of the time
plays into the political and cultural shaping of our society.  

In 2016 America shocked the world and elected Donald
Trump as the 45th president of the united states. With the media
outlets predicting otherwise it would seem that his popularity came out of the blue,
however it can be argued that his win would have been easier to predict had
forecasters paid more attention to the activity on social media.

The arrival of the internet and social media has dramatically changed the
political climate all around the western world. Trump is one of a few examples
of populist characters gaining power and threatening the already established
powers. Others include figures like Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and groups
like British First and Black Lives Matter have all gained a lot of influence
through the use of the internet and social media.

 

While this use of a ‘new media’ may seem radical and new it is however
easily to draw parallels from the story of Donald trumps use of social media to
rise to power to that of Martin Luther’s use of the printing press during the protestant
reformation. In this essay I will draw upon these similarities.  I will firstly do this by briefly looking at
how social media is being used in politics and how it was used during trumps presidential
campaign I will then be taking a look at how the printing press was used in the
protestant reformation and how this technology changed the world.

 

 

Trump; social media and fake news:

Social media revolutionized
the way in which politicians are expected to engage with the public. The public
is now about to have a direct interaction with politicians while sitting in their
own home. People are now basically connected to the world 24/7 and are able to
share their views and ideas with each other whenever they want. In politics
many populist anti establishment figures have gained a lot of influence online,
people no longer trust traditional forms of media but instead get their news
online. This is mainly due to the fact that the social media streem is live and
unadulterated, so a lot of the time its on social media before its in the papers
or on tv. However, this trust in social media can backfire from videos taken
out of context a lot of what appears news online can be misleading to its audience
and isn’t necessarily even factual at all. One of the biggest talking points after
the election was the “fake news” scandal. Many mainstream news networks and
news pappers blamed the results of the election on the public being manipulated
my fake news that favored Donald Trump, many of them also called for facebook,
twitter and other social media sites to block specific fake news websites.
However many also felt that this was just the mainstream media lashing out
because they had lost the control they once had. What was different about these
independent online news websites manipulating people to the mainstream media
doing it? Donald Trumps also spoke to the growing number of disgruntled right
leaning people online. One reason why Donald Trumps win may have been so
shocking to people is the fact that the right leaning voices online were often
not noticed online influencers like blogger Milo Yiannopoulos or YouTubers like
Sargon of Akon gained a lot of support during the run up to the election. Donald
Trump was also very good at connecting with his supporters on twitter, while Hillary
had  

 

 

The printing press and the protestant reformation:

In 1440 German goldsmith
Johannes Gutenberg introduced the printing press to the western Europe. Gutenberg’s
printing press took ideas from the medieval paper press as well as other existing
technologies such as the wine press to invent the printing press. He also used
his expertise with metal to create a hand mould that allowed for large
quantities of precise led movable type to be produce quickly. Until now movable
type had been unheard of in Europe. The invention of these moulds combined with
his printing press made it possible for the quick and mass production of identical
texts. This drastically reduced the the price of printing books and other documents
making them more accessible to the masses. By the 16th-century there were printing
presses operating throughout all of western Europe and over twelve million volumes
had been produced. The introduction of movable type printers created a new age
of mass communication, drastically changing the cultural and political
landscape of renaissance Europe. This fairly unrestricted sharing of
information allowed for the circulation of (radical) doctrine and ideas that threatened
the influence and power or religious and political authorities. The sudden rise
in literacy made the middle class stronger while also shattering the monopoly
the literate elite once had on education and learning.

 

The protestant
reformation of the 16th-centry was a cultural, political and spiritual upheaval
that divided catholic Europe. Before Christian Europe believed in the papal
authority over all things spiritual which gave the catholic church immense
power, land and wealth. The church owned over one third of all the land in
Europe making it the most powerful, economic and political force in the
continent.  Martin Luther, a monk and
university professor, noticed the corruption and greed of the catholic church
so in 1517 he composed his “95 theses” and. A document that specifically
attacked the sale of indulgences, this was done through exchanging a
certificate pardoning you from your sins for money. Written in Latin Luther
originally intended for this document to be used only in scholarly debate, how
ever his ideas were quickly translated and spread around Germany. “it’s a
mystery to me how my these, more than my other writings, indeed, those of other
professors were spread to so many places. They were meant exclusively for out
academic circle here…They were written in such a language that the common
people could hardly understand them they use academic categories…”  (Luther, 1518). The 95 theses kicked off the
event of the reformation and overtime Luther’s ideas became more and more
radicle. Going from him wanting reform from within the church to him denouncing
the church and outright calling the pope the antichrist. Reformers called for a
religious and political redistribution of power from the papal church into the
hands of Bible and pamphlet-reading pastors and princes. The disruption
triggered wars, persecutions and the so-called Counter-Reformation, the
Catholic Church’s delayed but forceful response to the Protestants.

 

Martin Luther was not the first to challenge
the authority of the catholic church. In fact, in the previous century both The
Cathars and Jan Hus of Prague had both challenged the church and both been
crushed by its power. When the threat of Luther became apparent to the church
the pop waged war on him excommunicating and declaring him a heretic. However,
unlike his predecessors the church was not able to suppress the spread of Luther’s
writings and his growing support. This was due to the help of the printing
press. him and Many there had Speaking on the importance of Gutenberg’s
printing press in the protestant reformation Dickens states that without it
“a revolution of this magnitude could scarcely have been consummated”
(Dickens, 1966). This quote emphasizes the role played by the printing press in
driving the reformation. It not only suggests that it was a tool used by the
reformation but also draws focus to the idea that without it a movement that
radical and as widespread would not have been possible.  This sentiment is also seen is more contemporary
texts, Luther himself described printing as “God’s highest and extremest
act of grace, whereby the business of the gospel is driven forward” he
also regarded it as “the last flame before the extinction of the
world”. This quote also almost puts the printing press on the same
pedestal that one would put the bible or any other religious texts, the fact
that it is a man made invention is undermined and instead it is spoken about as
if its conception was a result of direct divine intervention.  Here the printing press is seen as a tool
that’s only purpose* is to spread the word of god. The high regard in which the
technology was held at is further seen in Gabriel Plattes’s Famous Kingdome of
Macaria “the art of printing will so spread knowledge, that the common people,
knowing their own rights and liberties will not be governed byway of oppression”
(Plattes, 1641). Although from fiction this extract gives us insight into the epicenes
of the printing press. Long after the reformation prodistants would still look
back on this time of enlightenment rather than look forward when trying to
overcome a tiJohn foxe heralded “the excellent arte of printings most
happily of the late found out…to the singular benefit of christe’s church”
he was thinking about the restoration of “the lost light of knowledge to
the blynde times” and “the reneuing of holesome and auncient writers
whos doinges and teachings otherwise had lyen in oblivion” this shows that
even after Protestantism had been established the importance of the printing
press had not been forgotten, and its almost divine status in which it was
regarded still visible. We can see that the arrival of the priting press was
truly revolutionary at the time

           

New Media:

The internet and social media is often referred to as being ‘interactive’
because of this much of the media that came before is automatically assumed to
be ridged and fixed (Manovich, 2001). Because of this when comparing social
media to the printing press it can be hard to see the similarities in how these
two technologies impacted the world upon their arrival however it can be argued
that, to 15th-century Europe, the printing press is as interactive as social
media is to us. Manovich argues that using the phrase ‘interactive’ to describe
the new media is pointless because he finds “the concept to be too broad to be
truly

useful.” By this he means that

 

“When we use the concept
of “interactive media” exclusively in relation to computer based media,
there is the danger that we will interpret “interaction” literally,
equating it with physical interaction between a user and a media object
(pressing a button, choosing a link, moving the body), at the expense of
psychological interaction.” (Manovich, 2001)

 

Here Manovich raises an
interesting point, when talking about the interactivity of new media we are
often talking about the direct and physical interacting the audience has with
that media (in the case of social media this would be liking a tweet or
following a user), however this undermines the psychological interactivity you
would have with older media. With the printing press making books and
literature or readily available to the ordinary person, the bible was available
to more people in their own language. This allowed for them to be included in spiritual
and theoretical discussion, wider group of people were able to actually engage
in the bible and have more control over their spirituality rather than only
ever engaging with the church through their priests and the clergy. The printing
presses hand in the rise in educated, literate people is just another example
of how it can be seen as interactive.

 

To conclude this essay we should consider how these two technologies
are similar, both drastically changed the way in which we communicate, both
making the world seem smaller through a unrestricted circulation of information
and (revolutionary) ideas that transcend borders. But what’s most similar about
these is the way in which they were used to gain power, influence through challenging
the establishment. Both Martin Luther and trump took advantages of these
technologies ability to directly send their views to masses of people to gain
their support. In answering the question of what we can learn from studying the
history of media communications is that with a new form of media what often
comes is a dramatic shift in power, influence and politics. When looking back
at the printing press questions arise on the “newness” of media. We see that many
of the phrases used to describe new media such as “interactive” or it “makes
the world more connected” were also once used to describe its predecessor.
While trump trumps election may not be as radical as the protestant reformation
was, he may just be the tip of the iceberg. Social media has allowed many
groups good or bad to continue to grow in global support and influence with the
authorities having little to no control over it. Maybe a movement as radical
and as powerful as the protestant reformation is yet to come?   

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