I wrote here about Neil Postman’s influential early 90s view that broadcast news was morphing to entertainment. And how that argument–insightful as it was–missed the notion of actual media bias, replete with intention about actual content, that came down hot and heavy soon after, and which has been a dominant meme ever since.
In some ways you can turn Postman’s view on its head. Postman, following Huxley, argued that news was turning into entertainment. But in the current era, the reverse can be true: entertainment is becoming the news.
Exhibit A: Take today’s Boston Globe SundayArts section–please!
Let’s take a look at today’s articles and see if we might find a pattern having to do with politicization.
There are three articles on the front page of the arts section. The most prominent, on the Tonys, is entitled “Rise Up”, with the sub-head “the struggles and victories of women made powerful statements on Broadway this year.” The article starts with a story about the Broadway production of “The Color Purple” as a lead in to the article.
The second article is by film critic Ty Burr. It is in SundayArts, it seems, because Burr is the Globe‘s film critic. But the article is not about film. Rather it is a story about Stanford rapist Brock Turner and what Burr calls the Bro Culture Bubble. Arguably, this is in the arts section since it deals with social media but it does not really qualify as criticism–or as media criticism at any rate.
The gist of the article is that social media bubbles are a problem because of the echo chamber effect. But not all echo chambers are the same. Burr starts with the appearance of fairmindedess, pointing out that women’s and men’s sites on the web often just yell at each other. But note how he handles the contrast:
But in 2016, (women and men) feed into separate bubbles of online social discourse, one parsing issues of consent and gender inequities and the other reflecting a neurotic, angry maleness that sees women as the enemy. Jezebel Nation vs. Bro Culture. The two yell at each other and their most extreme adherents aren’t very interested in listening, but what has happened this past week is instructive. The two statements, one agonized and the other tone-deaf, burst their respective bubbles and went viral. Everyone heard them. And just about everyone listened harder, and with more care, to the victim.
Women “parse issues of consent and gender inequities” while men show a “neurotic, angry maleness.” Yes, the two sides yell at each other but in the end, in the case of the Stanford rape “everyone listened harder, and with more care, to the victim.”
The third front page article is more measured but still has an edge. It is a profile of Ang Lee, who is this year’s honoree as “Filmmaker on the Edge” at the Provincetown Film Festival. While the article is indeed a profile of the director, complete with interview, what is interesting is how the enterprise is framed. The Provincetown Film Festival is self-consciously edgy. Past honorees have included edgy types like Gus Van Sant and Jim Jarmusch. Is Ang Lee edgy enough to make the cut? The verdict: yes he is. The article does not overly dwell on Brokeback Mountain or the gay-themed The Wedding Banquet but it certainly uses his socially conscious films to justify his being edge enough for Provincetown.
So let’s take a look at the articles inside.
A review of the films at the Provincetown Film Festival, gay-themed.
An article about two documentaries on Ali as a man who fought for racial justice.
Another article on documenataries focusing on gender equality and incarceration.
A review of Annie Proulx’s new book, a “magnificent saga of capitalist greed and the rapacious ravaging of our natural inheritance across four centuries.”
A review of a new “brutally feminist” novel that upends the conventional telling of the Manson murders and makes the his female followers their own agents in the goings-on.
A review of Susan Faludi’s new book in which “a gender expert faces a trans-parent dilemma.”
Will Hamilton Rout at this year’s Tonys? Christopher Wallenberg says it should win and will win–a juggernaut for a reason.
That’s mostly it. There are three other articles.
In one, critic Ed Symkus discusses the DePalma boomlet, mostly lauding his work while conceding many have found it “garish and voyeuristic”. Amazingly, he does not use the word “misogynistic.”
In another, Matthew Gilbert praises the work of the young Kiernan Shipka and Holly Taylor for their excellent work in Mad Men and The Americans. Amazingly, he refers to them as actresses and not actors.
In the last article, violinist Daniel Stepner reflects on 30 years of musical life in Boston. Amazingly, the article sticks to string quartets.
Basically: 10 articles with some significant measure of extra-artistic considerations in the direction of various social justice causes. 3 dealing with the art. In fairness, the “politicized” articles are not all equal. Only one–the mini-editorial about bro bubbles–is didactic by its nature. Others (such as the Ang Lee article) frame an issue in such a way as to foreground social themes. Others (the documentary reviews) take on a fairly clear social viewpoint in the process of criticism. Others (the book reviews) are interesting relative to the selection of material: all have a political or social edge with a certain alignment.
DISCLAIMER: I am not making fun of the causes and political issues that dominate discourse in the Globe. Some of the causes mentioned I am sympathetic with; others not so much.
I do feel to the need to note a certain lack of proportionality as well as a certain alignment.
Perhaps this is not even true . . . perhaps that is what arts readers expect and want in the Globe. If so, go for it. But it is hard to escape the impression that, contra Postman, it is less the case that news has become entertainment than it is that entertainment has become caught up in our peculiar political and cultural struggles.
Not only does entertainment play a big part in the culture war, and thus is newsworthy automatically in that regard, but social media does of course as well. I’ve noticed a certain kind of lazy journalism, both from traditional and new media types, wherein a certain ‘controversial’ thing happens / is said, and they go straight to ordinary nobodies on social media for reactions, sarcastic remarks, etc., ignoring even the usual academics, politicians, etc. which previously they would seek out for comment. It’s pathetic. No wonder they can’t sell papers or magazine subscriptions any more… If I cared what social media thought, I’d be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., not waiting to hear the same stuff hours / a day later at a news site.
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TV news used to have ‘vox pops’ ie brief interviews with supposedly random people on the streets who gave their opinions about news stories. They still happen but are much less frequent – instead the media will dip into social media for their quote from the man/woman of the people. Just moving with the times, I guess, but using social media rather than physically having to spend time on a street corner makes it a lot easier to find voices that prop up your chosen narrative. I remember reading an insider at the BBC explaining that they had generally stopped using vox pops (not that long ago) because it was hard to find people who views they wanted to use in a program – with the subtext being everyone was too politically incorrect.
This is also I reason I am sure for the drop in comments sections.
Yes; their excuse is profane language and neo-Nazi trolls with their conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic language, but that’s just convenient; really, they just don’t like not being able to control The Narrative.
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