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Echoes and Narcissism

September 17, 2010

Linguistically, “the media” means the cumulative methods of communicating information. Vernacularily, “The Media” refers to the entities controlling the means of communication that arose in the 20th Century and were the first such media capable of reaching potentially any and all audiences. But now that anyone and everyone is has access and control of the media that is capable of reaching anyone and everyone, why should we care about “The Media” when there are so many problems with it as a functional good? As people say, there is the postmodern echo chamber in The Media’s discursive discussion of The Media; the fact of coverage is content.

There were the traditional answers. The Media are our gatekeepers, curators of what is worth knowing and communicating. Maybe there are network effects of having fewer actors to the benefit of democratic politics and markets for attention generally. Isn’t there some value to shared experience and defining things with reference to what “the nation” cares about? A representative government helps to focus issues on those in most need of immediate action and helps develop specialization and expertise in issues that the rational masses of a pure democracy would be unable to achieve. But that incentive to focus what is worthy of the polity’s attention has completed its industrial metamorphosis into an incentive to profit.

For those of you who have not read my thesis, here is the media dynamic: when media actors have motives to produce something other than a broader public understanding (i.e., a profit), they will adopt the most lucrative position, clothed in the semblances of valid discourse and the search for truth. And as I hinted before, this is nothing new. Even the New York Sun, a now more-or-less venerable publication, owes its inception to “The Great Moon Hoax,” wherein it reported that scientists have discovered “fantastic animals on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids (“Vespertilio-homo“) who built temples” all over the moon.

Image via Wikipedia

When organized in an industrial fashion, The Media has always–and will always–catered to the audience’s most fanatical and fantastical beliefs, whether it’s Terry Jones’ plan to burn Korans or Lunar Man Bats that the public gleefully consumes and accepts as true. However, if we take the Joneses of the world to task with reproach and actively try to shut down the espousal of those beliefs, we only embolden those nutjobs and create controversy for The Media to cover, which in turn is newsworthy enough for other outlets to cover, and so on. Thus, there is a reason we still care about The Media, and it’s the same reason that tabloids stay in business: people have terribly trashy taste, and The Media is all too eager to satiate that hunger.

This new news cycle is never interrupted by a sense of responsibility because the only duty of The Media is to make money. However, when one thinks of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and how they are consistently capable of emanating light and truth even when they are merely covering the coverage, and even as ostensible fixtures of The Media, one wonders where the rest of The Media has gone wrong.

“Jon Stewart is very funny, and if I were in his position, I’d be doing a lot of the same things. In fact, a lot of the jokes I’ve heard before, either from my staff or myself,” Beck says by e-mail. “He takes things out of context (no worse than most of the other mainstream media) and is more interested in being funny than trying to actually understand the key messages in [my] show … But I don’t think he’s looking for a Pulitzer … People like Jon, his ratings are good. Good for him, keep doing what he’s doing. People seem to like watching my show as well, and hopefully that continues for both of us for a very long time.”

In the same way that Glenn Beck and Fox News generally make money for their employers by creating artificial controversy and advancing ideological positions, Stewart and Colbert make money for their industrial Media employers by making people laugh. Luckily, the truth is funny.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2010 11:04 am

    “And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.” Friedrich Nietzsche

  2. September 19, 2010 11:04 am

    “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”
    Ludwig Wittgenstein

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