Sunday, April 29, 2007

Provocation, Media, And Men

William F. Buckley was once asked how he maintained inspiration to accomplish his column schedule. Buckley responded that his contract required him to produce three weekly columns and, “I am provoked at least three times a week.” I have no contract. But, I am often provoked, by the real and the “fake” news, which is how Saturday Night Live used to introduce its news parody. It looks like I may need to divide into multiple blogs, so selected interests can be focused on. My provocations are not so focused.

It says something that “the news,” should now be enclosed in quotation marks because a substantial and growing part of “the news” isn’t news at all, in the sense that it matters any more than to engross a significant portion of the public. In that sense, “the news” now often offers little service beyond what used to be the job of game shows and sitcoms. The trend has been around a while, now: I remember the SNL skit over twenty years ago, satirizing Nightline with a story on the shooting death of Buckwheat: the skit constantly repeated the theme music, once saying, “Buckwheat Dead! Brought to you by Texxon…because Buckwheat would have wanted it that way.”

But the trend gets progressively worse, almost by the week, now. I imagine the newsrooms watching for a ratings horse that they can ride for days or weeks. The old SNL skit wouldn’t be as funny, today, because it isn’t much of an exaggeration. “The news” satirizes itself. The Roman distraction of the masses was bread and circuses. Most of this isn’t as important as bread or circuses either, for that matter, which are more interesting than most of what is broadcast. A trapeze act or a discussion of Paris Hilton? A lion tamer or a grating interview with a swaggering Donald Trump? No need to go on, but I could. Even the real stories are stretched and distorted like an image in a funhouse mirror.

I can’t help wondering if this is the contortion of traditional media trying to compete with the growing Internet presence. Television still has the advantage that you needn’t type (or peck, as the case may be). But, though not universal online, the cameras and microphones are there for the use, and ever more present. As for postal services and phone companies, the traditional electronic media’s decline is ongoing and its doom is sure. Yes, there’s a LOT worse stuff on the Internet. But, there’s a LOT better stuff, too. That’s where we are heading: from the control of communication by a few to the input and preference of most. And, there will be no “THEM” to blame. Like the information available, the people will get worse and better, and the responsibility will be all their own.


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