I Got The News

David Frum wryly observed last night that “Bad government is much more exciting than good government.”

The perils of politics as entertainment– or political discourse as a subset of the entertainment industry– has been a cause of concern for many years. Now we’re seeing what happens when one political party is entirely in the thrall of its entertainers.

David Foster Wallace wrote of right-wing radio talk show host John Ziegler:

It is to say that he has exactly one on-air job, and that is to be stimulating. An obvious point, but it’s one that’s often overlooked by people who complain about propaganda, misinformation, and irresponsibility in commercial talk radio. Whatever else they are, the above-type objections to “We’re better than the Arab world” are calls to accountability. They are the sort of criticisms one might make of, say, a journalist, someone whose job description includes being responsible about what he says in public. And KFI’s John Ziegler is not a journalist–he is an entertainer. Or maybe it’s better to say that he is part of a peculiar, modern, and very popular type of news industry, one that manages to enjoy the authority and influence of journalism without the stodgy constraints of fairness, objectivity, and responsibility that make trying to tell the truth such a drag for everyone involved.

Earlier, Neil Postman wrote about the ostensibly objective nightly news:

Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television. No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure. That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to “join them tomorrow.” What for? One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights. We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the “news” is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say. Everything about a news show tells us this– the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid film footage, the attractive commercials– all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping. A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis. …

Television is different because it encompasses all forms of discourse. No one goes to a movie to find out about government policy or the latest scientific advances. No one buys a record to find out the baseball scores or the weather or the latest murder. No one turns on radio anymore for soap operas or a presidential address (if a television set is at hand). But everyone goes to television for all these things and more, which is why television resonates so powerfully throughout the culture. Television is our culture’s principal mode of knowing about itself. Therefore– and this is the critical point– how television stages the world becomes the model for how the world is properly to be staged. It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse.┬áIt is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails.

As we have known for a while, Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the Republican Party. At the least, he has quite a bit of pull in the House of Representatives.

If all you know of policy is buzzwords and deeply held resentments, then compromise is impossible. If compromise is [EDIT: impossible], then the American Constitution doesn’t work.

“I Got the News”, which the liner notes to Aja described thusly:

“I Got The News”, a Manhattan-jukebox thump-along, serves as a vehicle for the coy pianistics of Victor Feldman, whose labors are capriciously undermined by Walter Becker’s odd, Djangoesque guitar and pointlessly obscene lyric.

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5 Responses to I Got The News

  1. CJ says:

    Hi…What did Postman mean when he said, “It is not merely that on the television screen entertainment is the metaphor for all discourse. It is that off the screen the same metaphor prevails”?

    • Well, I think his point is, that since TV is presented as a source for everything– news, entertainment, and everything else– those of us living in this society come to think of that kind of discourse as the norm.

      (Postman put a great deal of emphasis on the rationality of print-era discourse (for example, the Lincoln-Douglas debates), vs. the image-dependent, indifferent-to-rationality discourse of television).

      Postman argued that the point of discussion on TV isn’t to be rational, it’s to be entertaining. Even the TV news, he wrote, is presented as exciting (with pleasant banter and exciting intro music), and isn’t capable of hosting reasoned discussion. In real life, if you’re really trying to figure out a tough question (like, “what exactly is Postman talking about?”), you’re going to have to stop and think and ask questions. You can’t do that on television.

      And, because television is presented as the model for all discourse, Postman feared that Americans tend to think of TV-style assertive, doubt-free insistence as the proper way to discuss, and think about, all issues.

      We talked about the discourse of reality TV spilling over into politics, and Postman’s views, in this post: http://www.poisonyourmind.com/2011/09/its-like-theyre-proud-of-being-ignorant/

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