Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Apple #741: This Is Not News

Last night was DT's first address to Congress.  I didn't watch. I had to take a nap.  I had bills to pay.

After I woke up and paid my bills, I got on facebook.  I came across this interview -- I shouldn't even call it that. Verbal mangling -- between Tucker Carlson and Bill Nye.

If you want a left-wing spin on this interview, here's Raw Story's presentation of it. If you prefer a right-wing spin, here's the National Review's presentation. Whichever one tickles your fancy. 

I have seen "interviews" like this for years, decades. We all have.  Every commentator on Fox has a show like this in which they "interview" people in just this way.  This doesn't deviate from any norm that Fox established long ago.  The difference is, I watched this with that brain-freshness you have when you just wake up.  I took every bit of it in like every moment was essential to my survival.  And what did I see?

Nothing we don't already know, nothing we haven't already learned.  I saw that Carlson is not really interested in anything Nye has to say.  He pretends to; that is the pretense of his show and having the interview in the first place. But his pretense isn't even very well held.  His only purpose is to have Nye on his show and somehow discredit him, humiliate him, show him up so Carlson's listeners can get past whatever Nye has to say and go back to thinking exactly what they were thinking before Nye began to speak.

A true interview should engage, listen, learn from what people have to say.  Then build on that person's expertise to help us advance, however slightly, in our knowledge of the world around us.  Carlson's tactics are to interrupt, obfuscate, poke fun of, ignore, shut down.  When Nye's statements threaten to break through Carlson's veneer, instead of responding, he returns to his initial question as if Nye has not answered it.

This interview asks nothing of its viewers except to put up with the near-constant interruption (which is so rude and awful, a lot of people in fact can't put up with that and do not watch these shows). The pay-off is, you don't have to change anything about what you thought before. You can relax back into your comfortable wish that what Nye has to say, that human beings have accelerated climate change to catastrophic levels and unless we change our course of action double-quick, thousands of people are going to suffer.  Nah, you don't have to hear that. All you have to pay attention to is how clever Carlson was to shut him down. Yeah, Nye can't answer a simple question.  He was asked a simple question and he couldn't answer it. Yeah. Carlson says it 15 times so it must be true. Nye has nothing to say. He's ridiculous.

Even when Nye does Carlson a favor and explains to him what is going on with the leaks in the White House and in the Republican party, Carlson is so baffled by this straight-up unfiltered information he dismisses it out of hand as ranting. He finishes with outright laughing at his guest.

The lesson of this "interview" is don't listen.  Don't engage.  Stick to what you thought before you asked the question and persist in your unbelief.

As I've said, this is nothing new. Fox News commentators have been doing this sort of thing since Rupert Murdoch started the network. And countless people have decried these tactics since they first appeared on the media scene. Rush Limbaugh has been doing this unimpeded for decades on the radio, and his imitators have been slavishly doing the same too. (By the way, Rush and his ilk could never have had a show had it not been for the removal of the "fairness doctrine" which required broadcasters to give equal time to differing opinions -- a doctrine removed during Ronald Reagan's push for deregulation. This article by former staffer Bruce Bartlett discusses this change in journalism and other developments in a pretty fascinating overview.)

But in spite of calls to boycott Rush, in spite of experts pointing out why Fox News' tactics are so egregious, no one has effectively challenged this approach.  If they had, these shows would not still be on the air.  They would not have the viewership that they do.  We would not have Donald Trump as our President.

Because this mindset, of holding fast to your mindset, is comfortable.  It allows us to be comfortable and to stay that way.  It is so enticing, it has permeated everything about our culture.  It's in our colleges.  College, a place you go to have your brain challenged more than it's ever been challenged before and maybe ever will be again.  A place where you are asked to do nothing but learn all day, every day.  A place where you are to be molded by knowledge into a new being: an adult, ready to engage with the world and advance us a little further as human beings.

Instead, students come to college not as students but as consumers. They sit in their chairs, and they expect to be entertained for six weeks and get an A at the end. They don't really want to learn. They've got their devices. They're plugged into their headphones. They're wearing their pajamas to class. They want to be comfortable. They're not doing anything our culture hasn't taught them all their lives.

It's in our movies. La La Land, a movie so beloved it was nominated for I don't know how many Oscars (14) and came within a hair's breadth of winning best picture, asks nothing of its viewers. It presents one cliche after another, it presents only one relationship (what friends? they were only different-colored women in different-colored dresses. Ooh, diversity!), and a white man explains jazz. Jazz, a medium that requires and thrives on listening, is based on the very act of listening to what someone else has to say (musically), to take it in and respond, build on what you've heard, and create something new. I don't think the movie ever even plays actual jazz. Instead, it returns to a theme we heard at the beginning and replays it. The guy who's supposed to be a musician is played by a guy who can't sing very well, nor is he a very good dancer. Doesn't matter. We're not listening that closely anyway.

There are so many things wrong with this promo image, I don't even know where to begin. Obviously superimposed on a fake background, with a fake enormously outsized streetlight, and what are those wooden pier things doing there? There are so many versions of this image, some without a streetlight, some without their feet visible, some with the pair of them reversed, it's impossible to know which one is the "real" one. 
None of the images like this are even real, anyway. Below, is (I think) a screenshot from the actual movie. Messy hair and all.
(Daily Mail above, Independent below)

And when the movie is about to approach a sad ending -- which ISN'T EVEN VERY SAD. She marries a man whom she apparently loves and who apparently loves her, she has a daughter who is sweet, she is fabulously successful so she can go off and leave her child with someone else without fear or worry or any trouble about the expense or the social politics of it. The only thing that is sad is that she marries a different guy -- and just as it's about to face that slight bit of discomfort, it backs away, revisits the entire movie in faced-paced miniature, showing us exactly what we've just seen, and gives us the happy ending. So we get to escape from our escapism and have things just the way we want them. We get to have the happy ending, and we also get an easy-to-swallow dose of the bittersweet along with it. Nothing hard to accept or difficult or thought-provoking about any of it.

People loved it.

It's pap.

It's in our radio stations, our TV stations. Hear something you don't like? Change the station. You don't have to listen to any music that's not to your taste, don't have to watch any movies not to your liking (yes, La La Land turned out not to be my taste, but I sure did learn a lot from watching it, if only how much our culture is drained of real engagement with any subject), don't have to watch any TV shows you don't like. You don't even have to scroll through channels. You can custom-stream whatever show you want direct to your tiny little device and watch that show over and over and over and over and over and over. Talk about tunnel vision.

Hear some bit of science you don't like? Shut it off.  Disable the organizations that put out the scientific data in the first place. We don't want to hear about climate change and the damage fracking is doing, so we'll shut it all off. People have no clue how much science went into that egg on their breakfast table, that steak on their dinner plate. But why should they care? That egg is going to show up whether they know how it was made or not. Someone else will put it there. Someone else will take care of it. Someone else will think about it. I'm just going to eat it.

And what about people you don't like? You can shut them off too. Don't like their religion? Don't let 'em in. Don't like the color of their skin? Kick 'em out. Put 'em in jail. Put them on the other side of the wall and us on this side. We want only people like us here. People who look like us, talk like us, refuse to think like us. Because that's what makes us comfortable.

Daily Show-lovers are just as guilty of this. When Jon Stewart shows up, don't you feel that undeniable sense of "Ahh," of sinking into that mental Naugahyde lounger while you wait to be told just how wrong they are and just how right we are?  Isn't it lovely?  Isn't it rich?

It's the height of privilege, this ability to choose what to hear.  We can afford to buy the devices that enable that choice. We can afford to move out of neighborhoods we don't like, to drive away from a situation that frightens us, to fly to a country where we can drink fruity drinks by the pool and eat spicy foods and fly away again.

No wonder our President is so privileged he has no idea how privileged he is. No wonder he rejects anything he disagrees with. No wonder he tells lies outrageous and small all the time, and gets away with it. The difference between truth and lies has not mattered for a very long time. No wonder he has kicked out news media he doesn't like; we do that all the time. No wonder he is kicking out ideas, people, religions, anything he doesn't like. We have done this for decades.

Take a good long look at the man we have spent decades building. In front of our noses, behind our backs, in spite of us, because of us. We all had a hand in this creation.

If we want to dismantle him, we need to rebuild ourselves.

We can't bring back the fairness doctrine and require media to give equal coverage to opposing viewpoints. Our media is too diffuse to enforce that regulation, if anybody would even support it. But we can do more to encourage critical thinking, demand critical thinking. Seek out opinions that differ from your own. Challenge yourself and see what you discover. Ask questions. Write to your TV station, your newspaper. Subscribe to a newspaper. Subscribe two: a local paper and one that does in-depth investigative reporting. Tell people about what you've learned. Talk to people who have different opinions than you do, and don't just talk.  Ask why, and listen.

Don't disengage. Engage.


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