Musings of the Great Eric

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A Musing on the Writer’s Strike

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The Daily Show writers on the writer’s strike:

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzRHlpEmr0w]

An observation: This clip is a little rough, but remarkably entertaining, and manages to capture that Daily Show goodness.

A further observation: This clip got from the writers brains to my eyes (and now yours) completely without the aid of a producer, distributer, cable network, or giant media conglomerate.

It seems clear to me what Viacom need writers for – clearly, its overpaid CEO isn’t capable of stepping up and churning out anything that anyone would want to watch, let alone pay money for. What the writers need Viacom for… that’s less clear. Especially given that this strike is primarily over residuals for internet revenues, which the writers have proven here that they’re more than competent enough to get on their own.

Now, the last time the writers struck, Viacom (and its equivalents) were providing a critical service to anyone with talent – they were the only entity capable of distributing media to a wide audience. Now, they’re just a middle man between the talent and the audience, offering a service that’s fast being commoditized. I wonder if any of the writers will figure that out, and look to cut them out of the equation for good?

Written by Eric

November 20, 2007 at 6:12 pm

An Assault on Reason

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Time Magazine recently printed an excerpt from Al Gore’s new book and I have to say it’s fantastic. I rarely indulge in contemporary political books, but I think this is one I’ll be buying:

Our Founders’ faith in the viability of representative democracy rested on their trust in the wisdom of a well-informed citizenry, their ingenious design for checks and balances, and their belief that the rule of reason is the natural sovereign of a free people. The Founders took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely. Thus they not only protected freedom of assembly, they made a special point—in the First Amendment—of protecting the freedom of the printing press. And yet today, almost 45 years have passed since the majority of Americans received their news and information from the printed word. Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers. Reading itself is in decline. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by the empire of television.

Radio, the Internet, movies, cell phones, iPods, computers, instant messaging, video games and personal digital assistants all now vie for our attention—but it is television that still dominates the flow of information. According to an authoritative global study, Americans now watch television an average of 4 hours and 35 minutes every day—90 minutes more than the world average. When you assume eight hours of work a day, six to eight hours of sleep and a couple of hours to bathe, dress, eat and commute, that is almost three-quarters of all the discretionary time the average American has.

In the world of television, the massive flows of information are largely in only one direction, which makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation. Individuals receive, but they cannot send. They hear, but they do not speak. The “well-informed citizenry” is in danger of becoming the “well-amused audience.” Moreover, the high capital investment required for the ownership and operation of a television station and the centralized nature of broadcast, cable and satellite networks have led to the increasing concentration of ownership by an ever smaller number of larger corporations that now effectively control the majority of television programming in America.

In practice, what television’s dominance has come to mean is that the inherent value of political propositions put forward by candidates is now largely irrelevant compared with the image-based ad campaigns they use to shape the perceptions of voters. The high cost of these commercials has radically increased the role of money in politics—and the influence of those who contribute it. That is why campaign finance reform, however well drafted, often misses the main point: so long as the dominant means of engaging in political dialogue is through purchasing expensive television advertising, money will continue in one way or another to dominate American politics. And as a result, ideas will continue to play a diminished role. That is also why the House and Senate campaign committees in both parties now search for candidates who are multimillionaires and can buy the ads with their own personal resources.

I’ve taken a great interest in exactly what ails our democracy; it’s one thing to point out the (voluminous) ways in which George W Bush is a corrupt fuck up, but the root causes of why someone like him was allowed to get into power and get away with what he has is both far more interesting and critical – this is what the above gets at.

And though I’m normally loathe to look for single-factor answers, I’ve often come to the same conclusion that Gore is talking about here. Of all the inventions of the 20th century, television has had the most deleterious effect on our civilization, and stands as perhaps the root cause of many of our troubles, from the decay of our political discourse to seemingly unrelated problems like obesity. (This will be the subject of a more detailed future post).

Anyway, the linked excerpt is well worth reading if you haven’t already, and I suspect the whole book will be worth it as well.

Written by Eric

May 19, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Media, Politics, Society

The AP, Paris Hilton, and Orwell’s memory hole

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One of the greatest crimes that the news media commits against society is “celebrity news”. There is no universe in which Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, or Anna Nicole Smith has ever done anything newsworthy, yet they’re covered with an almost gleeful zeal, and often get better coverage than, you know, stuff that matters. Democracy depends on the fourth estate to inform the electorate and enable them to make rational decisions at the voting booth. Every time that attention is given to Britney Spears’ haircut over, say, the economy or corruption in Congress, our constitution dies a little.

The worst offender on the celebrity side of this is Paris Hilton – who’s done nothing in her life other than raise “media whoring” to an art form. So when the AP says there’s a boycott on coverage of Miss Hilton, even a temporary one, there’s a part of me that cheers. And I’m glad to see I’m not alone in that:

Also by then, an internal AP memo about the ban had found its way to the outside world. The New York Observer quoted it on Wednesday, and the Gawker.com gossip site linked to it. Howard Stern was heard mentioning the ban on his radio show, and calls came in from various news outlets asking us about it. On Editor and Publisher magazine’s Web site, a reader wrote: “This is INCREDIBLE, finally a news organization that can see through this evil woman.” And another: “You guys are my heroes!”

However, while a world where Paris Hilton isn’t news is one I’d love to live in – there’s a scary side to this. The most striking thing about this isn’t the newsworthiness of celebrities getting traffic tickets, but rather what it highlights about the news publishing process itself. This is a demonstration of just how easily the news, and therefore public discourse, can be manipulated. Just as the AP (among other news organizations) created the Paris Hilton media phenomenon, the AP can also make Paris Hilton effectively disappear for millions of readers. If coverage of her were to simply stop, it would be as if she stopped existing, to the vast majority of the public anyway.

That might not sound too scary when it comes to Paris Hilton, but as one person quoted in the article mentioned, what if they decided to ignore North Korea? Or the evidence against the existence of WMD’s prior to the Iraq War? (oh, wait…)

Now, I don’t think we’re on the verge of an Orwellian nightmare here. Even if the AP did permanently stop covering Paris Hilton, there’s no doubt others would pick up the slack. So what the AP prints (or doesn’t) has minimal impact in the grand scheme of things. But I still find something unsettling in it – the mere possibility of a memory hole is a scary thing, regardless of how much I agree with what’s being put down it.

Written by Eric

March 3, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Media, Politics