It occurred to me during the night that the problem is that we live in an age permeated by story and that all that story has a uniform voice.
“Is this another of your Human Wave rants Sarah?” “Sort of but not really.”
I’d actually like to talk about the problems of a society in which the mass media goes through the same set of gatekeepers – like a camel through the eye of the needle – with roughly the same opinions and who went through the same colleges and to whom the others’ opinion of each of them is far more important than the opinion of the public. Because they never see the public, the public doesn’t invite them to cocktail parties, and in general – grosso modo – the public won’t put out for them. (Or perhaps will, bedazzled by the fame and the er… glory.)
You know, I think that is one situation that the Founders genuinely didn’t anticipate. I think they knew, as do that most people were toadies, ready to abase themselves to appear to belong to the “in group.” They had to, because they knew human nature and it hasn’t changed that much.
But the time they lived in – if I have it right (it’s entirely possible I have it wrong. My interest in the founding of the country is less than ten years old, and most of you have been studying it your entire adult lives) – they lived in a time that was much like our own.
The press composed of newspapers, broadsheets and such was just coming into being and there were a million voices. The official publications of the official organs might still have more imposing pedigree, but they were drowned out in the babble of voices.
It is now widely believed that the French Revolution turned into what it turned in, and the executions went on because of the broadsheet equivalent of Thinkprogress. (Or not, since that’s more or less co-opted by our authorities. Oh, dear. What a tangled web. Because I can’t imagine anyone else, on the other side making up crazy lies about “let them eat cake.” OTOH though the sovereigns were a bit gauche and perhaps mostly innocent, there is every reason to believe the court was every bit as debauched as the most lurid broadsheets. Or at least had been a generation before. Which brings me to highly recommend The Black Count – though I haven’t finished it yet. I’m about halfway through, having got interrupted by work.
What they failed to imagine, and who can blame them, given the size of the country and the transportation available in their time, is that a free press, with no government interference, would choose to debase itself for … the sake of a foreign and discredited ideal.
Partly they – at the dawning of the industrial age – failed to realize where it would take us, in terms of transportation, in terms of broadcast, in terms of communication. They failed to understand that a few newspapers in decisive regions could control all the other newspapers both because those who failed to make the cut for them fanned out across the country, and because the other journalists aspired to working for the big coastal newspapers, which meant that they would have to fit well in the newsroom – i.e. speak with a single voice.
I have a friend who went almost all the way to employment with the Chicago Tribune and then, naively (how could he be that stupid? Well, better that than be fired a week in) sent them clippings from his work at PJM. The offer was withdrawn because “you wouldn’t fit well in our newsroom.)
And of course J schools taught Marxism and Marxist analysis, because it was what all the cool kids believed. Only those dumb people who didn’t go to J school believed in capitalism and all that crud. You don’t want to be like them, do you?
No government on Earth ever could hold the leash that tightly, so tightly that otherwise intelligent people never examined the premises of what they learned, or – if they did – never spoke against it.
BUT that’s only half the problem. Even though most people still keep an eye on the news, there is the growing feeling that they’re not particularly reliable. Not reporting the Kermit Gosnell case, for instance, while giving the impression that roving gangs of maniacs are roving the countryside shooting down school kids with high capacity clips/magazines/rifles/whatever in hell they’re called, not that our representatives know, is one of the trickles, lodging somewhere in the back of people’s brain. They don’t QUITE distrust, but there’s that feeling that perhaps you should trust but verify.
No, the real problem is story. Stories told for fun, most of them on TV, though the books too, until the advent of indie (and even now most of what’s being published) give a uniform view of society, for much the same reason newspapers and tv news give a uniform view of society.
Oh, no, writers didn’t all go to the same Marxism-spewing schools (though a good number of them did) but editors did. To be an editor, you mostly live in New York City and your particular genre (and “literary” is a genre in publishing) tends to be sort of like an inbred village. You’re likely to work down the hall from someone you went to college with, live across the street from the guy you first dated in college (and his new boyfriend – never mind.) Your boss got references on you from the person you did a summer internship with, who is her BFF, and that’s how you got hired. A lot of the authors you really put push behind are either the children of fellow publishing professionals/were your roommates in college/slept with you.
You’re overworked, you’re underpaid, you live in substandard housing, and your only hope of advancing is to ape the manners and beliefs of your “betters” as quickly as possible.
This means you buy the “right” (left) kind of authors, and as vocal as possible. Even if they fail, your boss will nod and say “it’s the ignorant people in fly over country.” Take a chance on a dissenting voice, though and what you get is “What were you thinking?” even if the book is a moderate success (perhaps particularly if the book is a moderate success.) Because your “betters” confuse politics with religion, they’re likely to react as if you’d preached Satanism.
From the other side of the table, the writers also get the impression any non standard opinions they have better be kept VERY quite, and they’d better tout the standard opinions they have (opinions, I have a few!) as loudly as possible.
This means that, to quote Reiner Kunze, “to the wind they all speak the same.”
The viewing/reading/listening public on the other side – I’ve been there – starts thinking that if all these people, many of them highly gifted and artistic, believe this stuff, then it must be true. It MUST. There’s not other choice. These people who tell these wonderful (some people have a low threshold for wonderful, m’kay) stories, must know something the receiver of story doesn’t. The receivers countervailing experiences must be wrong.
I was stuck there for many many years, until the trickle of counter experiences pushed me out of that comfort zone and, alas, made me stop reading some of my favorite authors and reduced my movie/tv watching to maybe two hours a month.
But I’m not typical. I’m an Odd. I poke and prod behind the veil of seeming reality for who is cranking the show. It is what it is.
Most people aren’t like that. They have other interests.
I was reminded of this by one of the “patients” at Gosnell’s saying she first tried a Planned Parenthood but was afraid to go in because of all the protesters and what they might do to her.
The article I read (sorry, I can’t remember where now) pointed out that no user of abortion services has been attacked; that the number of abortion doctors killed is so vanishingly small that they might have better statistics than the rest of the population, and he thought this woman was afraid to go in past the messages that told her she would, in fact, be taking a human life.
I think he was wildly optimistic. While he’s right about statistics, I’d bet you this woman never looked at statistics in her life. What I bet she looked at was a never ending stream of chick-talk-shows and movies and soap operas, and sitcoms, where again and again, the crazed anti-abortionist who kills people comes up, as the murderer and central villain, or simply as inference.
You’d have to sit this woman down and talk to her for hours to pierce the veil of what she “just knows”.
And she does. She saw it with her own eyes. On TV.
This is what we face, not just electorally (and the way a war on women was conjured out of nowhere in the last election is itself immensely amusing. If your taste in humor runs to the very sardonic and three steps from tears. The race war they tried to start flopped – which tells you who the most gullible media consumers are and puts paid to any ideas of racial superiority, doesn’t it?) This is what we face as a culture.
The problem is not that our media and our entertainment were passing through a very tight ring of gatekeepers who had mostly echoing opinions. The problem is that those opinions were in large part formed by our opponent in the (mostly) cold war. The problem is that though their regime has proven completely unworkable and reprehensible, there was no shaming and no naming afterwards – partly because our intelligentsia wouldn’t let that happen.
And this is why this battle had to finally be fought here, on our soil, and the way it’s being fought. Either we win or civilization goes down forever, for having allowed a central diffusion point for opinions and never having vetted the opinions that were in positions of power – not even in the name of the much vaunted diversity.
We never did that because of course, we believe in freedom of opinion, and once you start, where do you stop?
They say viruses can be highly targeted to the patient.
And like blogs are the anti virus for news, we – indie authors, those who refuse to bow to platitudes – are the anti-virus for entertainment. We are small yet, and not very visual, but we’re here. And once the tech goes a little further, we’ll be in visual too. (Oh the screams, they shall be like smoke in the nostrils of the gods, shan’t they?)
Is it too late? I don’t know. I tend to believe in a G-d that won’t let freedom perish from this Earth. But I could be wrong. And it’s not like He’s going to do it without us.
Perhaps like the old Norse, we’re doomed to fight against evil and perish in the end. Or perhaps we’ll win. We’ll never know until we try!
(I just hope the writers’ bar in the afterlife has something other than mead. I shall hope for single malt.)