07 July 2011


As with so many other things, the public gets the news media it deserves.

And it seems like over the past week or so, the UK has had its share of media-related clamors. first there was the twofold irreality of the "Miliband loop," then there was The Trouble with Hari, and this week there's been the whole NotW hacking scandal, which has been interesting to follow as it's snowballed by the hour over the past two days.

My friend and associate Wayne, blogging from Manchester, yesterday offered a brilliant walk-through of how it's shaping up and what it all means, via a very incisive list of bulleted points. Among my favorites from the lot...

  • Tabloid journalism - its modus operandi relentlessly pursued by Murdoch's media in particular - has always foregrounded the personalised and emotional over any systematic analysis. Much of the outrage at News Corp's actions is due to the abuse of their victims' very personal tragedies (I found it upsetting for that very reason, and I'm as cynical as fuck about the press). Now all eyes are pointing towards the systematic aspects of the scandal. [...]
  • If Cameron sticks by Murdoch he loses all credibility. If he turns on him, his propaganda apparatus is seriously damaged. Either way, he's toast in the eyes of his hang'n'flog voters. To wriggle out of this with cheap smears and moral panics is impossible. To exchange staff, funds, information and business agendas to this extent is to be incorporated with News Corp. Ask yourself this: Who's firing who? [...]
  • Murdoch's vile methods have made so many enemies worldwide since the 1970s (doubtlessly kept in check by by the huge vault of dirt he could dish), that previously-frightened enemies or competitors will be relishing the chance to destroy the Satanic bastard with extreme prejudice. Attacking News Corp will enhance their market share and/or protect their fragile reputations. There's moolah to make, power to keep, and marriages to save, after all.
  • The 'slow news week' of British media's traditional 'silly season' has now become open season. News Corp are/were the hungry hounds preferring a tired fox. Their competitors play by the same rules, and learned to get nastier following the example set by Murdoch. With little to talk about (according to media mores anyway), there's little to bury this news under. Therefore, we now have a very fast news week for this time of year. They don't even need much manpower or resources to report it either. It's all there on a silver platter.

And yes, I know I know, a lot of this is all mired in political details that are specific to Another Shore. Still, as Wayne points out, it has deeper and far more general implications, and after all we are talking about a global media entity, here. In the UK there are probably many who'll be pleased to hear that NotW's Gobshite Express will be reaching the end of its line this Sunday, as well plenty other folks there and elsewhere who're experiencing some degree of schadenfreude as the shock waves ripple through Murdoch's media empire. And yes, that empire's footprint here is significant and is renowned for its tactics; but hey, it isn't like they pioneered such stuff or traffic in it exclusively. In some form or another, it's the heart of what they do, what fuels their efforts to remain competitive in the markets, what shapes the abusive dynamic they've created toward their audiences. And ultimately it's about how two different systems, possessing overlapping powers of influence over the public, operate with mutually beneficial symbiosis.

At any rate, the other day Mark K-Punk popped up with his first lengthy and substantial post in a while to comment on the scandals, at one point breaking the systemics down like so...

A manageable level of cynicism about the media actually serves the capitalist realist media system well. Since the media stands in for the public sphere, if journalists and politicians are perceived to be 'all liars', as they widely are, then there is no hope to be had in public life at all. Hack expulpations appeal to a market Hobbesianism: they are giving people what they want but what they won't admit to liking. When, pickled in the jouissance of self-loathing and their other stimulants of choice, the hacks style themselves as 'princes of darkness', they see themselves as reflecting the public's own disavowed cynicism back to it. ...Similarly, Glenn Mulcaire whines that the NOTW put him under pressure for results, this isn't only an excuse - what we're seeing here is in part the consequence of the intense competitive pressures at work in print media as its market share declines. Negative solidarity again: a race to depths so infernally pressurised that only alcohol-breathing subhuman crustaceans can survive there. ... As one by one those who played their part are dragged into the light, the old bullying sneers become familiar plaints: that's reality, we couldn't help it, that's how things are now. But we must hear their excuses as indictments of a system,...

Adding in his conclusion:

...The function of corporate media has been to isolate people, to make them distrust their discontent with a world controlled by business interests. What has combated this is the production of new collectivities of dissent, both online and in the streets. What we're seeing in this extraordinary moment of transition is a reality management system imploding from within at the same time as it is being undermined from outside.

Personally, there's nothing I loathe more than someone else trying to manipulate me, attempting to push my buttons. Not sure who actually does. But the most repugnant variety of that sort of thing is the sort that waves a clucking morality around with one hand, and with the other gratuitously dangles the very thing it decries in front of you, if only because it knows that's how to get and keep your attention. It is, I think, why I deeply hated (with only one exception) every Brian De Palma film I've ever watched. As well as being the main reason I haven't watched television news for nearly twenty years.

For those of you who are keeping score at home: The tagwords for all of the above are cynicism, Hobbesian, and sytematic.


W. Kasper said...

Although I'm more than honoured at the shout-out, I'd say Depalma had his moments. But I'm a sucker for soft-focus slo-mo.

Was 'Blow-Out' the eception? Or Scarface - "the Depalma movie for people who hate Depalma movies", according to Pauline Kael?

But yeah, I can't bear TV news either - just as horrible as tabloids, with different methods. Probably worse, because (in the UK at least) it clams to be 'impartial'.

Think it's time for a critical reappraisal of lost 90s classic 'Mickey Blue Eyes' too:


Anyone who doesn't laugh at his scenes with James Caan has no soul!

Greyhoos said...

I must've missed all the worthwhile moments. Admittedly, after suffering through 'Scarface' and 'Body Double' and a few others, I never had the inclination to knuckle down, bite a bullet, and wade through much else that he did.

And as for the exception, it was this one...


Maybe camp was dude's true calling?

W. Kasper said...

Well, his devotion to Hitchcock bordered on the erotic. Carl Impostume noted the gay subtext of Scarface (a great movie BTW - like a Tex Avery gangster spoof!). I think he always was kind of camp. The Untouchables was the real Dick Tracy movie in all but name. Or the way he insisted on lead roles for the rather camp ham John Lithgow. Or the way he really foregrounded the silliness of Stephen King.

I know he's an aquired taste to say the least, but I actually think he's a tad underrated. I reckon his Batman would be much better than Nolan or Burton's. He's have Michael Caine in drag.

W. Kasper said...

Anyway, back on topic and worth a read:


Greyhoos said...

The final paragraph gets at the heart of the matter (or a part of it, anyway). And demonstrates that once you strip the topic of certain site/context-specif details, it's more or less the same situation in both the U.K. and the U.S.

And on the matter of "consistency" -- it always returns to that, the disconnect between one faction's supposed social values and their chosen political/economic orthodoxy. So often it comes back to certain people asking why society is going in a certain direction, while the answer is right there in front of them, intercoiled with the inherent contradictions in their own set of conflicting values. (As the saying goes, "If it were a snake, it'd have bitten you by now." Things is, seems like it has been biting, repeatedly and vigorously, lately...but analytical reflexes have chronically atrophied from too many years of disuse.) Certain types are quick to cry that the advertising and entertainment industries are responsible in leading the cultural race to the bottom, but the tabloid press -- and a good portion of the non-tabloid, as well -- are twice as guilty when it comes to capitalizing on/pandering to the base appetites of the public. I'm sure that point's a no-brainer for some, but it seems it's completely lost on a majority of folks.

But it wasn't my aim in going off on a political tangent by posting on this topic. In most respects, it's the sociological/"media studies" angle of this story that I think merits scrutiny.

W. Kasper said...

I think those contradictions - at least at the moment - are expressed in vague nostalgia and yearning for stability, from both left and right. Whether its pushing for social progress or unregulated financial free-for-all, its tempered by contrary attachments to 'traditions', however mythical they may actually be.

News media played a leading role in 'dumbing down' wider cultural production and definitely political discussion. If you watch a 'relevant' movie (or even read a 'relevant' novel), its more about how news media frames something, rather than reflecting a real 'public mood'.

Reality TV shows are very odd for that - 'spying' on someone who's really performing for other media commenting on their behaviour. When its not right-wing campaigning or celeb exposes, UK tabloids have endless news stories about last night's reality TV, which stages more 'real-life drama' so it'll stay in the headlines. We've ended up with a media talking to itself, really.

Greyhoos said...

In terms of its audience/psychological appeal and popularity, 'reality' programming and the like are a sort of a thing unto themselves. Still, it very much fits into all of this. But there is a pretense to it that plays into what you're talking about -- like say the faux-democratic format of the talent shows and whatnot, that offsets any feelings about the top-down insularity of the media. here's a lot I could say about it, but it'd take too long.

Ultimately, it all hinges on an infantalization of the viewer/public. Or as Phil would put it, it's all id.

W. Kasper said...

Well that's the spooky part - infantilised adults using infantile media to socialise kids (it seemed to be happening via reality TV over the past decade). Personally, I think kids now reaching adulthood have seen it for the fraud it is easier than my generation did. They don't have as much disposable income to be 'id' now.

W. Kasper said...

BTW you owe me and K-Punk money for the quotes!

Greyhoos said...

Checks are already in the mail. Par avion.

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