Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vacuum-packed America

For some of us, going on a trip without a computer or access to one is like having our brain cells deprived of oxygen. Until the last two days of my California visit (see entries below), when I finally found a guest-use computer in the hotel lobby, I had no sources of information other than my senses, newspapers and TV.

How disconcerting is that? If you're used to spending at least some time every day on the Web, it's like being on a desert island. An intellectual vacuum. A space station orbiting Pluto.

Not that there isn't an overplus of information available on the conventional media — TV in particular will immerse itself to the utmost depths of trivia in search of "content" to fill up a 24/7 schedule — but the mental world that bloggers of almost any persuasion inhabit is gone. Instead, the mainstream media delivers a kind of Cheez-Whiz reality, processed and processed until it resembles an industrial material rather than anything organic. Whatever truth might be contained in news or feature stories has been pre-masticated by producers and editors and regurgitated, like a cow's cud.

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For regular Web surfers, it can come as a shock to see how bland and one-dimensional the mainstream media are. Newspapers either rely on the politically leftist Associated Press for copy or, like the Los Angeles Times and the wretched San Francisco Chronicle, are flagrantly PC. Even in oppressed Britain, there's far more divergence of thought in the daily papers.

Two media especially represent
American news coverage, such as it is: USA Today and CNN. They are ubiquitous. USA Today is America's Pravda. Not only does it print only the official liberal line, but (much more disquietingly) it ignores any event or shade of opinion that doesn't fit its ideological template. It's the default paper, the one the hotel puts outside your door in the morning or stacks next to the breakfast buffet, the one in the waiting room, the one found at every node of newspaper vending machines.

CNN is the video equivalent, found wherever TV is forced on the public (more and more places, alas). You go into a restaurant and if the TV over the bar isn't tuned to ESPN, it's on CNN.

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We bloggers ought to be even more worried than we are about the blandness and lack of intellectual variety of the mainstream media. We flatter ourselves that the Web has broken the eyeball monopoly, and it has, but we tend to overestimate the coverage of the blogosphere. In a society spinning faster and faster, most of the gainfully employed barely have time to catch the TV news over breakfast or glance at a newspaper designed, like USA Today, to offer bite-size stories à la TV. They get a sliver cut from the whole spectrum of political and social thought that exists on any issue, and of course with PC filtering there are certain ideas and even facts that can't be mentioned, even for debate.

An unfree society doesn't have to have laws abridging the freedom of the press. It just needs a compliant Fourth Estate that passes along the Liberal Establishment's views and pitches to the lowest common denominator among its audience. We don't have hundreds of newspapers and TV stations in this country: we have one of each, with lots of different names.

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Terry Morris said...

Nice post, Rick. It's funny you should mention the ESPN-CNN deal. It just so happens that a local steak restaurant which used to be one of my favorites in town (great lunch buffet) put up four large flat-screen tvs - two on either end of the restaurant - and the channels they stay on constantly are CNN and ESPN. I finally stopped eating there because of the mindless conversations that were going on at the tables around me. I guess the thing is that people are trying to talk over the volume of the televisions, but they talk loud enough for everyone within twenty feet of them to hear every word. And if the content of my conversations in such settings were anywhere close to the usual kind of mind numbing gibberish I got accustomed to hearing there (after the tvs were installed), I wouldn't say not a word.


Tanstaafl said...

True, true. To the eyes and ears of the deprogrammed the devices of mass mind control aren't any prettier than the devices of a torture chamber would be to an escaped torturee.

Rick Darby said...


What a one-two punch … CNN and ESPN. And the restaurant didn't have the decency to turn the sound off and use the captioning? I'd cross that one off my list too.


The beauty of the Liberal Establishment's control over the mass media, from its standpoint, is that no overt coercion is needed. The media are happy to censor and dumb down themselves.

David Foster said...

I like to pick up local newspapers when I'm traveling...the news may come from AP, etc, but the editorial slant is sometimes interesting.

From a public opinion standpoint, newspapers are on their way to becoming irrelevant, and from a financial standpoint most of them are probably best thought of as liquidating trusts, like an entity that owns old oil wells and is not buying or drilling any new ones. Television and movies are another matter, and indeed I think their primary influence on public opinion comes via things which are not *explicitly* political at all.

Anonymous said...

How comforting to read you all ! I sometimes feel I am not "normal" ; of course, it can be nice to think one is an exceptional person, but too much of it may be somewhat of a burden...That is why I am so pleased when I (too seldom) meet people like you !
Yet, once upon a time, newspapers were interesting, TV was used intelligently, you could even listen to a symphony , an opera or some classical drama, on a rainy afternoon or a chilly evening ; you didn't have to be an "innsomniaque" (English word, please!) to enjoy cultural -and cultured- programs !
So, I can't help thinking that the impoverished cultural level of TV has been brought down on us purposedly....To make people like us feel abnormal, antisocial, and so on...

Rick Darby said...


I think you're quite right that the mainstream print and broadcast media have already become irrelevant to any serious transmission or discussion of the most important issues. The Internet is the most important invention since TV, because it has broken the "idea monopoly" of the old media.

Nevertheless, they still act as if they set the rules for public debate, and a lot of the public still operates from habit and hasn't caught on to the old media's emptiness.


Sorting out cause and effect is hard to do. It's unlikely that any cabal met secretly and said, "Let's dumb down the culture so that the masses will be dull-witted and ignorant, thereby easier to control."

It was probably more of a slow chain reaction, one thing leading to another, but beginning with a loss of belief in some things being beyond profit and material goods. Once that is gone, there's no reason for the media to aim any higher than they need to.

It's hard to believe that in my own lifetime, the major national networks broadcast symphonies and operas, and that an oil company (Texaco) sponsored the Metropolitan Opera programs.

"Insomniac" is the English word; I did not realize French has a cognate expression.

Aurora said...

Instead, the mainstream media delivers a kind of Cheez-Whiz reality, processed and processed until it resembles an industrial material rather than anything organic.

Very well said. You're very spiritually perceptive especially about the darkness closing in around us. Although I see the same thing from a Christian perspective, I believe the human spirit senses this kind of thing and the sensitive among us recoil from it.
I really hope the newsprint media goes under, though there are, amazingly, still millions out there who buy it, and read it, uncritically on their morning commute.
They have yet to discover the information feast that is the internet.