The State of Media, 1/3/12

Google Trends: “Vinny Jersey Shore” (nsfw, if you need an explanation) vs. “Ai Weiwei” (ahem)

That we consume lots of trash is not a problem. I’ve seen the first season of Jersey Shore and do not hold watching the series against anyone. It would be ludicrous to ask people to come home from work and start reading Wittgenstein. Heck, we probably need something to distract us from the fact that “hard work” combined with “solid planning” and “an opportunity” isn’t quite equality of opportunity (the last sentence of that link is by far the most important).

But that last consideration brings back the problem of Vinny. To what extent does the attention lavished on him – the money he gets for being himself – make the world suck for the rest of us? On the one hand, reality TV “stars” are few and far between. Then again, when you get press comparable to an imprisoned critic of China’s brutality who designed their Olympic stadium, that’s pretty frightening.

In a free society, what the people want is what the people get. If you want cheap and stupid entertainment all the time, you’re going to get precisely that. And it is going to make the economy what it is. Go to a bookstore and take careful note how much crap is being sold to you versus any book of substance. Go to a university and watch as the administrators use it as a tax shelter and a professional sports franchise wrapped into one. This is all we can conceive.

I think this. Journalists have tough jobs. One has to maintain an air of objectivity while representing some utterly ludicrous points of view. There’s a ton of serious, interesting writing out there by journalists who I can’t imagine are making all that much on a plethora of subjects. If I want to go through a Sunday New York Times properly, it’ll take a week.

But it’s time to pull a Jon Stewart and start accusing. “Vinny” isn’t coming up big just because of Google’s expanded definition of news sources. He’s coming up big because some abstract idea of “magnitude” makes someone newsworthy and another not. A good story is found by actually looking where others aren’t. The former poet laureate was teaching remedial English for 20 years while producing some amazing work. Right now, it’s easy to find the stories about people making a “splash:” for example, the aspiring literati of The New Inquiry. What needs to be found are that many more who aren’t making a “splash” – quite possibly because they’re talking to different audiences or about subjects not on our radar.

As diverse and quality as media is (I know, it should be “are,” I don’t care), it needs that much more diversity and quality. It needs to start reflecting the arts of which it is actually a part. Good journalism is a craft. If it keeps taking cues from what sells, it will have all the appearance of an imposing, beautiful structure and the structural soundness of the house built on sand.

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