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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Last Wednesday I was invited to a Boston "Town Hall" meeting for the 'Independent' Film Channel's (I put Independent in scare-quotes because, let's face it, if you're taking funding from someone other than yourself, you're really not exactly independent are you? Non-profits have agendas, too.) Media Project being held at the MIT Museum. It being a slow time around the office, and never being one to pass up a free lunch with a side of potential blogables I headed on in to Cambridge.

The first thing that struck me when I arrived was that independent film sure was well-funded. From the uniformed IFC staff, to the decorations -- including wall posters, table centerpieces, and slick hand-outs -- to the flown-in guests, the setting showed off a budget to be spent beyond the shoe-string. It's not surprising to note that the project is funded in part by the uber Aspen Institute. Prince Bandar (a lifetime trustee, and in fairness, one of many heavy-hitters on the board) is doing well for his money. Ironically, MSM guests had seats reserved mostly down front. The rest of us had to fend for ourselves.

Here are a couple of photos. Sorry about the quality, but I was trying to do it without the flash. This should give you some idea of the setting, though:

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The format was a box-lunch, followed by panel discussion, and concluded with a series of discussion questions to be responded to by table in response to a sample news report (real) from Boston television. The panel included Tucker Carlson, Juan Williams, Martin Baron (Boston Globe Editor), Candy Altman (VP News, Hearst-Argyle television), and Josh Silver (from something called Free Press.net).

I had read the press-release and browsed around the Media Project's web site before going, of course. The site, including clips of the IFC's series Revealing the Truth Behind the News, provides a certain impression on the IFC's slant on media literacy. It appears they don't believe the media is quite leftist enough.

Interestingly, the intro for Juan Williams explained he was an author, and that "we've seen and heard him" on NPR. Funny, I've never heard him on NPR, but I have seen him frequently on FOX News. It wasn't mentioned in the spoken intro, and rates only a sentence in his written bio.

The series was 'produced by Meghan O'Hara (FAHRENHEIT 911 and SICKO) and Nick McKinney (The Daily Show and Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days").' Segments include interviews conducted by Cambridge paleo-lefty comedian Jimmy Tingle and Middle East history professor Mark "I'm still trying to get back at my parents for making be have a Bar Mitzvah" LeVine. (Episode 1 includes an interview (video) with journalist Ken Silverstein lamenting that a column of his that was to include a couple of sentences of quote from a Hizballah official acknowledging the reality of the Holocaust was cut. 'The Lobby,' or something else...")

The panel kicked off with the viewing of an animation riffing on the culture of narcissism the media caters to, and then a clip entitled "The Missing White Girl." (A longer clip than that was shown, focusing on the phenomenon of the Caylee Anthony case, IIRC).

The lesson we were expected to draw was to question why one little suburban white girl garnered all this attention (racism...catering to a white audience for ratings). A subtitle at the end of the clip noted that in the time the case was reported on, 100,000 other children had been reported missing. To their credit, Tucker Carlson, Candy Altman, and Juan Williams all jumped on this noting that in itself was deceptive (since clearly most even legitimate missing reports involve custody cases, not murder), and while Tucker expressed his distaste with the exorbitant attention paid to such matters, all agreed that the case was at least a legitimate news story.

Mr. Free Press, Josh Silver (a graduate of prestigious Evergreen State in Oregon), lamented that the trouble with the media today was the lack of "proper government regulation" in the news business. (Thus speaks the voice of independence today.) He lamented the deregulation which has allowed corporate media consolidation.

Again to their credit, Carlson and the Globe's Marty Baron jumped all over this. Carlson noted that the last thing you want is the government involved in trying to find solutions to problems like this. If the people in the individual enterprises on the ground are at a loss to solve their ongoing failings, there's no way that some bureaucrats in Washington are going to find the solution. Baron absolutely agreed, noting that the 'media monopoly' thing was something that was very in vogue and repeated by university types, but the truth is that no one who knows what's really going on believes it. It's essentially a meaningless trope repeated by people who don't really know what they're talking about.

In fact, they both agreed that what's actually happening is media "atomization." There's more competition than ever before. (Internet readers should be familiar with the idea.)

We then watched a news report from actual Boston news about a shooting murder in Dorchester. (The report was the initial one of a 'walk by' shooting played up for maximum emotional impact and was pretty well edited I thought.) After some further panel comments, this one was thrown out to the audience. We were given printed cards with a series of questions for discussion around the table (see pic).

discussioncard.jpg

Our table got question four, "How might different people interpret the message differently?"

The folks around the table weren't exactly anxious to talk (there was a lot of silence before anyone spoke up), and we didn't have much time anyway. What I noted once again was how unspoken bias perpetuates as the first people to speak up are those willing to mouth what they perceive as the expected and (thus) politically correct response. It's safe and easy. If not everyone agreed, no one bothered trying to shift the discussion within the scope of the time provided.

In this case, after going from a case (Caylee Anthony) where one idea we were to take away was that the media were catering suburban white racism -- the usual criticism being that these little white girls get all the attention while inner-city murders are barely noticed -- now suddenly the initial consensus was emerging that this report catered to white racism by making white suburbanites afraid of the inner city (imagine that!). What was funny was that the impression I got was that while this was what the young white folks at the table were mouthing, along with some of the 'community activist-types' (some of whom, when the mic came around, did less media criticism and more mini-speechifying about what 'our community' needs to do to improve [they have the answers]) around the room, the more regular folks, including some high school kids, (including one young lady who actually had known the victim of this particular shooting), were seeing it in far more straightforward terms, even noting that the camera angle failed to show the abandoned building right across the street and failed to mention the drug dealing that went on there, thus bowdlerizing the report in a way, or at least focusing more on community impact (through the emotional testimony of the witnesses) over substance and context. Sometimes methinks we interpret too much.

All in all, and interesting couple of hours.

1 Comment

"Independence" accomodates Orthodoxy; a well funded pseudo-independence accomodates a politically correct orthodoxy.

Your second graf alone is highly illuminating.

In a related vein and similarly illuminating, Venerable Beads offers another look at Popular Culture Hell, one indicative snippet:

"The London Film Festival rolled by again this month. Every year it gets worse, but worse than worse, every year it gets more hateful. Every year it speaks more undisguisedly to the metropolitan elite, every year it is happier to exclude anyone whose definition of cinema is not consensus propaganda ..."

From the same site and in a related vein, though reflecting upon some of the elitist underpinnings of our culture at large, rather than popular culture singly, an excerpt from Rorty Refuted Thus,

"... the twentieth century has spawned a kind of fatalistic, petulant endorsement of just these kinds of absurdist positions. Such thinking, dressed in deliberately obtuse language, feigns a kind of world-weary sophistication but is actually childish in the extreme, and near-tautological where not just plain wrong. So when Rorty says things like “truth is what your contemporaries let you get away with” or “no period of history gets reality more right than any other” he is saying something that is true, misleading, obvious and meaningless all at once. He posits an alternative to Kantian idealism that in its particulars sounds a lot like it, only without the basic assumption that reality can withstand such unreasonable extensions of logical argument. In going so far as to question whether the mind is even attempting to hold a mirror to reality Rorty elevated the reductio ad absurdum to the status of fundamental truth.

"More than a mere spiv like Derrida, he was nonetheless too in thrall to the same kind of impish nihilism that animates deconstructionism ..."

Rorty, obviously among others, is a prime progenitor for much of the pseudo-thinking and quasi-thinking that has infiltrated the public square, the public sphere. He's certainly a primary marker in that lineage, hence it that sense represents a genetic cultural genesis of what is on display in cinema, in popular culture and the culture at large. In that sense the lineage is genetic and, accomodated as such, is virtually deterministic. Root and branch, and that's the level it needs to be considered at, confronted and disestablished and founded upon more solid grounds.

QED: a well funded pseudo-independence accomodates a PC orthodoxy.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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