Tag Archives: Media

Playground or Prison?

The impetus for this blog was a Facebook conversation, so it seems only fitting that  this space will provide an opportunity for some withdrawal from  Facebook.

I’ve always championed for social media, claiming sites like Facebook allowed me to “have the conversations that I wish I was having with the people I don’t get to see”. I’ve traveled a lot, as have many of my friends, and often our geographic locations don’t line up. Facebook allowed for maintenance of pre-existing interpersonal relationships. It might only be in the format of a brief wall post or tagged photo as simple reminder that they were on my mind, but I think that enriches relationships rather than deteriorates them.

But recently the dark side of social media reared its head (or did social media pull out the dark side of me?). A person whom I see about two-three times a year, usually in a bar, made a comment in what I perceived to be a “private space” ( yes, I realize Facebook is an antonym to “private” , but we all create some set of norms in our heads as to what belongs on there and what doesn’t) what evolved from it was a digital pissing contest.

I’m more than willing to share my life with Facebook, less thrilled about living in Facebook. So I’ve decided to take a vacation with the hopes of converting  the 10-20 minutes a day I spent on Facebook into micro/macro polemicals and other brain plasma , since that’s what I wanted to do with this in the first place.

It certainly will not  be daily but I’m going to try for a Tuesday/Thursday thing.

Things I’m digging right now:

Big Fan (the trailer makes it look more dramatic than it is)

This fall our hearts and minds were captivated by the  hoodwinks and drunken blunders of eight twenty-somethings spending their summer on the Jersey Shore. Over winter break my life was entirely consumed by it’s popularity; on a crowded Metro North train I met one of the shows producers, a friend served Pauly D. at a RI Chelos, which promted me to do some research on Facebook as to how far I was separated from the Johnston native (the answer is one). What’s interesting, and servely overlooked, is that 3/6 of the cast came from New York’s fifth burrough; Staten Island. Living in New York I’m fascinated by Staten Island, but refuse to spend more than an hour there. The fact that Mike “The Situation” emerged from Staten Island isn’t an entire surprise, but he’s not the only product of the milieu. Big Fan’s central figure is Paul, he is an equally  isolated but drastically less ambitious then his fellow islanders.  A New York Giants fan who lives at home,  works in a toll booth, and spends his days composing rebuttals to an on-air advisory;  Philadelphia Phil (played by Michale Rapperport). The self constructed force-field around Paul’s life is destroyed when he ventures into Manhattan to try and meet his favorite Giant’s player. The bulk of the movie Paul tried to forget/wish away the world outside of Staten Island . At times the film feels like it may descend into some dark territory, a Staten Island version of Taxi Driver, but there is a certain logic that governs both worlds of Paul and the Jersey Shore kids . It’s obnoxiously  juvenile, but it is not criminal.

I spent a lazy morning watching Big Fan, and upon finishing it I crossed my fingers that   True Life: I’m a Staten Island Girl rerun would be playing on MTV

Nixonland: by Rick Perlstein– forty-four men have held the title of “President of the United States” for the 226 years the position has existed. Of those men, only one has resigned. If i were to guess the number of psychobiographies on Richard M. Nixon is triple that of any other president. Nixon was an intelligent but troubled man, who fostered a political rhetoric based on (often exaggerated) moralistic outcry. But Nixonland isn’t really about the man as much as it is about “the voter who…pulled the lever for the Democrat for president because to do anything else…seemed to court civilizational chaos, and who, eight years later, pulled the lever for the Republican for exactly the same reason”.

I’m fascinated by Nixon. From a media studies stand point his presidency was created and destroyed using the new medium of TV. “Liberal eggheads” like  Newton Minlow considered TV a “vast wasteland”, but Nixon was using TV to invite a mass audience into his living room of middle-class sensibilities. Reading the constitution to his daughters, introducing America to his dog. If you ever take a Media Theory class undoubtedly someone will discuss how those exposed to Kennedy’s good looks on TV helped win him the elction, but Nixon is who shaped broadcast into the rhetoric spilling, partisan confirming, device that it is still used for today.

When Brute Force Fails: by Mark Kleinman– Interesting fact, on a global scale America has considerable less crime than other “civilized nations”, yet it has a homicide rate three times that of Australia, Canada, and the U.K. What gives?

Kleinman is a professor of Public Policy at UCLA who argues that the “brute force” of our current crime control policy has been a costly social and financial mistake. He argues  “zero tolerance” is non-sense: there is always more offenses then there is punishment capacity, but there is a way to create a “focused” form of zero tolerance. Kelinman’s command of narrative is a little more academic than someone like Malcolm Gladwell, but the architecture of the book is the same; use interesting and personal stories to engage an audience in research and analysis that is usually only interesting to experts and individauls working in the field.

I’ve been told by some friends in the criminal justice profession that this book “offer nothing new” but I know very little about the subject…. so it was new to me


Where’s the Felix Culpa?

The United States of America is a beautifully abstract idea. It’s composed of fifty different democratic experiments, none of which know exactly what they’re doing. Beyond language they share very little in common. It is for this reason I have no inherit distaste for partisan journalism. It can easily spark debate between a multitude of voices competing in the “market place of ideas”. At it’s best it encourages civil engagement. At its worse, civil paralysis; closed worlds composed of different locals, different heroes against different villains, and different newspapers to legitimize all of it. While our beliefs may seriously differ we often fail to recognize the nuances between the officials we tend to elect are about as clear as those between Coke and Pepsi.

I’d be hesitant to suggest we’re in political paralysis, but certainly the moral and political imagination of my generation is starved. Both sides seem more content battling out cultural ideologies inherited from fifty years ago than participating in a contemporary dialectic .  One side of the isle has constructed a sweepingly moronic chimera that effectively blocks any chance of conversation; the agenda of “liberal media .” I must ask, Who  composes this cadre?  When did it start?  How can someone like William F. Buckley emerge from such structure? Are we talking the local news affiliates? Books? Movies? The whole lot working together? The idea that there is a central superstructure shaping the values of  America as a whole not only seems paranoid, but reads like an Marxist evaluation of the media, and this is coming from the Right? Whose the Marxist now? Of course, “the media” do, as a whole, rely on audiences, they need to appeal to a mass. ABC,NBC, and CBS  squirm under this commercial duress, while the likes of Fox and CNN profit exactly because they pander to one side.

This system makes someone like Christpher Hitchins so interesting to me . Hitchins is a tours de force. He has written for  Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic. His articles provide basic information and a range of insights into Bellow, Borges, Byron, Churchill, Darwin,  Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Proust and a couple hundred others. His articles and essays have argued that the Cold War was an imperial pissing contest; Vietnam a horrific mistake; The New Deal saved democracy; progressive taxation entirely necessary;  but he’s also supported the war in Iraq (he likened it to having the foresight to stop the Khmer Rouge, an argument that I think works if he was talking Desert Storm ); considers abortion murder and went into the habit of baiting, ridiculing and often slandering  some of the most popular Leftist thinkers (including everyone’s favorite anti-capitalist Naomi Klein) . Many of his victims had at one time considered Hitchins a friend. Christopher Hitchins,  the man that told Bill Maher’s audience they were no smarter than George W. Bush. Christopher Hitchins, the man that pleaded with The Nation‘s readers to abandon the “isolation” of America’s left-wing in exchange for Republican’s “willingness to risk  dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”.  I can think of  few other individuals who can enrage the Left as much as Hitchins’ can.

So why is it when Hitch shows up on the Rights  central  nervous system is there such animus to his arguments ? There are a wealth of issues going on here (let us not forget that Hitchins is something of show-man. he’s in the business of selling his polemics); but  a very simple answer could be that Hitchins does not easily fit  into the immediate news cycle of  the inherited “Us vs. Them”. To understand how Hitchins can support  the idea of preemptive strikes on Iran but does not believe in Christmas takes time and attention. It also requires people to reassess what exactly they believe in. It seems like neither side really wants him, but neither side can really ignore him. Isn’t that exactly what we should be reaching for in a public figure?

Democracies are  fragile devices that require constant participation and negotiation. After being the second president of the United States, John Adams warned “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”. So much of what of what I read, and hear today is constraining our political ambitions. Public engagement collapsing will bring with it the private and political sectors of this nation. We cannot continue to exist in our isolated worlds, ignoring information because it is part of some “agenda”. Nor can we only show up at the one anthers door  to let them know we don’t agree with what they’re doing.

Our Politics should be based on pursuing realities… not chasing ancient phantoms

– I wrote this article yesterday while the Massachusetts elections were still unraveling. Brown ran a better campaign. I understand why he was elected, but I’m also pretty sure I tasted a little hemlock  in my coffee this morning.