American Culture

Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm:


Is it possible to be more right?

The mortifying part is that it’s all by design and is the product of a campaign that began in the early to mid-1960s with the advent of the long conservative war against the old order of things. With respect specifically to what has happened to journalism and the media, we need to have a quick look at a famous 1982 policy paper, published in the Texas Law Review, by Reagan’s FCC chief, Mark Fowler, and his lead legal henchman, David Brenner. That paper, entitled “A Marketplace Approach to Broadcast Regulation,” contained this clever turn of Newspeak:

“The public’s interest, then, defines the public interest.”

In other words, the public interest is what the public is interested in.

What was afoot was the dismantling of the Public Interest standard, which manifested in a number of ways. Radio’s duopoly rules were relaxed, then eliminated.  Barriers to cross-media ownership went away. The corporitization of newspapers gained steam, fueled in part by – and if you love irony, here’s a great one – rigid inheritance tax structures. I rarely argue against the Paris Hilton Tax, but a strong case can be made that there should have been an exception for local, family owned newspapers. But as every other tax was being hacked by the right-wing revolution and its Vichy Democrat collaborators, that one, interestingly, seems to have survived well enough to make sure that papers wound up concentrated in a very few, very wealthy, and damned near uniformly conservative hands.

And so on.

Later on, my old mentor at the University of Colorado, Michael Tracey, characterized the rhetoric of Internet development as being shallow and short-sighted, obsessed with

…the market not the society, the consumer not the citizen, the want not the need, the quantity not the quality, the price not the value… (Discussion on p. 147)

Sound about right? You have to wonder – if you simply destroyed all of our media and replaced it with Project Censored, how much better off would we be? Yeah, it might be a bit boring – survival of the species can be tedious – but there are worse things in life than boredom. How was it Neil Postman put it? Ah. Amusing Ourselves to Death.

All of which is to say:

  1. Sciencegasm nails it.
  2. This isn’t new.
  3. It’s all by design.
  4. The great unraveling is right on schedule.

I hope you’ll excuse me now. I have a bunch of Chrisley Knows Best reruns piled up in the DVR, and they ain’t gonna watch themselves.

3 replies »

  1. I’ve often thought communications experts feel much more weight and energy in media than it actually exerts. The slow strangling death of print media being one example. Very few people actually give a shit. Die you whiny little error ridden partisan rags die.

    Is that bad? Is it different now than 100 years ago or 1000 years ago? No to both, people are absorbed in their own daily rat killing and have little interest or use in shouldering the broader problems of the race. Just my impression.

  2. I’d comment, but I’ve sang this sad song too many times before. As you well know, I am among the many (but perhaps too few) who feel overwhelmed by “the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution …” Too many just don’t recognize how bad off we are. If you’re young, you did not see the seeds of this being sown. If you’re old, you feel powerless to affect change.