What is the news for?

I’ve always loved newspapers. Growing up, my grandparents had a subscription to the Flint Journal. Though my initial attraction was the Sunday comics, I browsed all the sections and was following favorite columnists — like Flint-area fixture Andrew Heller — from a weirdly young age. When Flint got a Borders, I eagerly dove into the out-of-town newspapers and “serious” magazines like the New Yorker or Harper’s. I’ve been a print magazine subscriber basically continuously since high school, and My Esteemed Partner and I take the Sunday New York Times as our Hegelian weekend liturgy. More recently, I’ve begun to get the daily Financial Times as a way of lessening my reliance on social media.

Since I had an extisting NYT subscription, I also considered simply adding daily delivery. But the first Sunday I read the A-section with that in mind, I realized that having their political coverage as my primary diet would drive me insane. Continue reading “What is the news for?”

The business press considered in light of the ontological difference

You know how I’ll frequently claim that, for all its obvious drawbacks, the business press is more reliable than the mainstream media? Here’s a good example — a Business Week cover article entitled, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

It is almost literally impossible to imagine, for example, a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover article with the same “one-sided” approach. And that’s because the mainstream media exists in order to pander to as many people’s prejudices as possible, while the business press is actually making an effort to deliver some kind of usable information.

The business press is, of course, ontologically awful. Their answer to the perennial question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” is simple and direct: in order to provide income to financial asset-holders. Ontically, however, they can be useful.

What ever happened to Harper’s?

I have been subscribing to Harper’s for over ten years, i.e., over a third of my entire life. It was crucial in my intellectual formation, presenting me with a left-wing viewpoint that was not liberal and not eager to find “common ground” — and thus probably laying the groundwork for my appreciation of Zizek. Like Zizek, Harper’s has had a tendency toward unfortunate “crackpot” material, such as an infamous article questioning the link between HIV and AIDS, but I was willing to forgive it all, perhaps out of a misplaced nostalgia.

Now, however, I’m seriously losing faith. This issue’s cover story is an argument in favor of fasting. As The Girlfriend points out, if this story were written by a woman, it would be interpreted as advocating anorexia and thus censored from many internet forums. Accompanying this is hard-hitting coverage of a pro-breast feeding cabal.

Coming in the wake of Zadie Smith’s truly heart-breaking decision to step down as author of the monthly “New Books” column, this may be more than I can take! I may let my subscription lapse — though they will be unlikely to get the message, given that for a while I had a habit of absent-mindedly responding to every renewal notice and am therefore subscribed through 2014.

Messianism and meritocracy

Yesterday, The Girlfriend was watching the SyFy miniseries Alice. We had recently watched the Tim Burton adaptation of Alice in Wonderland as well, and I remarked that it seemed strange to me that the two most recent versions of the story had taken it weirdly “seriously” — in both, Wonderland is treated as a more or less coherent “sci-fi” world living under an oppressive ruler (the Red Queen), and only Alice can overthrow her. Interestingly, both also show some awareness of the previous version — in Tim Burton’s film, Alice is literally the same girl from the book, but she’s grown up and forgotten about her adventures; in the TV series, Alice is depicted as reading the original book — but even so, they trade in the surrealistic whimsy of the original for a plodding “hero’s quest.”

As we talked about why that might be, The Girlfriend remarked that in the original, Alice was mostly a passive observer, which doesn’t fit with most people’s expectations of a movie today — the point of view character has to be an active agent. And particularly in a fantasy or sci-fi film, that character has to be a messianic agent, the “only one” who can defeat the evil ruler.

Continue reading “Messianism and meritocracy”

Don’t look back in anger: A non-obligatory 9/11 post

Yesterday the blog The Last Psychiatrist, which I’ve recommended before, reposted something he wrote soon after 9/11. The post brings home the point that for most of us, “9/11” names not so much an attack or a disaster as a media spectacle, one with a very specific message:

According to the TV, the real events of 9/11 happened not on the 95th floor, but on the ground floor. I’ve been looking in the wrong place.

People tell me that this coverage isn’t about the terrorists, it’s about the aftermath, the victims; that there are other shows about the terrorists.

Separating shows this way fosters a separation between the cause and the effect; we are focusing only on the effect, because it is very hard for us to get our heads around the cause. In doing this we are repackaging this event into a natural disaster. Something that we have no power over, no way to prevent, but something that must by necessity bring us together in our grief and our loss, and something that we must get past. No sense in describing why earthquakes happen, so let’s delve into the victims’ stories.

He also suggests that the kind of helplessness inculcated by this media specter was exactly what allowed the attacks to happen in the first place:

They say the hijackers were armed only with box cutters. If that’s true, that tells me a lot about how they perceive Americans: they expected no resistance. Not even from the pilots. Would they have brought boxcutters to El-Al or Aeroflot hijacking?

There’s a lot in the post that might seem questionable in retrospect, and he admits as much. Still, I thought it was worth pointing out.