A Brotherhood of Slaves on the Media Plantation

[I wanted to revisit a comment you made in a recent entry. You claimed that, if Michael Avenatti were to become the Democratic nominee, we would witness a sharp and sudden rise of suicides in these United States?]

Mmm-hmm. No question. Trauma would be the only campaign theme. Everywhere you read, no matter if it were left-wing, or right-wing, or something in-between, you would be told that there is the greatest chance of a legitimate apocalypse befalling us if we don’t make the right choice in this next election.

[Don’t they churn up that same garbage every four years? “Vote like your life depends on it”, or something equally stupid? What would make Trump vs. Avenatti so special?]

In reality, very little. But in the land of make-believe, in the magical nightmare of the American news cycle, it would be promoted as the final chapter in the history of the human race.

[Just like any other election. Hell, they said that about these midterms, and, last time I checked, no one’s head exploded.]

But in the case of Trump vs. Avenatti, people would believe it. Normal people really would believe that their lives, their personal lives, were endangered, and that the only way to avert death, real and final death, would be to vote a certain way.

[If folks are gullible enough to believe something like that, then let ‘em. Evidently, they ain’t quite as normal as you thought.]

Normalcy is relative. See, you’re speaking of intelligence or rationality or what-have-you. All of that probably comes into play through a discussion of the American political culture, but all of that is qualitative, all of that is particular. Normalcy, being relative, is a very different thing, and the question of what is normal in America has changed considerably since Trump won the election. This isn’t the same culture it was two years ago.

[Have things changed . . . forever?]

Actually, that is an excellent question. I can’t say for sure. No one can, because we’re still living in the Trumpish Age. Once Trump is gone, then we can examine the long-term mental health of Americans overall. But until then, we have to exist in this little holding pattern, and we can concern ourselves only in the present and the past.

[But you’re looking ahead, ain’t ya, short-timer? You’re thinking about Trump vs. Avenatti, and about all sorts of things that may or may not happen.]

Well, when I talk about Trump vs. Avenatti, I’m talking about the media’s role in covering the race. That is pretty easy to envision: in that scenario, we’re talking about the continuation of a current trend, rather than the origin of something emergent, something new.

[Is the media really as predictable as that?]

Yes, it is. The media changed in some subtle way during Trump’s ascent, but it was almost totally predictable prior to that shift, and shortly after the election, it became fatiguingly boring yet again. I can’t really imagine a second shift occurring after 2020, although I can easily imagine it all taking an even sharper turn south.

[Let’s back up to something you said a moment ago. You spoke of “the media’s role” in Trump vs. Avenatti, but isn’t “the media’s role” in the election also the election itself? How can you define, or how can you delimit, “the media’s role” in something that will not exist, and even cannot exist, without the incessant, comprehensive support of that same media?]

So, you’re saying that it isn’t a matter of media coverage of the election, but that this election will be held . . . within the media?

[I would say so. How would you even know anything that is going on in this election unless you were consuming some form of media? Ultimately, the decisions that everyone will make in the voting booth are almost completely contingent on what kind of media that person watched prior to the election. The next two years are not a race against time for the various candidates, but a race against time for the media conglomerates of this country, a race to shovel as much digital food into the eyeballs of the mouth of as many Americans as possible before November 3rd, 2020.]

CNN and Fox will decide the election. David Levy and Rupert Murdoch are on the ballot.

[Hey, have you ever noticed that David Levy doesn’t have a page on Wikipedia?]

Nope, but the same organization will tell us everything we’ll ever want to know about an influential masterpiece like Malibu’s Most Wanted.

[And if that doesn’t scare you, then it should. So, it’s a foregone conclusion that the media will be the arena wherein this battle is fought?]

I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be. The media is designed much like a prison, and it operates as such, capturing all thought and locking it within a very narrow space. Accordingly, the only way for us to escape this gulag of the mind is to bust out of it, to leave the media behind.

[And that will never happen. At least, not any considerable scale.]

No, it’s hard enough to do it independently. To do so, you have to abandon yourself to chaos: you will either become so ignorant as to become, in effect, another beast within the herd, or else you will live so far apart from your fellow humans that will be seen as inhuman.

[And to those who are desperate to be accepted by others, that is a fate so much worse than death. It’s more than enough to discourage most of the legitimately open-minded, never mind those who are inflexibly timid. Do you know how many people are scared to be alone for more than an hour? Can you imagine telling those people to leave all of their sentimental illusions behind, to stand on the other side of the fence, and not even physically, but only mentally? This is the age of the claw, the age of the relentless attachment to someone, anyone, so long as loneliness is thwarted.]

For the average American, does nothing thwart loneliness half as effectively as the media?

[Probably. It convinces you that you have something in common with everyone around you, since your opinion is shared—assuming, of course, that your opinion is one of the two that are permitted by the overseers of the media plantation. “Everything is all right, my dear: don’t you see how many friends you have, how many friends you are destined to make?]

Oh, this is so dispiriting. But that doesn’t mean it’s false. Think about it: when was the last time you checked your phone? Do you think you’re missing something? Do you think there might be a news story worthy of your immediate attention?

[I know. And what, exactly, do I need to know right now? Let’s make ourselves look guilty as hell by taking a peek. Let’s see: apparently, Trump is looking to discriminate against the transgendered, the economy is expected to suffer if climate change becomes catastrophic, and . . . a man is killed when his dog hops behind the wheel of his forklift and crushes him? Did I seriously just read that headline?]

Yeah, I see it, too. But the first two articles are supposedly essential. Supposedly, we have to know these things if we want to keep informed. And that, by the way, is pretty much the only thing I’ve been able to tell myself whenever I think about quitting the news: “If I don’t read it, then won’t I become an ignoramus? Won’t I be as uninformed as the general public that I spend every waking moment of my life complaining about?”

[Actually, the guilt trip that is promoted in every so-called democracy is that you have to vote, not that you have to read the news. Of course, if you’re uninformed, then you probably shouldn’t vote.]

Because that stops anyone from voting? The people who don’t vote are the people who don’t have any interest in the process of voting, not people who don’t have any interest in what is happening in America right now.

[Right, but there’s a lot more happening in this country than whatever toxin is riding the winds blowing out of Washington. This reduction of the American psyche to its political aspect is a recent phenomenon, and one that is grossly inaccurate, as well. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg fell and broke her ribs, the BBC published an article explaining “why half of America panics” when her health is in question. Do you honestly believe that fifty percent of the American population even knows who Ginsburg is?]

No, I don’t, and you raise an important point: two years ago, this country was derided, rightly, for its political apathy and ignorance. This is a non-voting democracy, and as such, it was seen as the laughingstock of the political world for decades—and even we Americans were in on the joke! It wasn’t until Trump knocked Clinton off her imaginary perch that the news media painted a very different portrait of the national political psyche. We were told a bunch of myths about how there is no shortage of activists in this country, how every woman always votes—

[Every woman always votes for the Democratic Party, you mean.]

Yes. That, too. There’s a massive list of lies that have been promoted by the media in the aftermath of Trump’s unexpected victory, all of them pertaining to this ridiculous fantasy that the American people are totally political, and constantly engaged politically. It’s a very hollow lie, one that could be seen through by all who have managed to keep their wits about them in the past two years, but the media has pushed it so aggressively, so assiduously, that it’s become easier to acquiesce and to accept it than to challenge it.

[So, why do you think the media has suddenly promoted this lie, or these lies? Is it because Trump is such a bottom-feeder, such a scavenger intellectually, that it’s convenient to focus on him all the time? And because the media needs to have some kind of angle, this portrait of “constant political consciousness” is not only marketable, but self-congratulatory and self-satisfying?]

That is a big part of it, yes: we all want to think that we are well-informed, that we are “aware” in a way that our enemies are not—our enemies being those who check off a different name in the voting booth once every two-to-four years. That trend is truly disturbing, as it allows ignoramuses, the pretentious and the modest, to fancy themselves as political scientists, even though they never thought about politics at all before Trump ran for office, and even though they still haven’t read a serious work of political philosophy. However, there is another issue, and that is the effort to hide the media’s own role in electing Trump.

[Ah. So, you think the media is trying to cover its own hide, to atone for all that it did in the lead-up to 2016?]

I wouldn’t go so far as to speak of atonement; after all, it is incredibly obvious to me that the left-wing news outlets would be delighted with another four years of Trump, even though they would look very foolish, were he to be re-elected. No, I think the media has been working overtime to secure the good graces of the American people, because these same people were betrayed by the media in 2016.

[Betrayed?]

Yes, betrayed. The so-called journalists of this country—the anti-journalists, as John Pilger once described them—abdicated their responsibility to the American people in 2015 and 2016. With the possible exception of Fox News, which really didn’t seem to have any clear idea of how to cover Trump until he was elected, the news media depicted the 2016 campaign as a classic horror film: every day, Trump the boogeyman would step onto the campaign stage and terrify the people with some horrid statement, but then, the monster would be slayed by the statistician, who would remind us that, for all of his bluster, Trump stood no chance at all of winning the election, and all would be right in the end.

[Until it wasn’t. Trump won, and that meant that the media has some explaining to do. There’s a video that is rather popular among conservatives: titled “Trump Can’t Win”, it is a collection of various news commentators, as well as President Obama, expressing their conviction that Trump would not win the election. Of course, the clip show culminates in CNN’s roll call of every state that voted for Trump. The specific message of this video is vague, but it seems to be that the left-wing media is clueless. You seem to believe, though, that the media is not clueless, but reckless?]

Correct. The left-wing media outlets—CNN, MSNBC, BBC, etc.—failed in their basic duty to the American people. They behaved as if the election of Donald Trump were an impossibility, when it wasn’t even an improbability: some polls, taken several months before the election, gave Hillary Clinton a twelve-point advantage, but this was obviously an abnormal inflation, one that certainly would not be sustained to the moment of the vote. In fact, most of the polling that was conducted in the final weeks before the vote placed Clinton in the lead, but only by four, five, or six points—hardly the insurmountable advantage that was envisioned months before.

[You can contrast this with the election of 2012: most of the polling put Obama ahead of Romney by a few points, as well, but CNN and its brethren never insisted Obama would win, never depicted the election as a mystery whose ending was known before the opening curtain. It’s the rigorous, emphatic, unambiguous declaration that Hillary would prevail that is so hard for us to grasp. You could argue that CNN kept its viewers on their toes in 2012 to ensure that they went out to vote for their candidate, Obama, but if that’s the case, then what does that say about 2016? Could it be that the left-wing media was consciously complicit in Trump’s ascent? Could it be that its many organizations wanted their viewers to stay home and let Trump win, thereby allowing them to sell a new, much more necessary, product in 2017 and beyond?]

That product being . . . the resistance?

[Yes, the resistance. The phony, insincere, corporate-sponsored resistance. And how can one best demonstrate one’s allegiance to the resistance? By voting for the candidates that are endorsed by the news organizations that failed to inform the American people in 2016? And in what, specifically, would such voting result?]

In the grand homecoming: in the great return to the same media that made 2016, to the same media that made 2018, and to the same media that will make 2020.

[If you want to venture south, you don’t even have to pack your bags. Order another round, ‘cause we’re staying here!]

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