How Bad is Our Media, Really?

[Do you still intend to abandon this country?]

No question. This country is in very serious trouble. You can observe its fragmentation, its decline into disrepair, its inevitable and active self-destruction. I have no idea when the American Empire will fall, nor do I consider it to be a worthwhile topic of speculation: when the bleak history of this ill-fated nation is written, there will likely be no mention of an instantaneous collapse, which never came to be; there will, however, be much description of its protracted disassembling.

[Does it matter at which time of morning the last chip of iron of the Titanic disappeared into the Atlantic?]

Not at all. It matters only how the ship came to be swallowed by the sea. Our obsessive interest in the individual moment of death reveals our collective neurosis much more plainly that it exposes anything else.

[What is that neurosis? Superficiality? A desire to cavil? The willful displacement of the pertinent by the irrelevant?]

That is a question for a keener psychologist than I.

[Let me ask you a more modest question, then: does this neurosis, whatever its essence, discharge itself in other activities, intellectual or social?]

Needless to say, you ask this question because you suspect such behavior of the neurosis—and in this instance, your suspicions guide you well. The neurosis—which I myself suspect that we shall presently prove takes the form of attention to trivial detail—culminates in all sorts of behaviors, this titillating fantasy of America’s collapse being only one remarkable example.

[Will you furnish another?]

I shall. What is the corporate news media’s story du jour?

[Oh, it’s hard to keep pace with that relentless monster. Without peeking at my browser, I suppose it would be the shootings in New Zealand?]

Yes, and not the story of the murders in Alton, New Hampshire.

[Should the corporate media focus on those murders in Alton?]

I don’t know if it should, I know only that it doesn’t. The local division of the corporate media is dedicating some attention to that story, but even that very particular coverage is dwarfed by all that has been said within the same division of the shootings in New Zealand.

[You wonder why that is?]

If you have an idea.

[Well, it can’t be a matter of local prejudice, as Alton is much closer to any other part of America than the westernmost edge of America is to New Zealand.]

Is it a matter of numbers, then? The child in Alton killed two people, but the man in New Zealand killed fifty.

[And in most instances, we would regard the deaths of fifty people as being more significant than the deaths of two.]

This must be said. What else may be said of the difference between these two stories?

[Well, we are told that the man in New Zealand killed people for political and religious reasons.]

Why did the child kill people in Alton?

[I don’t know.]

We haven’t been told.

[That’s right. But we do have a motive—a supposed motive—for the killings in New Zealand, and that motive is naturally compelling because the conflicts of politics and religion are very frequently compelling.]

And why are they compelling?

[Because they may someday concern us personally—at least, this is what we have been told.]

And what is the benefit to paying attention to that which concerns us personally?

[Because knowledge of that which concerns us personally allows us a greater opportunity for personal benefit.]

So, we pay attention to the butchery in New Zealand at the expense of our attention to the butchery in Alton because, we believe, it benefits us to do so.


Very good! We’ve determined why we take an interest in some things and not in others: without exception, we do so because we believe it redounds to us to do so. Our belief may be mistaken, but the underlying motivation is invariable, unchanging.

[This is true, but how does this pertain to our question of the neurosis?]

Our work is unfinished. We’ve learned only why we are interested in the murders in New Zealand, but the remaining mystery is what becomes of that interest.

[What do you mean?]

We pursue information about the murders in New Zealand because we believe it benefits us to do so. Do we achieve a benefit? and if so, what is its nature? what is its function?

[Well, that benefit depends on the person. Many, many people are simply amused or entertained by the story, in which case, entertainment is their acquired benefit. However, some people use the story to justify some action, such as a call for political change, or something. Other people, such as you and I, take the story as a topic of discussion because we find discussion enjoyable.]

Does this mean that we our benefit is entertainment, too?

[I suppose so, yes. For other people, the motivation is profit: they are paid to write about this story.]

Where can we read what other people have written about the murders in New Zealand?

[Within the corporate news media.]

Wait a minute: didn’t the original story appear within the corporate news media?

[It did.]

So, when we speak of “the story”, we may be speaking of the “subsequent” commentary produced within, and by, the same corporate media?

[We may be. The commentary, the coverage, and the analysis—all of these are linked within our imagination, resulting in a colorless vichyssoise of concepts that form a most ambiguous word: media.]

Accordingly, when we speak of our pursuit of this story, or of any other story, more truthfully, we are speaking of our selection of that which the media offers.

[If this is true, then we mistake the media’s desires for our own. We mistake the media’s mind for our own.]

In speaking of the mind, I’m not sure we’ve made any mistake. What shapes our intellect? What feeds it? What makes the mind? Primarily, it is the media, is it not? Who informs our opinions? Where do we test out our own—supposedly our own—inferences, notions, thoughts, and beliefs?

[If I’m to be honest, I can’t say that it is not the media that affords the lion’s share of our intellectual fuel. We are our YouTube feeds—all too many of us, at least.]

And why do we decline an alternative source? Why do we rely on the corporate media for so much of the information we wish to call our own?

[Laziness, maybe? I don’t think we can answer that question within the parameters of this dialogue. Suffice to say that we do rely on the corporate media, for information and for so much more. The timelier question, then, is whether the information provided by that media offers us the strongest of all possible benefits.]

That question can be answered immediately, and in the negative. I have known apologists for every institution and ideology, but I have never known an apologist for the corporate news media. I have known apologists for select divisions of the corporate news media, for some of its features, but if they had been asked, each of those apologists would have declared that he or she did not believe the select divisions to be part of the corporate news media.

[The apologist believed it was an independent source?]

Your suspicions serve you well once again.

[Then we may safely presume that every reasonable person agrees with us that the corporate news media is patently evil, and to such an exhaustive extent that its particular evils need not be detailed here.]

We may safely presume. The consequence of which is what?

[The consequence is that we have confirmed your belief that the corporate news media does not offer us the strongest of all possible benefits, benefits being defined herein as worthwhile or salubrious intellectual fodder.]

And because we are what we consume intellectually, what does this observation say about us?

[It says we are not the best we can be.]

As evidenced by our continuous consumption of the toxic offerings of the media.

[Why, again, do we consume that which the media produces?]

Because we believe that it is good for us, that it brings us benefits.

[Alas, it is actually detrimental to our intellectual well-being. It is not substantive, but empty. It is not deep, but superficial. It is not necessary, but trivial.]

And thus does the neurosis, that which draws us to the trivial, find its satisfaction.

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