The Coastal Post - January, 1996

Media And Media-ocracy

BY MARK VAN PROYEN

Even the hacks and toadies of the journalism industry need some time off during the holidays, so they have developed a tradition of churning out various "best of" and "worst of" lists that are supposed to mark the passing of the previous year while giving everybody involved an easy assignment that will not distract too much from the season's forced march of merriment.

It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and almost everybody does it—even media pundits like us, who can usually be counted on to come up with the "ten most under-reported stories of the past year," as a way of drawing attention to the way that the media will pick up topical stories only to drop and bury them when they seem like they might be coming close to something resembling an issue.

Of course, such punditry naively assumes that the media's job is to report with some seriousness on the events and issues of the day. The reality of the situation is quite the opposite, which is to say that the media's real job is to keep the issue of the day hidden behind a revolving carousel of smoke and mirrors, the carousel that we call Spectacle.

It is much better for the powers that be that the media remain an arcade of perpetual distraction, the instrumentality that makes an endless state of confusion seem natural, thus confirming Fashion as the authority that we must believe in. We all know what's happening from one minute to the next, but nobody knows why, thus nobody knows what to do and how to do it. Can anybody conjugate the verb to revolt without reference to some pre-packaged, sanitized and dead idea of revolution?

As if the obvious answer to the above-mentioned question was not depressing enough, Time magazine has just announced that Newt Gingrich has been valorized as their "man of the year" for 1995. The news shocked everyone here at the Media and Media-ocracy hidden computer bunker, not only because we were all pulling for Courtney Love (the irrepressible slut-diva of the alternative rock scene, a woman whose fingernail clippings have more soul and necessity than a thousand Madonna-Michael Jackson hybrids), but also because Newt was really the man of last year, November of '94 being the year of that nasty little contract.

Sure, you could always say that the legislative accomplishment of the contract happened in '95 and prove your point on a technicality, but we must nonetheless assume that Time magazine has fallen behind on its memo reading, because the writing is clearly on the wall: Newt's stock shall fall. In fact, it has been falling ever since the Okahoma City bombing, when a large chunk of disgruntled America began to realize that bad could indeed get worse if the yahoos get too much encouragement.

Check it out: American troops are on the ground in Bosnia and interest rates are spiraling down, probably to bottom out in mid-February. This is truly the stuff of presidential re-election, with the Bosnia business being set up for a protracted grind, rather than a quick victory. From the standpoint of electoral politics, the Gulf War was a disaster for George Bush because it was over too soon. By the time of the following November election, people had already forgotten the great victory, their attention having returned (by the power of media!) to the great recession. Clinton will not make the same mistake, and unlike us, he will get unprecedented cooperation from the Federal Reserve. It's refinance time!

He will also get cooperation from the media, who will be inclined to bear grudges about the kind of uncharitable remarks made by Patrick Buchanan, Senator Dole and Mr. Gingrich on the subject of the media's lack of "taste" and "values."

You think that we are lying? Keep a little tally of the remarks made about Clinton and Gingrich in show-opening monologues by David Letterman and Jay Leno, as always the two best indices of what they want us to think. Clinton will be lovingly parodied as a well-meaning but harmless dufuss while the sharp-tongued heat will be incrementally turned up on Newt's butterless budget.

All of which once again proves an ancient truth: Everything that happens in the media is there not because that's what they want you to see. Oh no. It is there because that's how they want you to see it.

Let's wish Keith McHenry a Happy New Year. His story of being imprisoned for illegally feeding homeless people in San Francisco is the winner of the Media and Media-ocracy award for most under-reported story of 1995.