The Talking Lion

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Frank Rich is the new black.

(Or, more likely, a nice cultural compliment to the "harder"--and by that I mean subject matter, economics--Paul Krugman. The NYT op-ed page may still be salvageable.)

In his column from a few days ago, he takes on what I think cultural historians will see as one of the most powerful forces in our culture--the total disconnect of fact from fiction. Now, there has always been a blurring between these two things, but if we confine our view to modern America--America since mass journalism arose at the end of the 19th Century--I think it's pretty clear that what matters more is slogans, programming, and buzz, than actual knowledge. Opinion reigns supreme. Rich pulls out several intertwined threads: lax, profit-driven journalism; the political theatre tied to the 24 hours news cycle, which instead of analyzing and criticizing, actually just becomes a part of the theatre; the cult of celebrity in this country; "reality" television...

The boundary between reality and fiction has now been blurred to such an extent by show business, the news business and government alike that almost no shows produced by any of them are instantly accepted as truth. The market for fake news has become so oversaturated that a skeptical public is finally dismissing most of it as hooey until proven otherwise (unless it is labeled as fake news from the get-go, as it is by Jon Stewart).

While I think his diagnosis is correct, I think that Rich is overly optimistic about the skeptical public. True, Bush's Social Security proposal is not succeeding, but I think that the problem cuts quite a bit deeper. I think that Americans have lost the difference, to a great extent, to discern fantasy from reality. So even though we are winning the Social Security fight, it isn't because we are getting through to people in a rational way, we have just gotten the images out there better. Indeed, the increasing success of creationism/intelligent-design shows that Americans are no so saturated with "fair and balanced" that anything can be put into the public discourse, because we don't use actual information and evidence anymore, just slogans and images. So even if on certain issues, we might win, it is increasingly winning within a framework detached from reality.


  • Well done Pat Kirts. Well done Frank Rich.

    By Blogger Sean, at Wednesday, 22 June, 2005  

  • Nice catch. But there are so many balls in the air these days. Keep at it. Good job, P.

    By Blogger The Heretik, at Friday, 24 June, 2005  

  • why do you say you are winning the fight? what true and convincing evidence so you buy into shows that, at least in some form, privatization is not preferable?

    By Blogger Kevin, at Monday, 27 June, 2005  

  • my winning the fight statement meant that bush isn't getting anywhere with his plan to privatize, and furthermore, i don't need to muster truly convincing evidence, because there isn't any evidence that spending an additional two trillion dollars to privatize will benefit anyone whatsoever, and it has been pretty conclusively shown that the "crisis" is a manufacture of the republican propaganda machine.

    By Blogger Patrick, at Monday, 27 June, 2005  

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