Journalistic articles are heavily schematic; of all the prose styles they’re the closest analogue to pop music. They use a very simple rhythmic pattern aggressively to get into your ear above all other considerations in a manner perhaps only surpassed by the prose advertisement, which in the print magazine works as the refrain between the verses of the supposed primary content. Sentimental and nostalgic reflections are shot back on its history; it gives grand retrospectives and revues of its greatest hits and it trains you how to passively consume it from about the first time you’re dragged out in public in a stroller. A news story catches and you hear bits of it every time you go to the supermarket or the drug store. It can’t be helped.
This tells you a bit, though not much more than the blanket statement that the majority of the songs on the radio work on a verse-chorus-verse structure. Other schematics are at play that change in their texture and attack over time much as the pop sound of today feels different than 40s big band sounds did.
The major difference that marks contemporary opinion pieces’ more specific coordinates and positioning in the circle jerk is the gerrymandering of where the locus of power lies and therefore the target our collective amorphous misgivings ought to be directed toward on any given day. Like cell phone contracts, a lot of crap is packaged together in ways it doesn’t need to be but in a manner meant to confuse the reader. The “ideological purity” of certain political stances is questioned for what are likely opportunistic reasons. Many of the misgivings about the practical applications of identity politics are put to these ideological “purity tests” in order to ironically obscure the valid part of the complaint.
When an article is shared on social media it tends to be simply as a triangulation of an earlier opinion. Often times the person sharing has not read the article. The news exists in large part at present as an external signifier of self; its a way of outsourcing the speaking of the mind so it appears our personal gripes are legitimized by the presence of an article the way that things become “real” for their having been presented on TV and not vice versa.
Part of this is media overload; there’s so much stuff out there. In the spirit of that great question “Is the chicken just an egg’s way of making more eggs?”, I must ask if the event itself and the specifics are simply now the rough draft for the eventual summary; I must ask whether the great novels will reach their truest purest form as Cliff’s Notes, whether the Cliff’s Notes will eventually be eclipsed by quick introductions and meta-meta-highlight reels, the “best” and “important” parts of things meant to represent the “best” and “important” parts of what were considered the “best” and “important” milestones of human culture? What was in an earlier age presumed to be the actual thing’s claims toward being the actual thing seem more and more tinged with the whiny taste of sour grapes. Who has the time to keep their ear to ground AND hold a job? No one whose job isn’t specifically keeping their ear to the ground. To be informed at this stage in history is not to be close to what’s happening but to be exceptionally fluent in spotting tells in the sleight of hand of summaries. We’ve all realized history is cobbled together from the surviving documents, not the events. This has always been true. Perhaps nothing more than a winking gentleman’s agreement sustained the perceived primacy of the event until now.
The journalist is not put in a position of having much or any particular easy recourse to self-respect at this point; the wages are low, the institutions hiring are almost all primarily expecting a person who can write PR bullshit. Whatever ridiculous claims to objectivity or public service…well, the claim of “public service” in an employment context at this point is essentially an excuse to pay people less than they’re worth. “But what you’re doing is important!” means about as much in this economy as if they put a shiny sticker shaped like a star on your paychecks.
The position of the young or old journalist at present would seem to be, especially on the most trafficked sites, the creation not of guided propaganda as may have been the case in an earlier time period, but simply the scouting out of persons already possessed of the desired worldview of the political body needing propaganda. The journalists themselves might still have silly pipe dreams of objectivity but the people with the money have no such concerns. There’s a large enough labor surplus at the moment where the lines between the serious journalism ideals of the 20th century and the internet induced Frankenstein of public relations and mild reporting are pretty much foregone conclusions; when a company puts at least the doublespeak of “innovation” or that they’re “looking for strong original minds”, it’s a formality and shouldn’t be taken any more seriously than such invocations would be if they were spotted in a dating profile.
Only the possibilities of panic or novelty can imbue the news with any sort of claim to our attention; while the pressure to be “informed” still exists, the suspicion that most of what goes on in the papers doesn’t actually have much bearing on our lives, for reasons of the pettiness of the content or simply the recognition that most of the population is firmly disempowered to make meaningful political change until the current oligarchy is collapsed. The current media giants mostly work to confuse and disenfranchise. They know that the popular narrative of the present is going to involve finger pointing and the fingers are all waving around anything and everything like the profession caught an advanced case of Parkinsons. Thomas Pynchon’s 3rd proverb for paranoids: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
People are pissed off. That’s easy enough to see. So the cases being made on sites like Salon, Slate and so on are revolving more and more around how define the demographic to go after when the pitchforks come out. Tellingly this demographic seems to be gerrymandered in these articles increasingly to avoid pointing out the simple and nearly universal target: the rich. The bankers. Their collaborators. The people who fucked shit up and keep fucking us.
Am I saying that the patriarchy hasn’t done awful shit? No. Am I saying that white people haven’t done awful shit? No. But any time that these lines are invoked without also calling out the heads of the large banks, the corporate heads, the administrators and middle men, the bought off legislators and careerists who’ve perpetuated the current corporate seizure of sovereignty in this country, I’m calling bullshit. We can advance the positions of women and the general disenfranchised in this country without becoming collaborators with the reactionary bourgeois.
I’d make some appeal to the better nature of these columnists here but I have little faith in them or that they’re reading this, so I’ll make an appeal to the better nature of the reader-don’t be timid about calling bullshit when there’s bullshit in the offing.