Thursday, February 18, 2010

Totally Fucking Gaga

I've been thinking about designing a graph illustrating the British Medienlandschaft for one of my classes next semester. I have a nice research exercise mapped out and I need a way to give students an idea of the basics. You know, with the x-axis indicating the political allegiances of different dailies and the y-axis reflecting their level of intellectual sophistication?

But right now I'm really no longer so sure that this is even feasible. I mean: what do you do when you open the website of one the dailies that, at least nominally, used to be among the more liberal and enlightened of the bunch, only to see the following screaming headline:
Revealed: eerie UFO sightings recorded in MoD files
You read on and stumble upon the following passage:
Aircraft of all shapes and sizes have been witnessed flying over a wide range of locations - including Chelsea Football Club and the former Home Secretary Michael Howard's home in Kent.
The paper doesn't say (as would be accurate): "People claimed/believed that they have witnessed aircraft of all shapes and sizes." No, the formulation here firmly asserts that visitations of extraterrestrial tourists have actually taken place.

Then you read further, only to learn that
Experts believe the records highlight how shapes of reported UFOs have changed over the last half-century.

Yeah, right - if "experts" believe it .... At least this time its "reported UFOs." But still.

And then it turns out that one of the experts the only expert consulted is yet again The Independent's favourite crystal ball gazer, David Clarke from Sheffield Hallam University (who has been previously mocked chez nous), making some banal statements about how UFO sightings are conditioned by advances in aircraft design.

This is the front page of The Independent online, people, and its most popular story today.

It think I'll just redo my y-axis: it now starts at "gaga" and ends at "totally gaga."

4 comments:

Dale said...

I think if you pick up any large-distribution US newspaper, and read it in the character of someone who hasn't had his mind warped by The Prevailing Standards of Conventional Wisdom as Conveyed by US-based Journalistic Outlets -- it infects us all -- you'll see why the editors and contributors to The Independent feel free to dumb things down considerably.

Not to say it's a good sign, the even-handed treatment given to UFO enthusiasts -- but this rot has to start somewhere. Soon enough, they'll be giving equal time to birthers, truthers, teabaggers, denialists (all varieties), and Sarah Palin's PR operation. From there it's a rapid descent to frequent op-eds by glibertarians.

By the time The Independent reaches that point, US-based journalism will be nothing but feel-good ads for "clean coal," longwinded disclaimers for exotic pharmaceuticals, and tweet-length summaries of the previous night's reality programming.

It's all on a curve, you see. And thanks to the Citizens United ruling, the curve is bending ever more steeply downward.

To the people of the future who have chanced across this and can read, or hear a computerized algorithm read to them: the Mike Judge film Idiocracy was, in our time, intended as a parody. I'm serious. It really was a parody in its time.

I'm not joking.

Ashok said...

This is a really tricky issue - as your post makes clear, the media we consume is tied to not just to the opinions we hold dear, but even our identity.

Maybe an exercise should start with expectations we have from media, and wonder aloud about the different expectations different audiences have. That can get tricky in its own way - it's going to be hard not to pass judgment - but it does raise the issue of whether all groups in a given society are literally on the same page or not.

The Wife said...

Dale - you do sound depressed!

Ashok - I know what you mean about assessing peoples' existing expectations and about ten years ago this would have been my usual way into a topic. Since then I've realised that most people (= most students) don't have expectations. What they want is me to do a little MTV-style act informing them about what they are meant to expect.

That's the only expectation they have of "the media" - of which "the university professor" forms a part these days.

I know: Like Dale, I too sound depressed. And somewhat old.

Ashok said...

More things to look forward to when teaching. *sigh*