Our Media Disease – Are they the problem, or are we?

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Dear Matt,

You are a rational and thought-provoking writer. Do you think we will ever get back to the point where people learn to be better media consumers? I don’t know if we ever will or can again.

Gary K.

Well then, as an alleged rational thought-provoker, let’s plant a seed in your mind and watch it grow: Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock. Actually, I didn’t say that. The storied screenwriter/journalist Ben Hecht did. And why am I quoting him? Because a quotation is a handy thing to have about, saving one the trouble of thinking for oneself, always a laborious business. Actually, I didn’t say that, either – A.A. Milne did. And I believe I just proved his point. Less derivatively, I try not to write about the media often. Because the media is usually so busy writing about itself that it can be difficult to get a word in edgewise. Its solipsism aside, there is plenty of justifiable anger directed at the media from all camps: for its partisan hackery, for its lazy thinking, for its sensationalism and addiction to accentuating conflict. There are legitimate reasons, these days, that journalists are about as popular as genital warts or congresspersons. But such anti-media rage is also a cop-out. Getting angry at the media for what ails us is a bit like getting mad at the mirror for making us look dumpy. Maybe the mirror isn’t well-constructed. Maybe it’s distorting our image with uneven surfaces or unflattering light. But for the most part, the mirror is showing us what’s standing in front of it. Besides, you don’t yell at your McDonald’s drive-thru attendant for serving you junk food. If you’re consuming McDonald’s, that’s what you’ve come for. If you wanted health food, you’d obviously go to Arby’s. (They’ve got the meats, and if it’s fruit you desire, also cherry turnovers.) Similarly, when you step into the octagon of your cable-news combatants or some low-rent sensationalist website (Mediaite comes to mind – I read it religiously!), you’re typically not going to get edification, enlightenment, and deep cosmic insights into the human condition. You’re largely going to get quarrelsome people throwing food at each other. And not healthy food, either – the food-fight equivalent of Chicken McNuggets, if “chicken” isn’t too strong a modifier for the nugget genus.

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