Archive for March, 2009

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Generation A.D.D. (or how I learned to stop worrying about Fox News)

March 28, 2009

Recently, I engaged in behavior that would’ve normally made me ashamed: I indulged in a bit of online self-righteousness when I ranted about Fox News for some disparaging comments made on one of their late-night genius fests. I don’t want to rehash the whole thing suffice to say that the comments were made about the Canadian military and the clip of it has become one of this week’s YouTube phenomenons. At the time I even posted the link in my Facebook status with a snarky comment designed to incite more self-righteous hatred towards the “Fox fucks” as I was calling them. Even more embarassingly, within 24 hours I had joined and left a “Boycott Fox News” Facebook group which was spewing all sorts of pious comments left and right.

Why is this behavior something to be ashamed of? Mainly because it’s a complete and utter waste of time. Instead of doing something productive with my Wednesday afternoon, I sat glued to my computer stewing in a rage towards people who’ve made absolutely no difference in my life. There I was fantasizing about being locked in a small, windowless room with a bunch of comic hacks who’s message would’ve only been seen by the legions who watch Fox News at 3AM if not for all the internet exposure it picked up later. As I thought about it more, several notions came together and I realized how such wannabe vigilantism can do us great damage in large enough numbers.

When I first read Manufacturing Consent ten years ago as part of a Social Media course, I remember how the concept of 80% of all media being subverted into a source of distraction (including newscasts) struck me as absurd. How could the news be a distraction? Well with time grows the cynic and the cynic-makers and it’s become painfully obvious that organizations like Fox News are only interested in generating controversy and anger. Hype. Hype that I willingly helped create this past week.

Even more disturbing among current trends is that Fox is not simply happy to be a distraction. It’s primary goal seems to be generating rage, something which spreads like wildfire across the blogosphere. I suppose it makes perfect sense from a business point of view, generating controversy after controversy, one free publicity incident after the other. But as a society we should be weary when a network who’s desired outcome is creating anger succeeds as often as Fox News. Hell, Keith Olbermann has practically made a career out of his anger towards Fox News. And while he plays good cop, Fox rolls out an assembly line of jerkoffs to say inciteful things and MSNBC rolls out counterpoint efforts to each one resulting in two cable news networks doing battle on the airwaves whilst trying to spin what’s left of the daily events to their owners’ advantage.

In fact, the networks are so good at reporting only the most knee-jerk, reactionary snippets of the news that entire presidencies filled with unimaginable corruption are not forgiven but instead forgotten because there’s a newer reason to be angry. So not only are we filled with rage all the time, but we’re being robbed of our long-term memory by the sheer volume of crap out there masquerading as important news. The most recent example being AIG bonuses. This is not the most important issue within the global economic crisis. Not by a long shot, and yet because it incites understandable anger, it’s exploited.

Meanwhile attention-deficit-disorder, a term I had always considered as the medical community’s easy answer for troublesome kids, has now become a self-fulfilling affliction in large part because of the way we consume media. Constantly and ubiquitously. And in the end, the genuine threats to our society that require sustained focus go unchecked as we accept small doses of fake justice as part of our news cycle of shock and rage.

So what’s the answer? I mean the volume and intensity of the crap out there is a by-product of the technology that makes thousands of channels available and puts YouTube on your phone. How can we resist becoming victims of our own propaganda? The answer is as simple and clich├ęd as one you might give to a child struggling with a bully. Ignore it. If Fox wants rage, withhold it. If they want hype, be secretive. Shrug off infantile comments by actors posing as journalists; there only to perpetuate their failed careers. If you hate Fox News then make sure you’re not getting it with your cable package. I sure did. Write letters to advertisers letting them know where you stand. This seems to have worked once already with UPS responding to consumer pressure by saying they won’t advertise on Bill O’Reilly anymore. Believe it or not this type of legitimate, tangible activism makes more of an impact on a network than all the wasteful hate messages on Facebook combined.

And if you really want the news, make the effort to get it from several sources. International sources. It can be as easy as Google News. You’d be amazed how coverage of an incident varies paper to paper, country to country, so polish off your bullshit detectors. It’s an important skill to hone if you really want to be informed.

It may seem pretentious to be giving out such advice on a blog but we all have the potential to be sucked in by such an adept machine specializing in viewer manipulation. I thought I was insulated from such depradation here in Canada where our news is smaller and less sensational, but when you have the internet you’re exposed to everything and when Fox baited me, I went for it hook, line and sinker.

I’d like to think I can break the cycle, at least for myself.

Noam Chomsky excerpt on why propaganda works:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Chomsky criticizes the issue of concision in the US media. Very important in understanding the structure of most news shows and why you may have never heard of him.

Vodpod videos no longer available.