Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How Did That Feel for You?


 The #1 movie in America was called "Ass."
And that's all it was for 90 minutes.
It won eight Oscars that year, including best screenplay
--Idiocracy (2006)

--How do you account for the fact that the bombing campaign
has been going on for thirteen years?
--Beginners' luck.
--Brazil (1985)


Yesterday was busy, so I allowed myself a few minutes of National Public Radio news at around 5:15 PM. Accustomed to NPR programs like Fresh Air, I presumed the same level of expertise with their evening news cast -- not so!

Tuning in at the end of a feature on the recent Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooter Mr Dear, the commentator asked, "So what's next for Mr. Dear?", casual-like. And I'm thinking, "Well, maybe they were expecting to hear, 'a career in stage and screen'"? Perhaps his own farm-to-table featuring nothing but aged beef?

No! Of course, what's next for Mr. Dear is a trial by law; that is how our system works when someone is convicted of killing someone else (provided they are proved mentally competent to stand trial.) Have we become so estranged from the Constitution that we have forgotten that we have a system of jurisprudence in place to handle such matters?

The following question to the hapless reporter on the scene concerned the citizens of the town: "How do they feel about it?"

How do they feel? Have we learned nothing in eons of populating this planet? Imagine, if you will, a primitive Anderson Cooper (in loincloth) interviewing a tribesman about his recent loss: "And how did you feel, Unk, when the dingoes ate your baby?"

UNK: "Unk feels bad." That is about the size of it, right? What sensible Colorado Springs resident would say that the shooting made them feel like snowboarding followed by a peppermint hot toddy? Na ga da. Just that.

Later,  an OB-GYN who practices abortion services in Kansas is asked how she feels. Can you guess? It's not good, right?

Do these seemingly inane questions following each new publicized episode of public violence serve a purpose? "What was it like for you in (Paris, Boston, etc.)?" asks the fatuous reporter. "It was a bloody shrieking mess, yeah?" Are we moving to the point where we will one day become so inured to the events that the spectator will perform as an Olympic judge? --

"Well, Frank, I'd give it an "8" for effectiveness, but a "3" for execution; it was sloppy, and many escaped unscathed. He also loses points for style and creativity."

Has our level of discourse so eroded that we share no level of commonality besides the basest emotions?

The very next story featured the Courageous Conservative darling Ted Cruz, a "good Christian man" (according to a whistle-stop attendee) who is "moving up on frontrunner Donald Trump." (Donald Trump is the frontrunner? For President of the United States of America?) Mr. Cruz, loaded for bear, is featured quoting from his favorite movie -- The Princess Bride -- to his avid band of followers who are presumably voting adults somewhere in the hinterlands.

These men are considered Presidential material by their cohort, your fellow Americans.

Having not tuned in to the evening news for decades (I started viewing as a babe) after tiring of the "SAD- BAD-MAD-GLAD" tetraptych that parades as the evening news, I was disappointed to find more of the same on NPR.

What are we thinking? Are we thinking?

 [cross-posted @ RangerAgainstWar.]


  1. Couple of thoughts, Lisa....

    The "news" division of Public Radio is pretty awful. It is better the CNN and Faux but only in degree, not in genre. We call it "Nice Polite Republicans in our house.

    The "how do you feel about..." lede is standard because teevee"news" isn't, really. It's infotainment, and because the most entertaining thing for most people are other people you get a lot of emotion of the how-do-you-feel sort.

    The bottom line is that television is a visual medium. Visual media are terrific for conveying emotion. Reflection? Not so much. To assess the thoughtfulness of a society by its visual imagery is like assessing its morals by its dirty jokes...not as incisive as you could hope for.

    The other thing to consider is that we live in a time of unprecedented popular media. Our every common vagarity and vulgarity is recorded and broadcast. Our collective memory tends to edit the past, and preserves the best examples of our public image; we tend to edit out the sentimental and foolish. But they were there, and as richly abundant as our present follies.

    Are we thinking? No less so than the public that applauded lynching and slavery and riots and wars between 1789 and 1989. The public is an ass Lisa, and always has been...

  2. Nice post Lisa. I'm in complete agreement. Note that Webster claims the word 'feel' is derived from an old Norse word meaning 'to grope'. It almost seems like Anderson cooper and his cohorts are copping a feel deep in the victims brain to pander to our voyeuristic impulses. Do they teach that "how-do-you-feel" Q&A in journalism school? What garbage!

  3. l
    the standard comment is=other than that Mrs. Lincoln how did you enjoy the play?

  4. mike,

    I enjoy the etymology. It is utter rubbish, no? The art of reportage has taken a back seat to cruel voyeurism.

    That's Entertainment!

    1. Another factor here, Lisa, may be the increasing competence of various police/government organizations in controlling access and the decreasing budgets for local news organizations. The old-fashioned local "crime reporter" who had a beat that he or she covered seven days a week has been laid off; the local news station - assuming it IS local - relieves heavily on press releases and wire services for its "news".

      There's nobody there who has an inside person in the local cop shop who'll talk to them, and the local cops are a hell of a lot better about getting their people NOT to talk to the press off the cuff. So everything is sanitized and spun, and even if there WAS a hard-nosed crime reporter his or her editor would probably spike their story rather than risk getting cut off from access with the cops or the feds or whoever.

      AND add to that the ridiculous feeding frenzy behavior of the modern press whenever presented with a "scandal" or a big emo story versus the lack of, for example, painstaking reportage on potentially horrendous impacts of international trade deals...AND the terror the media conglomerates have of saying anything that will get them crosswise with the political powerbrokers (especially from the Right, given the inane persistence of the "liberal media" trope). So you'll never hear any of the media talking heads say "Well, that's a lie..." when some politician lies...

      And the voyeurism was always there - think "Police Gazette" and the dime novels of the past. It's just that the media organizations are forcing their news divisions to make a profit. There's no profit in "real news"; it's to hard to dig for, and too un-entertaining for the proles. So "cruel voyeurism" (i.e. infotainment) becomes the soup de jour...

    2. Chief,

      "There's no profit in "real news"; it's to hard to dig for, and too un-entertaining for the proles."
      I think this is symptomatic of a larger trend in our society. There is a way to make profit on real news. There are quite a few serious news outlets that do dig deep on the failings and corruption that's destroying our society. And I'm pretty sure that you can make money off of them, but it's not "retire at 25" money. It's 10% return on investment. It's 5% return on investment. It's solid and steady and doable, but why would you bother when you can make 1000% return on investment in some sort of mashable infotainment project?
      We've made the mistake of assuming that if a billion dollars of investment is out there and there are those 3 options (1000%, 10% and 5%), then some of that money will go to those other options, but it just doesn't happen. Why would it? The greed and opportunity is too great and so you end up with that one startup with so much more money than is needed and the other groups starved for cash.
      This is endemic in our society. We're about to dump money in self-driving cars while the roads fall apart. We want housing in our major cities but can only get luxury condos developed that don't alleviate the crises.

      Real news has a place and a limited market and a real return on investment. But more important it serves an actual function. It informs people about how best to run society. We need to value you that more as a society and penalize the junk that's saturating the markets.

      There's a proper place for cola, burgers and twinkies. There's a proper place for their intellectual and entertainment equivalent. We have to reign the junk in by actual means because the previous limits were only on the means of production and those have been eliminated more or less. We need to artificially restrain them. We'll get sicker and sicker until we do, and worse, until we realize that the glut is the problem, we'll keep on moralizing individuals for making bad decisions on a failed social compact between consumer, company and government.

      PF Khans

    3. Agreed, Chief, the newspapers are running a paper-thin operation these days, and most local papers are forced to put the money into sports or local entertainment to keep subscribers.

      PF Khans has taken the situation down well -- why do the grind of good daily reportage "when you can make 1000% return on investment in some sort of mashable infotainment project?" FB's Zuckerburg is worth $45 billion off of revenue ads from his vanity project which we have so gladly helped him to earn (and in the process, eagerly given away our privacy to the data mavens.)

      We lack perspectve. I mean, why should an app be worth multi-millions of dollars that shows you where to find a parking space? As you say, "the glut is the problem", and we're nothing if not gluttonous beings driven by our appetites.

    4. I'm not so sure about the whole "news can make money", PF. For most of it's existence, for example, the NBC News (of the "Huntly-Brinkley Report" of my childhood...) ran at a loss, subsidized by the entertainment division. Newspaper news divisions weren't the moneymakers - the advertisements were.

      I DO agree with you that the corporatization and monetization of the media outfits means that you "can't do that" anymore because subsidizing the news bureaus means that you're only making 41 percent profit rather than 44 percent and that won't feed the stockholders, goddamnit.

      And "perspective", Lisa? For most of us "perspective" is a job at the end of the day, a roof over our heads, and a full belly. The pharoahs and the czars knew perfectly well what the CEOs and the investment bankers know - the hairless monkey is largely concerned with its genitals and its belly. Since when has the human race EVER been good with "perspective"?

      And that comes back to "penalizing junk". How? What is "junk"? Should I be jailed, for example, if I eat too many Whoppers in a month? Should I lose my Internet privileges if I watch more than three cat videos a day instead of reading Jacobin magazine.

      OK...now I will agree to some simple things we can do. Force breakup of media empires. You couldn't be able to own more than two newspapers or TV or radio stations in any geographic area. All government business - and, yes, I'd argue even for the "secret" black budget stuff - should be conducted in public; no news agency should have to whore for access. Shit, I'd argue that there should be a fine for any news organ that reports and lie and doesn't call it a lie...

      But how you going to do that? The monopolists and corporate oligarchs have the Democrats in their pockets and the Republicans...well, as we used to say in the Army, the Republicans are booted so far up their butt they taste the Kiwi on the back of their tongue. Who's going to push those changes through the Congress now?

    5. Lisa and Chief,

      Majority of humanity lacks perspective. That's always been true. The number of people who care to know about the world and make a difference has always been small and that's for the best. We don't need everyone to be focusing on these very complex and largely extraneous issues.
      Daily life is just about all most people can handle. That's fine, but the big change, as I see it is:
      a) there's stupid money floating around chasing non-productive but money making ventures
      b) everyone else is so concerned with keeping pace that companies really only utilize other values in order to make money, ie veterans day and memorial day are days where companies try to advertise their "service focus" AND try to make some money off of veterans coming in
      c) there's so much junk and entertaining product and it's subsidized so readily that it's pretty much the default to see nothing real or helpful in your information stream.

      The end result of this is that we get used to junk that gets sold to us by companies that are trying to appear moral while also feeling informed by the process.

      The solutions are 'obvious' but also difficult to imagine getting passed without serious ground work being done in America. Tech companies are making so much money and generating very little value to consumers relative to their cost. They can be taxed as a result. We don't need to let Amazon operate at a loss and destroy local business so they can enjoy monopoly later. We don't need to let Apple and Google all operate on a near 0% tax rate, those are decisions we make as a nation.

      I hear you Chief, on it ain't gonna happen any time soon, but the alternative is that we keep running this particular wagon until the wheels fall off which isn't that attractive a proposition. First step, for me at least, is to try and handle what I can handle in the news and otherwise, just turn it off. If it's junk and about something that matters to me, I ignore it as best I can. It's like an information diet.

      PF Khans

  5. Chief,

    Agreed on the power of the visual, but radio should be immune to that vulgar "corpse showing". I suppose they're as pressured to create a word picture as all of the other streaming media are able to do, in technicolor.

    We don't want words, we want feelings. Perhaps we are like junkies needing an ever-greater fix, because we actually feel nothing.

  6. I'd say, rather, that we "feel" too much; we're often praised and appreciated for being emotional and castigated for being stoic or "uninvolved". Look at this year's political circus. Trump, a thin-skinned blowhard with no filter between what passes for his mind and his mouth, is feted for his "authenticity" and his "rejection of PC correct-speak"...

    As for radio, well...the primacy of radio is history. It is, if anything, the poor stepchild of television now, and it largely takes its patterns from the idiot box.

    And another thing to think about is the teevee-induced fragmentation of our attention spans and how it has affected our ability to listen and think about what we hear. Go read the speeches of the 19th century. Read the Lincoln-Douglas debates, or the sermons of the Victorian period. Those bastards are both long and complex. Listeners had to pay attention for long periods as the speakers wove arguments that required pretty sophisticated skills to recall what was said half an hour earlier and wrap it into the thread of the speech. One speaker would take fifteen minutes to rebut something said forty minutes before that...often using verbiage that college students today would find dense and uncongenial. It was that sort of listening skill with which the people of the times entered the radio age.

    After sixty years of teevee those high-level listening skills are pretty much gone...so is it surprising that radio "news" has adopted the emo language and stylings of the teevee?

    1. Interesting, Chief:

      I'd say, rather, that we "feel" too much; we're often praised and appreciated for being emotional and castigated for being stoic or "uninvolved".

      I find that which you are calling "feelings" to be more akin to indigestion, more of a bodily reflex mimicking the party line (of your party.) Feelings imply something, well, felt. An impression, an authentic response. I doubt that people who raise a hue and cry today feel. More at, they are discharging some irritation along some p.c. lines. True feeling I do not see too much.

      I agree that stoicism is incorrectly conflated with the idea of being "uninvolved", but I can't see that being not involved has ever bothered most Americas too much. Pity that the rational, disinterested mind has been chucked overboard like so much flotsam in a sea of knee-jerk reactions.

      ... the knee-jerk twerk? (I amuse myself.)

    2. Why do you say that the people who are expressing these emotions are not actually expressing what is in their minds and hearts? We are not poets or orators, most of us. We are horrible at expressing our deepest feelings. It may well be that they are, indeed, saying what has struck them most deeply. I cannot peer into their hearts, and neither can you.

      Rational and disinterested? I'll believe that the first time I see it. In 58 years I have not yet.

    3. Ostracism is painful; people want to belong, and to be approved of. To do that, they either subsume the groats being fed to them by their organization/media feed of choice, or they feel they've done something if take that and ramp it up a notch.

      Ironically, ISTM if these same voluble people were to tame their gall and react in a rational manner to the incidents before them, even the simplest person could then formulate a deeply felt thought. It could not be mimickry, though -- it would have to be their own formulation, regardless how rough-hewn.

      As Emerson wrote, "A just feeling will fast enough supply fuel for discourse, if speaking be more grateful than silence. When people come to see us, we foolishly prattle, lest we be inhospitable. But things said for conversation are chalk eggs."

    4. But how do you react in "a rational manner" 1) to what is clearly an act of mad violence, and 2) when "reacting in a rational manner" - that is, noting that the ridiculously over-armed American public is a perfect breeding ground for homicide AND that the constant drumbeat of Republican horror-propaganda about "baby parts" and "abortion is murder" is pretty much guaranteed to motivate those homicidal loons - is instantly and violently punished by the screeching monkeys of the GOP monkeyhouse screaming about "politicizing violence" and "the liberal media".

      A rational discussion about the murders in Colorado would have immediately established all of those points and proceeded from there. The people who want to kill abortion providers and ensure that they have the weapons to do so have the political wherewithal to halt that rational discussion before it starts.

      So a "rational discussion" of these sorts of violent deaths is instantly off-limits leaving the news talking heads with nothing but the "how did you feel about that?" line of discussion.

      Read the Vox article I posted below, Lisa. You think the "news" is a problem now? Wait. It's gonna get worse.

    5. Chief,

      There are many salient themes in your reply. I will use "screeching like monkeys" and "mad violence".

      To those I would say, almost ALL "screech like monkeys", both right & left, and "mad violence" should be defined and understood. Obviously, it will be different in each case.

      Violence is rarely "mad" (as in, "ridiculous", or "foolish"), and ISTM that these shooting events are perpetrated by three predictable groups:

      1) The mentally unstable (Newtown, Aurora, et al.)

      2) Islamic people, or Islamic sympathizers, affiliated with outside groups, or not (Boston, Ft. Hood, Alameda, et. al.)

      3) Disaffected White Males [DWM] (Colorado Springs, Charleston, et al.) The DWM is the only cohort in America losing life span as of the latest medical studies.

      If we fail to recognize this in the too easy name of being politically correct (i.e., "Guns causes all them problems"), then we are failing ourselves, and our nation.

      Reagan emptied the institutions. We now have far too many over or under-medicated people who need in-house care. Their mentally destabilized state leaves them as tinderboxes. The Islamic state (=situation) can only be spoken about in tomes.

      The DWM is a tragic cohort that we cannot ignore; we have been disdaining them for too long. Look at pop culture. The Family guy is an unawares dunce, and everyone has it over him. Academia has been railing against dislodging Dead White Males (DWM) from the literary canon for 40 years. Every white male becomes the target and repository for hatred and disgust over wrongs which predated their lives, and which their families in most case never participated in.

      --I'll politely disagree with you here: "The people who want to kill abortion providers and ensure that they have the weapons to do so have the political wherewithal to halt that rational discussion before it starts." The people committing these actions have NO "political wherewithal". Their feelings of disenfranchisement are part of the reason they resort to murder.

  7. It's worth noting that "news", whether profitable or not, has a very troubled future given what we're seeing right now: