By Winston Smith
Living with your parents provides you with a unique vision of yourself in the far future. The parts that made your whole are laid bare before you and you are in the position to analyze the particular idiosyncrasies that you have either inherited or developed in response those of your parents. You get to see what one part of you has grown into, and it provides you the ability to follow that path of growth or deviate.
Each and every day that ends in “y” my father is glued to the television. However, that is not all that uncommon. What is concerning, however, is the content that he is constantly consuming. It’s a constant barrage of CNN, NBC, MSNBC (and some FOX programming for good measure). Stop me if you have a parent like this. Everyday they come up to you and recount the most outrageous story of the day. Driven by a deep desire, especially following the election of Donald Trump, to keep abreast of the developments and make sure that YOU know what has happened this day, and more importantly, that you know THEY know.
In this day and age it is not difficult for a young person to set up near automatic methods to consume media. Either by creating new alerts or by robotic and compulsive use of smartphones. News alerts, push notifications, emails from that organization you gave 5 bucks in 2008. Everyone is pushing “news” onto you. So when your parent comes up to you and begins to bug out about how much of a scumbag the latest Trump official is, you’re already in the know.
However, even though you know, it’s almost impossible to look away from the television and stare blankly as Chris Cuomo talks to two partisan schmucks about the controversy du jour. It seems that I’ve revealed my position too early, however I do not think that it is an unknown factor that I do not like most media. The carefully created visual landscape of swirling red and blue (of course intentional) colors superseded by literal blocking of talking heads always on the opposite side of each other (politically and visually) used in a way to help present to you, dear viewer, the news and hot takes for your viewing pleasure.
Now let’s not get this confused, this style of television programming is not limited only to CNN’s Chris Cuomo (why am I so fixated, maybe it’s his beach reporting). I challenge you to find a modern American television news program that does not utilize the same style of visual programming.
These visuals help reinforce the work that the host of the particular program is allowed to give you a 10 second recap of the basic facts of the story at hand before teeing the story off to a guest (usually some type of political profiteers) who then is trusted to give you further information on the story. The corruption of the news process is obvious yet obscured by the entire structure and process of the proceeding segment. The line between “insightful” commentary and reporting of the facts is blurred to the point where it is even sometimes difficult to differentiate when the reporting is done and the barking begins.
The rotating cast of what truly are co-hosts then provide you with the obvious retorts that surprise no one. The liberal doesn’t like the conservative thing. The conservative likes the conservative thing. They get to yell a bit at each other and then go for a mai thai after the cameras cut off. But you, viewer, are left with the faces, too many to remember effectively, who are passionate about their beliefs and have come to bring to YOU their hot take.
FINE. Yes, this is all well and good it seems. However, it is inescapable and many times, thrust upon you when trying to figure out what exactly happened.
So back to my father.
My father recants the developments of the day while demanding my diligence. However, when the story of the day isn’t the personal reckoning of a person who should have lived their lavish life in privacy it becomes a bit more concerning. When the story is about a real political issue, when it comes to real issues of economic, political, and legal then this C League becomes a bigger problem. See, the issue comes in that they will swirl the party colors before your eyes, have some dramatic sound while the faces reenter your sight, and they will begin to effectively say one of two things: “I like this thing!” “I do not like this thing!” Is this the level that we are all comfortable leaving political “commentary” at? Can we please get a show of hands?
Not only does this structure of “reporting” reinforces the narrative that there really is only two-sides to every issue, it does nothing to truly inform the viewer of actual policy alternatives. This is very dangerous.
Side Note: For some of you, this sentiment is familiar. In fact, as I wrote this I realized that Jon Stewart had more of an effect on me than many “real” political commentators. Specifically, Jon Stewart’s masterful performance on the now defunct Crossfire has had such a lasting impact that I must acknowledge it so as not to be accused of intellectual plagiarism.
As we allow our political commentary to be so distilled, to be so reduced, to be so truly meaningless, we lose any and all benefits that could possibly be gained. Even if we never even had this baseline of actual policy discussion that is no excuse for the embarrassment of informed political discussion that is said to occur on every major news program but actually does not.
My father is not a fool. His political identity is not developed through his watching of political television programming. However, when he proudly proclaims to be a political junkie I feel so betrayed. Consumption of modern television news programming is horrid and persists only because at one point we believed that television and the people on it knew what they were doing. When I engage with my father on these topics he isn’t able to tell me about specific policy provisions that would address the issue at hand. (Which is not an indictment on him, it is an indictment to irresponsible “news” programming.) However, he has been convinced that he is because he watched the news, obsessively. The news gave him these “experts” to listen to and think about, how could he not be? The reality is that my father and much of America has been tricked.
Frankly, it cannot be expected that each and every American obtain a degree in political science, government studies, public policy or any other degree related to the political workings of our nation to be understanding of our political situation. Conversely, we should not allow the public institutions that many rely on their daily political education to be devoid of thought. When we have these massive public institutions lecturing you that they provide you the real news, unlike those other guys over on NEWS CHANNEL, and that now that you’re here you’re going to learn real good about what’s going on it creates a false sense that you are in the know. However, you are not.
We need better reporting. We need responsible reporting. Not feel good, plays to your base, gets views, hits with the social movement of the cycle type of reporting. So how do we get that? Well, I’m not completely sure. However, the best first step is to turn off the damn TV.