The Power of the Media

January 3, 2018 § 6 Comments

Last week I posted this to Facebook, thinking it made a good point about corporate behaviour as opposed to individual behaviour.  I immediately got lambasted by several friends who argued that it is we as individuals who make change and that corporations and the media respond to us.  As far as I’m concerned this is hogwash and the height of American liberalism.  No.  We don’t control corporations.  We don’t control the  media.  We are conditioned not to. We are conditioned to purchase new things, to listen to our media.  And, sure, we can boycott. One friend lives in rural Tennessee and is doing her best to live a life of simplicity with minimal consumption.  I salute that.  I personally do not shop at Walmart due to its odious corporate behaviour vis-à-vis downtown cores around this country.  But Lydia’s actions and mine are small, a drop in the ocean.  And, yes, certainly, if we are joined in our attempts to make the world better in this sense, it would make a difference.  But, until we are numerous enough to make Walmart stop gutting the downtowns of small-town America, for example, I think we need to both carry on keeping on keeping on, but also holding the nose of corporations to the stink they create.

Today, I looked briefly on Twitter and got depressed.  Trump, Trump, and more Trump.  Some of it was useful, like reporting on the actual news.  But most of it was the usual outrage to his rants, raves, and rages on Twitter.  Apparently today he thinks Huma Abedin and James Comey belong in jail.  I don’t care.  None of that matters.  None of it.  It’s just so much hot air.  What matters is the policies and actions of the US government whilst he is president.  That matters.  But that’s not what the so-called resistance seems to be focusing on.  It’s focused on the the newest outrage from the President’s Twitter account.

And so I got to thinking about how we arrived here.  Donald Trump was an outsider when he threw his hat into the GOP race for the presidential nomination in 2016.  He wasn’t an unknown, of course, he was a famous showman.  He had no policies, just a slogan to Make America Great Again.  He ranted and raved at his rallies, he made fun of his opponents, amongst others.  In other words, he ran a circus. He tried to provoke.  And the media responded exactly how he wanted, and therefore, so did we.  The media is addicted to Donald Trump and his off-the-cuff remarks and outrageous statements.

Trump’s candidacy was pushed not by Trump, but by the media.  His campaign for president was also driven by the media.  He got wall-to-wall coverage.  That most of it was negative, 77% according to a Harvard study, doesn’t matter.  Trump was proof of Oscar Wilde’s observation that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  He was all over the place. And, yes, we lapped it up.  It become almost masochistic for a lot of my friends, having to see his latest outrageous comment or tweet.  Trump as president has been driven by the media.

Right now, the home pages of CNN, New York TimesHuffington Post, and the Washington Post are dominated by the President.  But not his policies, or his ideas to improve the economy or anything like that.  No, it’s mostly noise caused by his tweets and off-the-cuff remarks, as well as that outrageous interview he did with The Times last week.  None of this matters.  But we just lap this up.

Certainly we, the people, have some power.  We could stop paying attention to his tweets, but they get amplified by everyone on Twitter.  His two tweets attacking the New York Times yesterday morning have both been re-tweeted close to 52,000 times and liked another 13,000 times each.  He has 45.6 million followers.  And, sure, not all of them are American, but they’re also not just conservatives.  I can see that 272 of my Twitter followers follow him, and just looking quickly at the first 30 0r so, I can confirm that most of them are progressives.  So, we’re clearly not doing that.  But if we collectively stopped following, re-tweeting, or liking his tweets, he would fall silent pretty quickly.

But. There is the larger issue.  The news media is all over him like a cheap suit.  Because Trump is first and foremost a showman.  I personally don’t believe he believes even 10% of what he says publicly, he says it to provoke people, to fire up his base, and anger his ‘haters,’ as he calls them.  And thus, the media salivates.

And sure, the media is composed of individuals.  And those individuals work for large corporations.  And it is in the interests of those individuals to ensure large ratings/readership/viewership in order to further their own careers.  And those corporations have an interest in those readers and viewers, as this is how profits are made.

Another example: Hockey in Canada.  Canadians, we take our hockey seriously.  And we have two English-language and two French-language media conglomerates exclusively devoted to sports.  And hockey dominates at TSN, Sportsnet, TVA and RDS.  And then there’s all the other media in Canada.  Each has one or 100 ‘insiders’ who claim to know about the inner-workings of the NHL and our favourite hockey teams.  And there is not just the TV stations (multiple streams), but also the social media presence of not just the networks, but their studio hosts, as well as these so-called insiders.  And so viewership/readership and profits must be driven up at all times.  And what drives all of this?  Coverage of the NHL, in particular the seven Canadian NHL teams, but even then, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, who not only play in the two largest cities in Canada, but both of those cities have large diasporas out west (where the rest of the Canadian NHL teams are in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg (and, yes, I am ignoring the Ottawa Senator), but also down east.

But coverage of practices, games, press conferences by coaches and general managers just aren’t enough.  So there are trade rumours, as all of these ‘insiders’ go a-twitter discussing who is going to be traded and to whom.  We are told that our favourite team’s general manager is ‘working the phones’ to improve the team or find that elusive piece that will deliver the Stanley Cup.  My guess is about 99% of these rumours lead to absolutely nothing.  The other 1%, well, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.  But we lap it up.  Because TSN, RDS, Sportsnet, and TVA have conditioned us to.  It’s irrational human behaviour at its best because we have been trained by this media industrial complex to respond.

So, back to Trump: What if, for just one week, the news media ignored his Twitter?   And what if we, the people, also ignored his Twitter for one week?  What would happen?

The Perilous Territory of Roman Britain

August 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the most fascinating things become the centre of public shitstorms.  For example, recently, a British conservative got all worked up into a later over a BBC cartoon for kids that appears to show a Roman family as African, as in black.  Chances are, this character was based on Quintus Lollius Urbicus, the Roman Berber governor of the province of Britain from 139-42.  He was from what is now Algeria.  Mary Beard, Professor of Ancient Literature at Cambridge University and author of the Times Literary Supplement’s column/blog A Don’s Lifegot involved on the discussion on Twitter and noted the ethnic diversity of the Roman Empire in general, which is kind of obvious, given the geographic spread of said Empire.

And then, things got insane, as they do on Twitter.  Beard was attacked in the typical misogynist tones of social media. And then, NYU Professor of Risk Management, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, got involved and mocked Beard on Twitter.  Now Taleb is usually somewhat of a buffoon on Twitter, he seems to have fun with the platform. And there is nothing wrong with this.  But, he acted like a prat.

His response:

Then British journalist Nick Cohen got involved:

Ah, the fragility of the male ego.  But, here’s the thing, Beard did not go after his credentials.  She went after his knowledge-base and area of expertise.  Beard, of course, knows a thing or two about a thing or two about Rome.  Taleb, on the other hand, is a professor of risk management.  Apples and oranges.  But, male privilege means that one does not need to defer to greater expertise on the part of a female colleague.  This reminds me of the time that my wife, who was then writing a dissertation on Northern Ireland, was told by a male colleague that The Troubles were ended because of the Cranberries’ song, “Zombies,” as if the people of Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant, suddenly realized that they were the zombies!

But Taleb was just a bore.  He became the cover Twitter misogynists used to attack Beard, not for her ideas or commentary.  No.  They commented on her body, her age, and so on.  And they denigrated her academic qualifications.  Commentators continually referred to Prof. or Dr. Taleb and to Ms. Beard.

This, I hate to say, is par for the course in academia and the wider world.  I cannot count the number of times I have seen or heard this in action, where my female colleagues are disrespected in this manner.  One reported that her course evaluations talked more about her body than her teaching efficacy.  Another reported that her looks seemed more important to her students than her knowledge.  The now largely disused site RateMyProf initially only allowed hot tamales to indicate the hotness of a professor for women.  Eventually, it was applied to men as well.

Women have to work harder to gain the respect of students.  I see this almost everyday at work.  And, frankly, this is bullshit.

The thing is, we’re taught to believe that we live in a time of progress, that things are getting better.  They’re not.  The simple economic measurement women’s wages as a percentage of men’s for equal work has barely changed in the past 30 years.  And then there’s social media.  Remember #Gamergate?  That’s one egregious example.  Beard’s story is another. But it happens every single day.

I don’t think this is getting better.  I think it’s getting worse.  And the same is true, in many ways of racism, homophobia, and the like.  Social media allows people to hide behind anonymity to be bullies.

We need to be better.  This cannot keep happening.  We need to do a better job of educating people, so that they’re not bullies.  And the thing is, I’m not sure that many of the people who act like this online actually recognize their real-world actions.  As in, it’s easy to call someone names on a computer screen, not seeing the actual impact of it.  There are, essentially, no consequences for the abuser in this world.  Thus, education.  We need to convince people that there are consequences of their on-line actions, just as there are consequences for their real-world actions.

Maybe then we can live in a world where women, amongst others, aren’t attacked on-line for the simple fact of their gender (or race, orientation, etc.).

 

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