My media affliction, identified; seeking a cure

Just as I unwound from Friday’s rant about media coverage of Michael Jackson’s death, Doc Searls applies a salve to what’s been ailing me:

“Most of us can’t help falling into conversational black holes. But we can help getting sucked into celebrity obsession.”

As I’ve been thinking about what I wrote yesterday — and posted on some other blogs — I realize I got sucked down the even more tempting rabbit hole of obsessing about celebrity obsession. My enmity for pop culture is at the heart of this.

My reaction also was triggered by a fear that my profession was headed down the Pigalle path of OJPalooza. And with the cause of Jackson’s death to be speculated upon for weeks, and his personal physician gone missing,  I’m sure cable news, Huffington Post and other outlets suffering from post-election reader/viewer drops will get a big boost. How nice for them, how dreadful for those of us who at least occasionally try to glean some news and intelligent insight from them.

And then the New York Times explicates how “TMZ was far ahead in its reporting depth.” Stop the inanity!

Help me! I’m getting obsessed again! Searls’ main point about the Jackson attention is that it is one great big time and energy suck:

“I submit that obsessing about celebrity is unhealthy for the single reason that it is also unproductive. Celebrity is to mentality as smoking is to food. (I originally wrote “chewing gum” there, but I think smoking is the better analogy.) It is an unhealthy waste of time. And time is a measure of life. We are born with an unknown sum of time, and have to spend all of it. ‘Saving’ time is a rhetorical trick. So is ‘losing’ it. Our lives are spent, one end to the other. What matters most is how we choose to spend it.

“The Net maximizes the endlessness of choice about how we spend our time. It also maximizes many kinds of productiveness. Nearly all the code we are using, right now, to do stuff on the Net, was written by many collaborators across many distances. Some were obsessing about what they were producing. Others were just working away. Either way, they chose to be productive. To contribute. To work on what works.”

Thanks for the prognosis, Doc.


2 thoughts on “My media affliction, identified; seeking a cure

  1. I, too, am frequently annoyed at the focus in the media on topics that I don’t care about, at the expense of topics that I do care about. I however cringe at any sort of wholesale dismissal of pop culture.

    I actually strongly dislike the term “pop culture”, because it rests on the implicit notion that there is such a thing as “proper culture”, against which a “pop” version can be distinguished — an idea which is 100% imaginary. In their times, Shakespeare and Mozart were the equivalent of “pop culture”: their works were consumed by the masses, and their lives / loves / illnesses / deaths were the subjects of gossip among ordinary people. These artists became the province of the erudites only with the passage of time.

    Even within the 20th Century we can see this phenomenon as it pertains, for example, to jazz. Jazz began as the local music of New Orleans, a folk music. As the music spread up the Mississippi and throughout the country carried by the great black migration, it was first scorned as barbarous by the establishment musicians, both erudite and popular. Jazz soon entered the establishment; it entered “pop culture”, and became the dominant form of popluar music, its very currency for several decades. This period eventually passed, and jazz entered academia and became regarded as a high art form.

    “Pop culture” is, in the end, illusion, a category that lacks meaning. Please speak simply of “culture”.

    I cannot disagree with the broad assertion that people singing songs and dancing around (that is to say, “culture”) is, generally speaking, less important and less newsworthy than people shooting each other. But you espouse a far flimsier point when you fail to acknowledge the appropriate exceptions to this. The fact is that Michael Jackson is a historical personage, and that his sudden death is legitimately newsworthy.

    While Jackson became a sympathetic figure to me because of his legal woes and because of his relentless battering by comics and by other assorted smartasses, I will admit that he as an artist never really bowled me over, because I am not a big listener of dance music or of Motown.

    That I was not a huge fan does not, however, make me deny his magnitude as a cultural (not “pop culture”) giant. It is important to separate one’s personal tastes from the pulse of the age in which one lives, and to recongnise the historical importance of the giants of one’s own time — even if one is not a big fan!

    Yes, it can be annoying when one is not part of the majority on these questions. For instance, I personally was far more shaken and saddened by the death of Kevin DuBrow than by that of Michael Jackson; yet I noticed no wall-to-wall coverage of the circumstances surrounding DuBrow’s death.

    But any possible resentment of mine at the media reaction to Jackson’s death was quickly snuffed out by my recollection of the murder of John Lennon, when I was squarely within the group that engaged in prolonged mass mourning. This simply says that I was somewhat within the cultural mainstream in 1980, while I am far outside of it in 2009.

    I think you ought to acknowledge that it is the media’s legitimate duty to cover in-depth the death of such a cultural giant — even if his music didn’t make your toes tap.

    Beethoven, Dickens, Joplin, Mark Twain, Ellington — these are Jackson’s historical peers. And this is why his death is, properly, a story which dominates all media.


  2. I never suggested Jackson’s death, and his cultural significance, should not have been covered. I do take exception to the overwrought pandering to the grieving masses by the media, which finds this easier to do. The tabloid tawdriness of cheap sentiment and emotion far too often serve as “journalistic” treatment by the mainstream media.

    As for Jackson’s historical significance, unfortunately he will be remembered as much for his legal troubles and strange public personae and behavior as he was for his music, which I did generally like. “Thriller” was released 27 years ago, when I was still in college.

    I’d bet quite a few of Jackson’s “fans” hadn’t listened to his music in quite a long while until his death.


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