Let me consider the meeja.
I post less than I used to here, mainly because I have less time; also, because my mental processes are disturbed by the constant interruptions of a Twitter feed; but also, because I am reconciling myself to the fact that there is not a great deal of intellectual satisfaction to be gained, either from pointing out or from reading about, the mephitic quality of certain media sources, which, if I recall right, is what a lot of the content on this blog previously entailed.
I don’t accept the current situation as regards newspaper and broadcast media as inevitable. Nor is it something up with which we must put. But I do think there’s a limited usefulness, for me, and perhaps for you, in me supplying critiques of this or that report, pointing out inconsistencies, ideological manipulation, stupidity and so on. (Thinking this through, there is, of course, a limited usefulness in nearly everything, even a Swiss Army knife, but forgive my imprecise turn of phrase)
So long as it is true that as broad swathes of the population swallow and adopt the view of the world transmitted via the likes of RTE, the Irish Times, the Irish Independent and so on, and so long as this world view enforces a sense of things as they are as the natural order of things, then of course it’s worthwhile for people to be prompted to think critically about these institutions and their function, the ideas they present as uncontroversial, and the importance of establishing and developing alternative forms of media communication.
But that is not what I’ve ever done here, in the moments when I have turned my attention to this or that article. Mostly, whatever I’ve written is just an immediate response to being lied to or bullshitted. I expect most of those who read this site -and I have no plans on expanding readership any time soon- are familiar by now with the view I might take on a particular article, even if they don’t share it. And, since I myself am already familiar with the view I might take, the whole exercise of producing responses to these media sources has lost much of its appeal.
For me it gets to the point where it seems to make sense to avoid reading newspapers altogether, at least those sections devoted to the delivery of ‘Opinion’ or ‘Analysis’. (Maybe some other day I’ll get round to the News and Business sections)
I’d like to go with my instinct on this and conclude that the impact of these sections, in the scheme of things, is very minor, and that whatever is being said, however twisted, obnoxious or batshit crazy, is well worth missing out on, and that, what is more, whatever expectations they confound are on account of dreams of a golden age of newspaper journalism in which you sat down at breakfast to read the (preferably ironed) paper, tapped open your boiled egg, and mulled over the wisdom of the columnist of the day, who, in the round, held opinions strikingly similar to your own, before turning to check on the latest news on those Rhodesian mining shares and tucking into the kipper.
But my instinct is probably wrong. The space devoted to ‘Opinion’ and ‘Analysis’, regardless of the content of the individual articles therein, sets the boundaries of what is considered serious and legitimate.
Let me give an example: the ‘Renewing The Republic’ series commissioned by the Irish Times, initially to great fanfare, but now, at least for this online reader, it is difficult to tell whether or not the series continues, even though the practice of commissioning boring, vaguely technocratic articles about how the country can move forward has not stopped.
The first thing to be said about ‘renewing the republic’ is that it presumes that ‘the republic’ is a thing worth having. Maybe it is: but is it the republic in the sense of an abstract idea of political association, or the Republic of Ireland in its concrete form? My fiver is on the latter, and if my wager is right, then what ‘renewing the republic’ was all about was recognising the dissonant effects of economic collapse on how people see the world, and then seeking to rehabilitate the system that facilitated the collapse had occurred in the first instance.
A more obvious name for ‘renewing the republic’ would, in different times, have been ‘rebuilding the republic’. But since the verb ‘to build’ was what caused much of the economic collapse in Ireland’s case, this would be inappropriate. It may also be inappropriate because the Progressive Democrats in the 1980s used campaign banners which proclaimed that they were ‘Building a New Republic’ (or was it Rebuilding the Republic? Check the RTE documentary for confirmation). Given that the Progressive Democrats provided much ideological ballast for the free-market frenzy of the 2000s from which the collapse ensued, one can see how ‘Rebuilding’ might pose problems for a decontaminated Progressive Democrat editor.
So, instead of rebuilding, we get renewing, which is not much like rebuilding but more like renovating, with lots of stuff about things should become the way they are, only more so. So the constitution should serve the citizens more, government should govern more effectively, business should find it easier to do business, regulators should regulate better, Young Scientists should be injected through the eyeballs with cognitive super serums, blah-di-blah.
What you don’t see, understandably enough, is an account of how to weaken the power of capital over labour. Instead, accounts of why Denis O’Brien ought to be praised for making profits from Haitians needing to use mobile phones to overcome the obstacles presented by a non-existent transport infrastructure, or why the entire education system should be geared to meet the labour supply needs of multinational corporations are easy enough to come by.
The point of all this being that focusing on individual articles of individual columnists does not seem to achieve a great deal: what I would like to read, though am in no position to offer it, is an account of the overall effects of the combined activities of this opinion-generating activity.
When you take an article by one columnist in isolation, or focus solely on what certain columnists are writing, you lose a sense of how what these writings fit into the overall scheme of how opinion is formed. A meticulous probing of what one columnist in particular has written may reveal boundless garbage, but in so far as the writing is revealed simply as the drooling effusions of crackpots, it presents an idea that it is the intellectual failings of these individuals that is the object of concern, rather than the institution that commissions them to deliver such claptrap with such regularity.
And focusing on the more wayward extremes obscures the fact that these eejits are but one component of a wider product. How, for instance, does what appears on the Opinion and Analysis sections relate to the ever-presence of Business sections, which represent capital accumulation as the only game in town, a just-so story?
Yet whatever their effect on the general readership, they probably have a lot of impact on elite groups in politics and industry. I have spoken to people in positions of relative influence who had been disturbed by opinions -of journalistic imbeciles, as it happens- expressed in the pages of the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, as though these pages were capable of inflicting grievous wounds. But maybe they are, and -what would be worse- maybe their contributors know this. Not knowing the score with certainty here is probably what stops me from reading the papers altogether.