Meeja Bored, Meeja Bored

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.

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23 Responses to “Meeja Bored, Meeja Bored”


  1. 1 coc August 17, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    I can’t speak for anyone else, but in celebration of your use of the word ‘mephitic’, I urge you to continue spending hours crafting your posts so that I may derive minutes of pleasure therefrom.

  2. 2 John McDermott August 17, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    There are many good journalists out there doing their best Hugh..
    keep the faith.

    • 3 Hugh Green August 19, 2010 at 6:17 am

      It’s not a matter of faith, John. Who decides what makes a ‘good’ journalist? There are media organisations that produce reporting in a certain format with a particular focus. If the activities that characterise good journalists don’t fit in with that model, then whether they’re good or not is besides the point.

  3. 4 LeftAtTheCross August 18, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I’m coming to the conclusion that newspapers are simply a drug which stop us from thinking for ourselves. The problem is, once we start thinking for ourselves, and discounting what the rest of society considers to be within the “boundaries of what is considered serious and legitimate”, then really it is a form of madness.

    On your plea for a series of articles about “how to weaken the power of capital over labour”, maybe the editorial staff and freelance feature writers should all be sent off on a residential summer school together for some political re-education.

    Similar discussion about reading the papers btw over on Dublin Opinion http://dublinopinion.com/2010/08/17/geraldine-kennedy-2006-germany-must-follow-irelands-lead-for-the-student-has-now-become-the-master/

    • 5 Hugh Green August 19, 2010 at 6:36 am

      I think you describe the problem right. If you can’t express things in the language used by the ‘rest of society’, then how do you criticise what actually happens in society? The danger is that people either sail off into specialised, hermetic spaces where no-one outside a small group of like-minded individuals will pay any attention at all to what they say, or slide into nihilism.

      There’s a point made in Badiou’s ‘The Meaning of Sarkozy’ where he recommends not reading newspapers at all:

      7. A newspaper that belongs to rich managers does not have to be read by someone who is neither a manager nor rich.

      That is just a very small point, but applicable right away. Just look at what these newspapers, as well as the most popular television channels, really are. They belong to the king of concrete, the prince of luxury products, the emperor of military aircraft, the magnate of celebrity magazines, the water millionaire…In other words, to all those people who, on their yachts or their estates, take little Sarkozy, who has done so well, on their hospitable knees. How can we accept this state of affairs? Why should the broad mass of people be at the mercy of the price of concrete mixers, or the world market for ostrich skin, when it comes to getting information? Stop reading those papers. Look at sources that originate elsewhere than in the dominant commercial circuits. Let the ultra-rich newspaper proprietors talk to themselves. Let us withdraw our interest from the interests that their self-interest wants to make ours.

      The particulars of the situation in France are different, but I think the fundamental point applies: if you have media institutions that exist in the service of the few, and not the many, then don’t grant them an authority they do not merit. At the same time, Badiou recommends looking at sources elsewhere. Well, the problem is that in Ireland, there are very few other sources, and what there is is not that great.

      • 6 LeftAtTheCross August 19, 2010 at 9:38 am

        I’d agree with everything you said in that comment. The dilema of retreating into a small like-minded on-line community, or exploding with frustration, neither of which are healthy options.

        About having an alternative channel at national level which reaches a mass audience, well it just won’t happen here anytime soon. There is no ready made audience out there, it would take an age to build up a following, which requires substantial long-term investment, and what capitalists in their right mind are going to invest in their own demise?

        On a positive note though, I was on holidays last month in Italy. Available at the supermarket checkout newspaper rack were copies of l’Unita, the daily newspaper affiliated to what used to be the Communist Party. Just one example of a mass audience publication which doesn’t serve the agenda of the ultra-rich. Probably there are others in France, Spain, Germany? Perhaps some pan-European internationalism might come into play in the future and an EU-wide english language newspaper of the broad Left might come about.

  4. 7 Marian Quinn August 18, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    “Not knowing the score with certainty here is probably what stops me from reading the papers altogether.”

    I’m a bit confused – is there a word (e.g. “stopping”) missing here?

    • 8 Hugh Green August 18, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Nice to see someone paid attention all the way to the end! And yes, you’re right. “Stopping” would fit well.

      • 9 coc August 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

        I resent the implication that I never got beyond the first paragraph, having been distracted by dictionary.com.

        On the issue of alternative channels of communication, surely t’internets represent an ideal channel, accessible by many and largely uncensored? Or people could go Old School and use pirate radio. Does that still happen? Growing up in Dublin there were a proliferation of illegal broadcasters, though usually music focussed. What is the state of affairs now?

        Will the inevitable decline of analogue broadcasting lead to an explosion in the nascent (and relatively low cost) field of Internet Radio? And if so can ‘Revolution Radio live from the Sierra Maestra’ really be that far off?

        You’d still have the audience building issue, but sure Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  5. 10 DublinDilettante August 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve often felt the same about my own (less well-crafted) tilts at the media, but in my case it’s more a sort of self-help mechanism to release a little frustration. Yours are informative and expose the ugly cogs beneath the façade of sheer stupidity.

    In fact, it’s the sheer witlessness of the drivel that comes out of the Irish media that depresses me most. I wonder if any but the most negatively class-conscious of them have any true conception of the agenda they’re serving, rather than a simple Pavlovian longing for a pat on the head from The Right Sort of People. I can appreciate the feeling of futility, though.

    What the left in this country could really do with it is a proper national daily paper and/or radio station to counter the consensus.

    • 11 Hugh Green August 19, 2010 at 6:58 am

      Thanks. I have often thought about this pat on the head business. I often wonder if it’s because I was not brought up here and it’s therefore just something I imagine out of a lack of familiarity, but all I see is -in the workplace, in talking to neighbours, and on TV- is a veneration of a numinous authority.

      It cuts across lots of things, but it comes across most clearly in the way economists as a species get talked about. You have the doom-sayers, and you have the ones who hew closer to the government line, but regardless of what they say they’re treated as a sort of priestly caste, out to tell us precisely what that great fetish construct, the economy, actually needs.

      Agree a national outlet is ideal, not sure how it might materialise. The last attempt(-ish) at that -Daily Ireland- failed, probably on account of the fact that it was having to rely on NI state funds in the form of public sector advertising, but also because it was closely associated with Sinn Fein, and therefore easy meat for The Right Sort of People (cf. McDowell’s comments on the Völkischer Beobachter).

      • 12 DublinDilettante August 19, 2010 at 11:03 am

        There’s definitely a hip-to-be-squarness about the limited perspective of the commentariat. I guess the easy answer is to ascribe it to a culture of deference imbued by the position of the church, but that doesn’t bear much scrutiny. After all, right-on liberalism had no problem in displacing Catholicism itself as the social orthodoxy.

        It’s a weird one because most of the media footsoldiers who push this line (and most of the readers who swallow or osmotically absorb it) aren’t exactly prospering themselves. Good old-fashioned false consciousness? It’s this sort of sneering ill-informed-reaction-as-detached-coolness I’m talking about: http://www.independent.ie/lifestyle/my-summer-of-discontent-2271730.html

        I would hesitate to describe Daily Ireland as anything other than a Sinn Féin fanzine. We’d need something a bit more substantial than that. Something that would reach beyond its own circulation and infiltrate the radio and TV roundtables. You’re right, it’s hard to see it happening, but I think it’s needed urgently enough to make it a short/medium-term priority.

  6. 13 mediabite August 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm

    I’ve had the same experience re your last paragraph. And while I generally agreed with the sentiment of the offending opinionated writer it was at the same time very worrying that, a single person who has for some reason or other been given the opportunity to tell the whole country what he or she thinks about a subject they may no everything or nothing about once or twice a week, or even a single article cogently formed, enthusiastically researched, hastily written or drunkenly scrawled, could have such a profound effect on whoever the target is.

    I’m a huge fan of the Real News, though I admit I don’t tune in that much. The stand-out piece for me over the last few years has been this… http://mediabite.wordpress.com/2010/01/21/obamas-first-year/

    If nothing else maybe blogging can be a form of therapy for you, however much you isolate the media from your life, some bugger is always going to come along and tell you what they read in the Tribune.

  7. 15 Eoin O'Mahony August 20, 2010 at 9:53 am

    It seems to me this morning, coming to this later, that you’ve opened up a vein of useful critique. The “veneration of a numinous authority” is merely a coping mechanism in the face of blinding and contradictory interests. While the posts you have composed recently, for example the Wyclef/Penn/O’Brien connection piece, are very good examples of what can be achieved with your own skills for threading arguments, it is very tempting to succumb to the hermetic and the ‘detached’. As you know, I’m given to it. Tear back the veil and the small man with the powerful microphone is always there.

    Let’s not forget though that much of opinion and analysis that we are presented with is just the musings of an increasingly irrelevant proxy-elite. The image of Sarko on the knees of corporations’ boards is a very vivid one. There’s much shallow talk in my own workplace of ‘renewal’ and ‘hope’ which parallels the Renewing the Republic talk. It merely moves from one place to the other, for example from the newspaper, to facebook, to twitter. The irrelevance remains constant.

  8. 16 Hugh Green August 20, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for the comments all.

    LATC,

    Público in Spain is an excellent example of a left-leaning newspaper. But then if you’re looking at how a receptive readership might be found for such a paper, then you need to think about what the previously existing papers do. So El País is hardly a left-leaning newspaper these days, but it certainly was by the standards of the ’70s and ’80s and it has laid the ground from which Público can push reporting further to the left. So it’s not just a question of investment, but of a readership having been developed over time.

    coc,

    (I wan’t implying you hadn’t – just glad to see evidence that someone had!)

    Well yes, even if we see it as desirable to have some organ that is sufficiently powerful to challenge the dominant media institutions, that would not just spring up like a rose from concrete. So there are lots of ways in which more independent media outlets can prepare the ground for that. Once they exist.

    DublinDilettante,

    I remarked some time back that to get the true thrust of a Sindo article, you should insert the words ‘Isn’t that right Daddy?’ after each sentence, or each paragraph, as you see fit. Next time I say that I should use that article you linked to as a prime example.

    The British stiff upper lip of the 19th/20th century is like a first cousin once removed of that sort of cool, detached, knowing sneer on display in that article. Don’t get too involved, don’t show you’re affected by anything, and then that way you can hang on to whatever privileges you have in society.

    It also reminds me of the middle-class appropriation of the lines from The Second Coming ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity’ as a bourgeois doctrinaire mating-call, as if to say, yes, well, anyone who spurns -isms is sensible and The Right Sort Of Person, and anyone who gets all het up about something is just a vulgar demagogue or a member of a swinish multitude.

    Maybe there is an element of false consciousness to it, but it might also involve aping the habits and the opinions of more senior members of the employer organisation, in the knowledge that this sort of thing goes down like a cool gin and tonic with them.

    I mean, you can see that phrases like ‘the finer points of dialectical materialism in hired rooms over pubs’ are just a sort of verbal masonic handshake among self-satisfied arseholes of a particular vintage.

    As for Daily Ireland, well, yes, I wasn’t entirely serious about it being a left national newspaper. But it was a newspaper that did not regurgitate consensus views, and its example points up the difficulties of establishing such a paper.

    mediabite,

    The Real News is excellent, and it -along with Democracy Now!, which I think is the best news show anywhere- is light years ahead of anything likely to be produced here at the minute.

    As for therapy, well, perhaps. I think though that it’s more a way of articulating thoughts in relation to this stuff in a way that I don’t get the chance to do anywhere else (there is only so much of this that family and friends will put up with before eyes start to glaze over).

    Eoin,

    The idea of the coping mechanism for smoothing over contradictions is interesting, and also, true. The image of the small man with the microphone reminds me of Paddy O’Gorman though. For a good example of the musings of a proxy-elite, check out Dan O’Brien’s piece in today’s IT.

    • 17 LeftAtTheCross August 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm

      “there is only so much of this that family and friends will put up with before eyes start to glaze over”

      I know that feeling. Thankfully we have the internet. One can only image the social isolation of people in previous times who were in any way radical thinkers.

      “Maybe there is an element of false consciousness to it, but it might also involve aping the habits and the opinions of more senior members of the employer organisation, in the knowledge that this sort of thing goes down like a cool gin and tonic with them.”

      Iw we have any psychologists here amongst your readership I would be very interested in hearing their thoughts on the subject of groupthink and (for want of a better example) the type of behaviour my dog exhibits when he’s looking for my approval (pack behaviour I suppose and the role of the alpha animal). Talking through my hole at this stage, time for lunch!

  9. 18 CC August 22, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Shocking images from Haiti on Elizi Danto’s site.
    Why not read “Life in the streets” at http://www.letthechildrenlive.org. I have taken Father Peter (who set it up) home to his lodgings when he was in Ireland to raise money for these kids. That man is a hero. No World Bank/NGO’s at work in Funvini.

  10. 19 Mark August 22, 2010 at 9:50 am

    You give these so-called opinion formers too much credit. Nobody listens to them and they influence nobody. Newspapers are just fashion accessories these days. Listening to the Irish media is like eavesdropping on dinner party conversation. So parochial and boring. Mediocrity eulogising banality.

    I wouldn’t waste my time responding to them. Just do your own thing. It’s more productive and less frustrating.

    • 20 Tomboktu August 22, 2010 at 10:41 pm

      Are you sure they influence nobody? I would place a bet that there is a cohort of ambitious middle-ranking civil servants who read them to keep themselves “informed”, and then go on to advise Ministers later in their careers. Add to that the middle-ranking and ambitious backbenchers who go on to be the ministers.

  11. 21 Mark August 23, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Wishful thinking Tomboktu, the ambitions of middle-ranking civil servants have little to do with policies, opinions and ideas. As for backbenchers, the parish pump far outweighs the opinion of any of those jumped-up West Brits in the meeja up in Dublin.

  12. 22 C. Flower September 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I’m liking the idea of radio, and interested in speaking to anyone here who wants to take it further.

    Also, no one has mentioned the internet, including politico.ie, which is very new but aspiring to develop. The internet, for a limited audience, is providing an alternative.

    But the internet is a limited, not mass medium, as its so diffuse.
    So in spite of the efforts of everyone here to create space for a left / alternative voice on the internet, something else needs to be done.


  1. 1 The Silence of the Hawks « Circumlimina Trackback on September 1, 2010 at 12:03 pm

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