Monday, November 4, 2013

Less of a Media, More of an Extremia

For anyone that thinks, based on the title, that I'm writing to yell at Fox again...well, alright, you may know me a bit too well. But that's not what we're here for today.

What we're actually here to talk about is the odd way the various forms of media around us are bent. Now, when I say "extremia" I'm not using it in the way that most 'mericans do. I'm not using it to mean "the edge" or "out there" (which actually means "too different from our accepted views, mores, and customs"); no, I mean it in the sense that it's narrow. That on this wonderful thing called a bell curve:

How so? Well, let's take a look at what people formally call "the media." Journalism, news outlets, paparazzi, tabloids, talk shows, and commentators of all stripes. What? Well, yes, there probably are people who get their news about the world from Maury Povich, to answer your next question.

Look at politics as an example. While there are differences of opinion between the parties, they do share most of the same goals. The differences of opinion are mainly about how to get there...and social issues. And, just so we're clear, there are plenty of bipartisan politicians.

So...why are they fighting all the time? And how come we so rarely hear from the guys that are ok with sitting down and actually hashing something out?

Here's a kitten humming the jeopardy theme while you get that figured out:

Well, basically, they fight over which party wins. That's it. All those "divisive social issues"? Those are what the "media" focus on because "people largely agreeing, but wanting credit for winning a non-argument" is not good entertainment. Hmm? Well, when was the last time you watched something on TV that was purely informative? No scary headlines, no explosions, no overtly beautiful women or men? Just...knowledge?

Yeah. The news is a form of entertainment now. Because we won't watch things that don't entertain us.

So what's the "extremia" here? Well, this sort of thing happens:

Yeah. If information was a sandwich, we'd be receiving a slice of cheese, dipped in cheese, with a shot of caffeinated sugar on top. Because it's delicious, and naughty, and all the things we want without any of the things we don't.

Or, lets look at kids media. Shows for kids have always been a somewhat narrow field, mind you. But now? Now they're goddamn ridiculous. We have edutainment, fantasy, and sitcoms. Wait, those are pretty broad fields, right?

Nope. Here we go:


This (these) kid(s), and his/her/their crazy friends and family, have unrealistic adventures and learn valuable lessons that they forget the next week in the service of ongoing plot ease.


These kids have really awesome lives, hijinks ensue, because it's funny:


Wellll...that's...I mean...there's three categories up there, but...they all look like the same thing...but...h-uh.

Funny story. That's because there's next to no substantive difference in kids shows these days. And there hasn't been for some time. The shows you remember? Those shows are bland shadows of their former selves if they still have new production, and drowning in copycats if they ended and had the grace to stay dead.

And most likely, they were bland shadows of what came before them.

Current adult media: now, just taking visual and audio media into account (we'll fuck with the written word later) let's take a moment to note that there's no edutainment for adults, consistently. No, I take that back. CongressTV is a thing. Popcorn, anyone?

I surfed my entire cable package yesterday. Not a single show that even purported to teach me something. Well...ok, there was a handful of religious shows, but I don't conflate proselytization and education. I can go nearly anywhere, pick up a bible, and sit down and read that mofo. What I can't do is go nearly anywhere and find out about breakthroughs in science, culture, or medicine. In short, I can't get documentaries (serious ones) just anywhere. In fact, if I want them, I have to hunt them down on the interwebz, and feed Netflix titles until I find them.

My entire cable box is filled with primetime soaps, sitcoms, reality TV, Christianity, commercials, things pretending to be news, mindless kids cartoons, somewhat less mindless adult cartoons, police shows, movies, porn and music. There might be something intelligent hiding on the Spanish channels, but given that I don't speak Spanish (my fault there), I wouldn't know.

Now some of you will have taken exception to the line about having to hunt down information. Because seriously, don't we all? What, you're such a lazy bastard that you have to have it delivered to you?

Well, yeah. But I know where to look. I know that if I want largely unbiased info, I have to go read journals in a college library. I know that if I read an interesting article in a paper or magazine, my first duty is to go fact check it and see what their sources actually said. I know that if I hear about a study, I need to check the creds of the researchers, the methods used, and the exact wording of the conclusions to know whether the guy who wrote the story just saw dollar signs and wrote what he thought he heard.

I know I need to check the dates on the information to see if they were just having a slow news day. And I know to read the whole damn thing because the way articles are written, they put what they most want you to know first, and then gradually move on to the things they think are unimportant.

Take this article (yep, here's your written media): How Young Is Too Young For Porn? (I feel it's SFW, but at your discretion.)

The article is about one of the leading producers in the porn industry deciding not to hire actors under the age of 21. Now, we read, we read, it fascinating, it's controversial, it's...what's that?
“I’m not a crusader,” he recently told Salon. “Every institution has its flaws; I’m just glad to be in a position where I can choose how to regulate my own business.”
Oh. So...the guy we've been reading about as some sort of messianic figure, some forward thinking genius, is completely open about the fact that this is largely an empty gesture on his part? That this is in no way an industry changer, nor is he, in fact, doing anything rebellious since he does not (in fact) even work with the part of the industry where this decision would have some impact?

In short, you're telling me (and I yelled this in the break room at work, I'll have you know) that the last few paragraphs of the story tells me that the entire article preceding it was trumped up human interest bullshit with no actual news value beyond "porn guy who doesn't work with people under 21 is now formally not working with people under 21"?

See? That's where most people would've stopped. And they wouldn't have drawn that conclusion, because they've just spent 1278 words having it drilled into them that this is a huge thing. That's what reputable news looks like. That's what the information we rely on to make decisions everyday looks like.

That's my point, and the problem we're addressing here: that due to a confluence of consumer driven idiocy, marketing, and the opinions of a few well placed people making calls, we don't get any truly alternative ideas. We rarely get anything breathtakingly, astonishingly new. And if we did, we'd call it crap and run, because it doesn't look like what we normally get.

So what can we do here? What's Uncle Jere's agenda, here?

Well, you can push for better media. We're the consumers. If enough people yell at a corporation while not buying stuff, the corporation changes their product so you'll start buying it again.

Start writing letters and leaving voicemails and emails with your local news demanding a wider view and more balanced reporting. Stop supporting the stupid Disney mentality when it comes to kids programming. Yell at your cable providers, yell at the cable content producers, yell at the networks telling them you'd like to see something with a little mental backbone for once.

Because while the "media" is bent and watered down and 'mericanized, it is that way because that's what makes money. That's what we've told them we want. And it will stay that way until we tell them otherwise.

We've wasted too much time on reality TV and bent news already. Get on it. Clock's ticking.