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Various Media Reflections

I saw the second part of “Hemingway,” he loved to shoot wild animals, he loved bullfights. Something very strange about him. Of course, he greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt, and he hunted as well. I find it abhorrent, I could not dream of shooting an animal. What kind of arrogance and contempt for other lives that shows. F. Scott FItzgerald had his flaws, but I don’t think he ever shot other living creatures,, and he was a better writer than Hemingway, too.

I saw “The Trial of the Chicago Seven.” It is well done; and has an emotional effect. Aaron Sorkin wrote an excellent script. Apparently he took some liberties with the facts of the actual trial, which I am not much in favor of, though of course sometimes things can be slightly altered for dramatic effect. The essence of the trial; and that the Republicans, Nixon and John Mitchell, wanted to make a show of it, and throw anti-war leaders into jail for ten years or so, is very important. And of course it has its echoes in the Trump Administration, which had it gone on another four years, would have taken away the rights of just about everybody that was not part of Trump’s mafia. I am pretty sure that this was the backdrop for Sorkin wanting to make this movie. I recommend it.

The Derek Chauvin trial continues, wall to wall on television. I do not remember any other trials shown for so long on TV, unless it was O.J. Simpson, and I was not home much, so I don’t know how much they showed of it. It is interesting that the cable networks have decided to show weeks of the Chauvin trial, which is unquestionably significant, but of course essentially about the same set of facts repeated from different perspectives.

Not to say that they shouldn’t be showing all of this, but I have mused that the cable networks seem to need the drama of live events. Trump impeachments, the Congress questioning various witnesses on a matter. Are people now bored with the usual pattern of news, and crave real-life drama, with arguments and stunts and contesting perceptions by the two sides? If so, the news stations will have to find more of it, to keep their audience.

Is twenty-four hour cable news a good thing? Well, it’s there, whether we think so or not. And of course there is a profit aspect to it, it is not a public service, as the nightly news used to be. The ownership of the stations want you to watch them,. So they need to make it entertaining, as best they can, with arguments and vitriol, and “both sides,” and “stay tuned!”

We used to have a half hour of news at night. Cronkite on CBS, Huntley and Brinkley on NBC, and Howard K. Smith on ABC. My parents would try to watch them all, though at least two of them were on at the same time. They would quickly change stations; if there were a particular political story; they would want to see how each dealt with it, if one of them had s slant which they did not appreciate. And then the news was over for the day, unless of course there was a momentous or tragic event being covered. Now, it is shown all day, if one wants to watch it. Is this a good thing? Probably not, if just for the reason that while the big three stations used to do news as a half-hour public service, now the cable stations need eyeballs and ratings, and they have to try to make it entertaining for their audience which of course has implications for how they cover things.

I certainly admit to having watched a good deal of cable news over the last couple of years, hoping that Trump would be convicted, or that various House or Senate hearings would unearth something which would destroy his presidency. It never did, of course; it took the election to remove him, and barely then, considering the armed insurrection.

Actually, in retrospect we see that much of the stuff that Trump;s people were leaking to the media, as “scoops” were just lies or deliberate misdirection. Remember how right after the election, the “Trump whisperers ” on cable first said that Trump was very upset and depressed with the results; and then, that he had come to terms with it? That sounded promising, but we would also hear that he was meeting or calling election officials in various states, which did not seem to comport with the narrative of a defeated person who was just readying himself to go back to private life. And we learned to our horror that the “coming to terms with it” narrative was untrue; that he was spending every waking hour plotting to stay in office, by either overturning state results, or blocking the certification of votes, or even fomenting terrible violence against elected officials, leading to the declaring of martial law.

I am convinced that four years of “sources close to the President say…” was essentially “Trump called me and told me.” As Trump had always done in his career, he would feed stories to media people who would trade their credibility and impartiality for the career enhancements that these “scoops” would give them. It was bad enough when he was doing it for business and celebrity publicity. As President, he was dong it to shape a narrative, and get his way. There are media people out there who greatly contributed to the series of lies which were dispensed throughout the four years. They would never admit this, even to themselves, but I see them as enablers, and very dangerous ones, who did inestimable damage.

Along that line, do you notice that Jen Psaki’s press briefings are not covered live? She is wonderful; very bright, very quick, good-natured but firm, and never letting the media get away with a false or skewed narrative. But they don’t show her, whereas they showed virtually every second of the Trump press secretary briefings, on and on, full of rancor, lies, disparagement of media in general. Why was that? Those were more entertaining, and hence provided higher ratings? The media was in Trump’s pocket, and wanted to cover him 24 hours a day? This kind of thing is not to be passed over, with, “Well, it’s over, let’s focus on the present.” It is indicative of a rot at the center of much of the media. Not all of the media of course, but enough to cause serious damage to our institutions.

We remember with sadness and anger, how the media skewed its coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign. I won’t recount the details, but it was not covered as a crucial news event, it was covered as an entertainment spectacle, with Trump being the main attraction, and thus getting all the space and time. Add that to the right-wing corporate bias of most of the large media, and you have the debacle of the campaign coverage, where Hillary was essentially portrayed as a foil to Trump, the TV show character who got a few requisite scenes, but with the audience craving the reappearance of the fascinating and unpredictable star.

“Do better,” yes, indeed. I wonder why my two favorite cable news anchors, Chris Jansing and Brooke Baldwin, are basically gone. Jansing got taken off the election coverage, perhaps after Sanders supporters reacted angrily to what they saw as her sighing when Sanders was shown winning the Nevada caucus. Now she just does news reporter stories. Baldwin was also taken off election coverage, which she said was not her choice. Then her show went from two hours to one; and then she announced that she was leaving the station. I liked both of them, because they were thoroughly professional, intelligent, and displayed a warmth and concern which was a welcome respite from the usual bland, full-of-themselves news anchors. They will be missed. I will be watching much less of cable news, maybe almost none of it, as a result of CNN and MSNBC opting tor Jake Tapper over Baldwin, and a variety of insipid anchors over Jansing. And of course, the welcome relief of having a competent and sane Joe Biden as President, makes it easier to not keep turning on the TV to see what new horror Trump had unleashed.

The news must go on, and there is always something for them to show. What the effects are, is not their concern, obviously. We want to keep informed, it is important to a democracy that the people know what is going on. But we will have to always be alert to filter it through the prism of realizing what the networks’ computer algorithms tell them are the most ratings-enhancing, and profitable to present.

17 Responses

  1. I will never forgive Hemingway for The Old Man and the Sea.
    Yep. First novelette I ever read for freshman Regents English in high school.
    If I were a student again I’d tell my English teacher, “If you want your students with an interest in literature to stick with it for four years, DON’T start with this.”

    • You should have! But of course it is very hard to say that to a teacher in college, much less high school.

      I think I read it in college, and I thought it was tedious. I think that they gave Hemingway the Pulitzer Prize for it, the way they sometimes give an Academy Award to someone who was once a star, and who they think deserves something for a career comeback.

      If I would have picked a famous novel for you to start with, I might have chosen The Scarlet Letter,” or “Wuthering Heights.”It is not easy to know what a bright high school student will appreciate enough to spark an interest in literature. Typically, no one wants to read “The Scarlet Letter,” but then high school students, including me, are surprised at what an engrossing story it is. And I have a feeling that you would have loved “Wuthering Heights.”

      • Maybe the Scarlett letter but Wuthering Heights never appealed to me. I read Scarlett letter in 11th grade.
        I think Tess of the D’Urbervilles would have been a good one.
        For a more modern choice, The Remains of the Day was very good.
        I liked anything by Sigurd Undset. The Axe was heartbreaking. But for some reason, Norwegian writers were never included.

        • I liked The Remains of the Day very much. You might also like, “An Artist of the Floating World,” by Ishiguro, though it does use a similar technique of the flawed narrator. I have not heard of Undset, but I promise I will look for one to read.

          We were assigned “The Return of the Native ” by Hardy in high school. But I am embarrassed to admit I did not read it. I was in my last semester, had already gotten admitted to university, and I just didn’t feel in the mood to read it, which was not at all typical for me. So I sat in class every day, with a kindly teacher, and could not say a word about it, he must have wondered why. I don’t think it was at all on the final, so I got an “A” anyway. I did later read “Jude the Obscure” by Hardy, what a depressing novel! I probably would have liked one of the other ones better. I have the movie of “Tess, somewhere, with Carey Mulligan, and I should watch it. It is true that there really aren’t a lot of great novels to have high school students read. “The Great Gatsby” is my favorite American novel, but I don’t know if I would have appreciated it as much as a teenager.

      • Wuthering Heights is like a prism. I read it one way, when I was about 12 or so and saw it quite differently when I re-read it when I was much was older.

        Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities is a good selection for high school: danger, drama and great characters in the middle of the French Revolution. I agree about The Scarlett Letter. The Crucible is also a good choice.

        • I think that we read The Crucible in high school. It is a powerful study of morality and choices, and dramatic. One never forgets it.

  2. I don’t hunt myself, but I come from a family of hunters, so I don’t share William’s sentiments about all hunting. I do think, however, you shouldn’t shoot something you’re not going to eat, so no big game hunting, for example.

    Of course, I do come from THAT culture. 😉

    • I understand that, though I would never hunt, but if I were out there in the jungle or plains or ocean with nothing to eat, I guess I would, just for food.I was horrified to hear about Hemingway’s big trip to Africa, where he shot many animals, including lions, elephants, water buffalo, antelopes, and 44 hyenas. He said that the hyenas were “just for sport.”As if the world is put out there like a carnival for him to partake of what he most likes, except that the shooting gallery figures in carnivals are not real. “Man against nature” except that the odds are stacked. He should have tried to fight a lion barehanded, and then we would have seen who prevailed. I had more regard for him before I saw this particular episode.

    • Most people today are far removed from the death of the animals that comprise their food. It used to be common for people on farms to have to kill their own chickens, fish and other meat, if they wanted to have protein. (Did you know armadillos, one of the cutest animals in existence, used to be called Hoover Hogs? People hunted them for food during the Great Depression because they had no other meat. I am so glad they are rarely hunted now.) I am not sure it is less humane to hunt animals than to kill them in the way we generally do today.

      Like IBW, I come from a family of hunters, though I left hunting behind after childhood. (I would rather take a photo.) I have to say that I am OK with hunting wild animals 1) under license (so the number of animals killed are not too high); 2) if the animals are not endangered or anywhere close (and preferably the herds/flocks are too large for their food supply); 3) the hunter is skilled enough to kill in one shot; and 4) the animal is eaten. I would also exclude duck hunting — they mate for life so when a mate is killed in a hunt, his/her partner never takes another.

      I find trophy hunting for the sake of a trophy to be an appalling ego trip. I strongly disapprove of Mr. Hemingway’s conduct (not that he would care). The End of the Game by Peter Beard is a fascinating book about Africa’s wildlife.

      As for bull fights, in ancient Crete, dancers may have performed acrobatics with bulls, reportedly doing handsprings from their horns. I suspect that took a lot more skill than bull fighters today exhibit. And a lot more courage.

  3. I love(d) Dickens and Austen back in the day and Hardy, too; yes I was dark way back then too. Ah, those vivid, half page long paragraphs…. To this day I can never read a book before its movie incarnation because the actors seldom match the vision of what the author had created. Never liked Hemingway, but was surprised he was a trophy hunter and a lover of bull fights, esp vis a vis his love of polydactyl cats. Did he think cats weren’t fair or always subsistence hunters either? Did he only see the predator in them?

    • Yes, those cats, one of his more appealing sides.

      You have probably read “Great Expectations”? It is one of my very favorite novels. The more recent movie of it,with Hermione Granger, is rather good. I even saw an adapted theatre version of it. I think that it is Dickens’ greatest novel, unforgettable. I prefer the happy ending version; you know that he wrote one ending, and people were upset, so he changed it, for the better, I think.

      I have never really read Austen, and I feel guilty about that. For some reason, they kept assigning “Northanger Abbey” in college courses, probably because it is shorter. It is her light parody of Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novels, so not a major work. If you happened to really like gothic novels,, you could try “The Monk,” by Matthew Lewis, that is one of the strangest but compelling gothics one can find. Back to Austen, I did see “Sense and Sensibility” recently, with Winslet and Thompson, and I quite liked it. I sort of think that I like her stories better as movies, which of course does not sound very intellectual. A professor I particularly admired, absolutely loved Austen, which impressed me, but I still had difficulty settling down with one of the longer ones.

      • You might like Pride and Prejudice — I think it is one of Ms. Austen’s best. The BBC miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth is excellent.

  4. Somewhat off topic, but Heywood J, in a comment thread over on No More Mister Nice Blog, used a phrase I’ve seen RD use here, IIRC.

    The real disease destroying this nation is not Covid, it’s oppositional defiance disorder. It’s forty percent of the populace turned into shitty, screaming toddlers, forever caught in a temper tantrum, forever stoked by a hopelessly cynical corporate mediocracy that hates this country almost as much as the whiny wittle babies do.

    • I don’t remember the phrase, but it certainly does seem that this is some kind of psychological syndrome, where one’s anger at everything, refusal to do reasonable things, becomes a badge of identity.

      I guess that there are some children who simply rebel against everything; maybe every child does at a certain age, but most mature. These adults are so angry and unhappy, that they revel in doing the opposite of what these people that they have learned to fear and hate, suggest that they do. They simply will not listen to anything that they don’t want to hear or know. And it is right, that corporations, many of which are only looking for ways to maximize profit, find them easy to exploit. Trump is not a corporation, but he has the same con man exploitative mindset. Just tell people that the liberals want this or that, and so you must sent him money to fight them, and they’ll bankrupt themselves to do it.

    • Well, if you thought that was interesting, check this out from the expert on narcissism:

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