Walter Rhett

Enlarging Insignificance

In Living, Media on September 11, 2010 at 1:43 am

Reflections upon the flare up and flame out of Koran burnings.

Cable news and the internet radically reorganized the discourse of American public life. They enlarged and organized a new audience absorbed in a myopic narcissism. But they also give rise to a new paradigm when no one was looking. Touted as vehicles of greater access, as a means for multiplying public voices, heralded for blooming new information communities, the results of the common dialectic has been quite the opposite: cable and the net fostered greater separation.

This contradictionary dialectic has to do with structure. Cable and web participants and watchers are encased in bubbles, connected only by tiny bytes and clicks. The bubbles offer a powerful false illusion that we all hold equally the ability to act. The mutiplied but fragmented nature of the electronic bubble (see Mark Crispin Miller’s “Boxed In”) protects, even enhances, imbalance and extreme values.
(Even typing this comment, I feel the singular heady effect of expressing ideas without a filter, appearing on the website; that’s part of the deeply embedded attraction, the false allusion of being in my bubble, untouchable, powerful, in charge of my remote . . and clicks. .)

Cable and the net talk across the bubbles. They increase audience and market share by further dividing its audience. This inverse function actually works!

Now add half-truths. The deep seated views of what is “true” is based often on how frequently something–anything–is repeated and how many others embrace it. Half measures are held as canons. A favorite strategy is to push hard against resistance as an indication of confidence in a view. It then becomes accepted.

Now leave the structural brokeness for others to pick over the bones. Often the smaller the story, the greater its popular appeal. It becomes universally chased in order not to concede ratings. It “truth” is affirmed by the corporate decision loop it and repeat it. And if the community offers strong comments, the hurling invectives enlarge its insignificance.


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