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Archive for the 'Media & Culture' Category

The MSM has embarrassed itself to a near-fatal degree

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 (11:26 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Friday, August 31st, 2012:

Who better than J. E. Dyer to inspire me to rekindle my moribund blog, in a blog post entitled Are the American voters idiots?, which ultimately tackles several of my favorite hobby horses:

There were so many reasons to know in advance that Obama would be a poor president.  Yet many of the voters were taken in by the media hype surrounding Obama.  The president’s associations and recorded statements were played down.  The record was there for a number of investigative authors to find, from Michelle Malkin to Stanley Kurtz and Aaron Klein.  But the mainstream media presented a very selective picture of the Democratic candidate.

The MSM, in fact, has embarrassed itself to a near-fatal degree with its remarkable coverage of the Obama administration, whether it is amplifying the cries of “racism!” that erupt whenever there is criticism of the president, or credulously reporting whatever the administration puts out, word for word, as if there is no previous record or any set of facts to be counter-checked.  (The latter pattern is especially strong when it comes to reporting about defense and national security.  Reporters have regularly retailed administration talking points about the unprecedented “shows of strength” the Obama administration is making, when a little research would reveal that the US had already been doing whatever the “unprecedented” thing is, for 5, 20, or even – in the case of North and South Korea – 60 years.)

There has been a tremendous growth in vague, elliptical, and/or tendentious narration of what’s going on in the nation and the world.  The people can be pardoned for being tired and confused.

But the inability to distinguish fantasy-news and talking points from reality is a product of the US education system.  That system has taken millions of people with plenty of native smarts and indoctrinated them with a set of ideological trigger-concepts, all while declining to teach them to think critically.  Developing judgment through critical thinking is one of the hallmarks of adulthood, and the US education system has been making that harder for Americans, rather than fostering their abilities.

I have this lingering sense, which I honestly suspect is nothing but delusion, that the producers of mainstream “news” product really are making themselves progressively (!) more and more irrelevant by alienating their audiences with increasingly transparent cultivated stupidity, and un-reflexive progressive bias and partisanship. I hope it’s not just the projection of wishful thinking on my part. And although I agree with her assessment of the typical results of the US education system, I think the actual contributions of the schools to those results might entail a smaller and more collaborative role than Dyer seems to be suggesting. The entertainment industry plays no small part, independently of the schools, as does the overall entitlement ethic of society.

Dyer’s article gets to that in its own way later on, where she speaks critically of “the modern American pathology-network” of dependencies, addictions, disorders, and despair. She remains confident in the redeeming value of the free exchange of ideas in the public square, though the history of progressives and other leftists in power does not fill me with the same confidence that the square will remain open for dissent indefinitely.

Teens don’t even have an authority to rebel against

Posted: Friday, April 1, 2011 (11:23 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for April Fools’ Day, 2011:

Townhall.com columnist Kathryn Lopez, writing last week on the appalling apparel that dominates the American teen girl’s consumer environment:

Two generations, in other words, are feeling the pain of the feminism that has wreaked havoc on the sexes, leaving us with a boundary-free horizon where teens don’t even have an authority to rebel against.

I grabbed this quote not because I thought the article was all that interesting, but because Lopez nails a tremendously important point here about the repercussions of generations of permissiveness having produced not only that moral paralysis in the face of licentiousness that so characterizes modern “political correctness” ethics, but also ultimately deprives children of any sort of serious moral norms against which to measure their lives.

The great feminist revolt against “patriarchy” has not only far too often turned men into self-serving philistines, and women into shameless tramps, it has corroded expectations for the social function of the family to the point where the very notion that wisdom exists appears quaintly anachronistic – and authority subsequently withers into a dirty word that only manifests itself in violence, which is the ultimate end of all revolt against wisdom.

It’s not that feminism alone bears the blame for the loss of authority in the modern moral consciousness – anti-authoritarianism is the basic impulse of all leftist idealism, after all – but it served as a fulcrum for delegitimizing the basic function of the family as the basic unit of that great web of human compassion which is society, wherein the strong protect the weak in all manner of ways.

At any rate, a very appropriate topic for April Fools’ Day.

An article that was never worth dying for

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 (11:23 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011:

From a New York Times article, published on Boston.com, from four Times’ reporters who had just been released from several days of captivity in the loony bin of wartime Libya, relaying some of the details of their ordeal, including this moment of realization that their Libyan driver had likely been killed by the soldiers who’d captured them:

From the pickup, Lynsey saw a body lying next to our car, one arm outstretched. We still don’t know whether that was Mohammed. We fear it was, though his body has yet to be found. If he died, we will have to bear the burden for the rest of our lives that an innocent man died because of us, because of wrong choices that we made, for an article that was never worth dying for.

No article is, but we were too blind to admit that.

Ummm, do you think? And if that poor man had a family, what exactly should be said to his wife now? That he died so that Americans back home could be thrilled by up-to-the-minute eye-witness war reporting?

I often feel queasy when I pass by TVs playing war front footage, thinking about the irresponsibility and just plain inanity of it all. And it’s not just the media outlets that are to blame; those who sit down with their popcorn and crackerjacks to take it in are equally responsible.

War zone reporting is a kind of pornography; a tacit agreement between a salacious public eager to indulge its lust for the thrill of purely objectified knowledge, and a pimping media equally eager to grow wealthy and powerful providing the entertainment “content” of a stranger’s debasement, especially given the ease with which such emotionally charged messaging can be used to manipulate public opinion for political ends.

The “news” is just about the worst of what the mass entertainment industry has to offer society, and this article is, I hope, a pretty clear example of why that is.

A Masters in Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da?

Posted: Tuesday, February 22, 2011 (10:43 pm), by John W Gillis


So, a Canadian woman, Mary-Lu Zahalan-Kennedy, has earned the world’s first graduate degree in Beatles music. Is there any possibility left that the worldwide university system retains so much as a shred of its former dignity and gravitas – or relevance?

Mike Brocken, founder and leader of the Beatles MA at Liverpool Hope University, said the postgraduate degree makes Zahalan-Kennedy a member of a select group of popular music experts.

"Mary-Lu now joins an internationally recognized group of scholars of Popular Music Studies who are able to offer fresh and thought-provoking insights into the discipline of musicology."

Lord knows there are plenty of angles here for comedic exploration, but for giggles, can anything really top the professor’s conceit that how, finally, after proper designation as Masterly degreed, this woman is “able to offer fresh and thought-provoking insights into the discipline of musicology"? Oh, my. Well, maybe, maybe not – but at least now she has a ticket to ride.

Such dangerous behavior could be triggered by any number of future public events

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011 (8:09 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, January 17th, 2011:

Call it a parting shot (!) on the Great Tucson Media Meltdown of 2011. This is former Washington Times Editor in Chief, Tony Blankley, commenting over at National Review Online:

Because even though the Tucson shooting did not cause the media irresponsibility — this time — continued media misreporting and bias is now so ingrained that such dangerous behavior could be triggered by any number of future public events.

Now is the time for us all to pause, and consider how the working members of the media can live with their biased liberalism — yet not allow it to permeate their work and undercut the political dialogue and political process that is the foundation of our democracy.

Indeed, it may well be the case that the now institutional failure of the mainstream media to do its job with reasonable objectivity may itself be the cause of the incivility in political dialogue. Without an objective umpire in the political debate, the players are forced to shout louder and louder so that their interpretation of the state of play on the field can be heard by the fans. But political incivility is a topic for some future discussion. Now is the moment for the nation assembled to try to come to terms with the tragic failure of the media to report objectively about political incivility.

As incomprehensible as this insight undoubtedly is to most of the educated class in our country, I couldn’t agree more with Blankley’s observation that the truly important lesson the nation should be taking from the tragedy in Tucson is the threat to sound public order posed by the depraved state of the mainstream media – the gatekeepers of public opinion. I take it as given that Blankley is mocking his compatriots here with his foray into the silly-world of fretting over “incivility,” but I also assume that his overarching assertion is serious. He’s damn right.

In particular, he’s right about the media’s role as umpire. This is likewise one of the reasons why a just order requires that  the state limit its activity in commerce, education, healthcare, and every other sphere that is not strictly governmental: when the arbiter has a stake in outcomes, the process is severely compromised and invariably corrupted, and there is no place left for the wronged to seek redress using institutional means. That spells trouble.

The Fourth Estate wields far too much power in modern society for good men and women to give silent assent to its moral decay. We seriously need to have a public discussion in this country about the grave state of the mass media.

HT to Ed Morrisey over at HotAir.com

Almost 1,700 people had clicked that they “like” “General Rachid Ammar President”

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011 (8:22 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, January 16, 2011:

From the New York Times’ World News desk, in an article on the evolving – or devolving – political situation in Tunisia, following the sudden departure of long-entrenched President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali:

On Saturday afternoon, there were some signs that General Ammar himself may now have an eye on politics. On Facebook, a staging ground of the street revolt, almost 1,700 people had clicked that they “like” a Web page named “General Rachid Ammar President” and emblazoned with his official photographs.

While it’s encouraging that the unrest and ensuing power vacuum in Tunis have resulted in levels of violence that have managed to remain below the point of full-fledged conflagration – so far – the idea of Facebook “like” clicks being used as any kind of measuring stick of political legitimacy just strikes me as bizarre. Somehow, I think John Locke must be rolling over in his grave. I don’t see how this ends well.

Our whole society shares this stupidity

Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 (9:35 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for January 3rd, 2011:

John Sommerville, from an article in the October 1991 issue of First Things, entitled: Why the News Makes Us Dumb

The News can’t be fixed. There is something about daily publication, all by itself, that distorts reality. That is why the addiction to News that so many of us share has brought on a kind of stupidity. Our whole society shares this stupidity, and so we have a hard time recognizing it.

Catching up on some blog reading I missed last week, I noticed that Joe Carter had penned a piece at FirstThings.com on one of my favorite subjects to grouse about: how the Daily News Product industry dominates our culture, and infests it with rampant stupidity. Carter quoted a different passage in this 20 year-old article from Sommerville, which happily appears to be a free article in the First Things on-line archive. According to Carter, this essay was later fleshed out into a book by Sommerville, which I see via Amazon is a rather short one (155 pgs.) published by IVP in 1999, called How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society. It never ceases to amaze me how many people think the schlock marketed to them as "news" makes them somehow more knowledgeable about the world around them.

Public Health Leaders Should Be Carefully Scrutinized

Posted: Sunday, December 5, 2010 (3:04 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, November 5th, 2010:

Matthew Hanley over at The Catholic Thing on Thursday, commenting on the public reaction to Pope Benedict’s recent statement on condom use in the Peter Seewald book, in a post entitled Misrepresenting Benedict’s Bravery:

The New York Times tells us the pope’s words, in the newly published book Light of the World, were received with “glee from clerics and health workers in Africa, where the AIDS problem is worst.” The pope as anachronistic obstacle to global health has long been a fashionable narrative. But consider: decades of robust condom promotion (and other technical interventions) utterly failed to curb Africa’s AIDS epidemics, and common-sense changes in sexual behavior accounted for Africa’s handful of AIDS declines.  Is one misrepresented remark from the pontiff now to do what lavish and sophisticated condom campaigns couldn’t?  Public health leaders should be carefully scrutinized. They, not the pope, are explicitly charged with containing epidemics.   

Although I think the post tries to tries to say too many things in its allotted space (a temptation I can sympathize with), the most important point Hanley makes is the implication of culpability on the part of public health officials who have stood around fondling themselves for decades while this epidemic has wasted millions of human beings, too afraid (either of hurting other people’s feelings, or –more likely– of being perceived as uncool) to state the obvious if unwelcome truth: this disease is spread almost entirely by immoral behavior – especially by disordered sexual licentiousness and lack of self-control – and can be avoided and defeated only by a rejection of the narcissistic public morality that promotes such soul-destroying indulgence as normal and acceptable behavior.

It’s far easier, of course, to ban Happy Meals than to criticize socially toxic sexual immorality, though the discrepancy of dereliction therein implied clearly constitutes gross criminal negligence on the part of our public health “leaders”.

via FirstThoughts

What Liberal Bias?

Posted: Monday, November 15, 2010 (9:43 pm), by John W Gillis


I saw something on TV last night that was just too funny to pass up. When I got home from teaching CCD, my wife had the TV on, watching a nice 60 Minutes character piece on an Afghan vet who is being awarded the Medal of Honor, and I milled around to watch it. Then Andy Rooney came on.

Rooney started complaining about a recent Gallup poll showing pretty broad dissatisfaction with President Obama and his performance. Rooney contrarily said he had gone and asked nine of his friends what they thought, and they all thought Obama was doing a terrific job. Well, duh! I have no doubt that if Rooney had spent an entire afternoon polling his friends and co-workers, he would have had a hard time coming up with anyone dissatisfied with Obama – except for those perhaps who think Obama has been too much of a middling moderate! “They polled 90, 000 people!”, he crowed: “Where do they find these people?”

I was just a little bit too stung by this man’s naivety to laugh out loud. If someone had hired an actor to portray the stereotype of mainstream media figures as a collection of smug, condescending liberals, living a secluded existence completely out of touch with the American people, he couldn’t have done better than Rooney did.

The point is not whether Rooney and his nine friends, or the 90,000 Americans, are better judges of Obama’s presidency. The point is how funny it is that a guy like Rooney apparently genuinely has no idea how much farther to the left the insular world of liberal “opinion” institutions is from mainstream America.

How is this ignorance cultivated? How about, for an example, we take Ted Koppel’s musings the same day on the sad demise of the nobly objective media institution his rose-colored way-back glasses remember from back in the day – like, you know, the days when Koppel held court and people listened. The three-step formula? Find someone else even more egregiously leftist to serve as one punching bag (MSNBC fits the bill nicely here). Then, to serve as the main punching bag, find someone who seems quite out of place in the whole media mix because they’re not particularly leftist at all (this is the FOX News role, since they’re not leftist – though they are pretty libertarian, which is something of a cross between being a liberal and being a tightwad, but that’s what passes for “conservatism” in a lot of circles today). Finally, declare yourself a centrist, or “normal,” or the only ones without an accent, etc.

But back to philosopher number one: the final punch line has to be Rooney insisting that there just must be something wrong with polls that reflect views so contrary to the prevailing view within the hallways of places like CBS. “They never ask me what I think,” he huffs.

So then, why do you keep telling us, Andy?

Jonathan Sperry and the Messaging of Faith

Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 (7:03 am), by John W Gillis


sperry I took the family to see The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry last weekend. This is an independent “family” movie by Christian director Rich Christiano, with an explicitly Christian message and worldview. The movie had been vigorously promoted locally by some good friends of mine, who were obviously excited to see something in the theater that was not only not antithetical to Christianity, but which explicitly promotes Christian faith.

I understand the urge to try to gain a foothold for decency in all kinds of public arenas, but I had a hard time getting excited about the potential for this movie, in part because of my previous experience with Christian movies and other forms of Christian popular art, in part because of the doubt-confirming sappiness I detected in the movie trailers I saw, and in part because I think any attempt to sprinkle the local movie house with holy water is likely to be about as effective as baptizing a brothel these days, as these venues have truly become houses of sin, peddling fare that seems more and more debased each year, promoting grotesque visions of both humanity and God, blatantly contemptuous of virtues and virtuousness – especially marriage – and generally just being corrosive of character in every conceivable manner. It’s hard to see how spitting into that foul wind can truly be to our advantage.

Nonetheless, I packed up the family for the field trip, hoping that at least my youngest would like the movie (she did). The Christian sub-texts were easily identifiable: the need for knowledge of Christ in order to know eternal salvation; the power of personal forgiveness – including praying for others – to effect spiritual transformation in others; the power of personal evangelization to effect conversion in others; and the centrality of the Bible as the means of properly knowing God. This seemed like pretty standard evangelical fare – not without theological weaknesses, but certainly a worthy and important message to share with the world. But it is one thing to have a message worth proclaiming; it is another to proclaim that message worthily.

Movie-going is no intellectual exercise. Movies need to make their point through effective dramatization that leads viewers to understand the message the movie intends to convey. I think it’s fair to say that, as drama, this movie fails to compel, and so can hardly be considered an effective vehicle for the message it seeks to share, regardless of how worthy the message is. The plotline is feeble, corny, pat, predictable, and far from believable in the simplistic way its events conveniently converge, with nary a trace of struggle arising from either temptation or circumstance. In sum, it completely lacks what is these days called authenticity. The characters are paper thin, and weakly acted. The only sympathetic character in the movie, in my view, is the young friend who doesn’t know how to shut his mouth. Otherwise, this is a wooden story about cardboard characters. More proof, perhaps, that the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.

This kind of naively idyllic portrayal of the Christian experience could easily lead to disillusionment among the young or newly converted, as people don’t very often turn their lives around on a dime when you start praying for them. Nor does one’s own conversion experience very often reflect an unambiguous conquest of personal sin; rather, periodic backsliding, of a greater or lesser degree, is an all-too-common aspect of the spiritual journey. I appreciate that the story was not attempting to convey such a journey per se, being rather narrowly focused over a short time period, yet even great moments of repentance are normally marked by a gradual comprehension of the of the depth and scope of one’s transgressions, as well as a developing apprehension of the redemptive grace at work. Any such complexity was conspicuously absent from this story, and when the bully is wholly cured of his bullying ways after an emotional “calling out” to a hitherto unknown God, you sense the film has conjured up the fantastic conceit of cheap grace.

The only even remote resemblance to Christian community in the film were the Bible Studies the Jonathan Sperry character led the boys in at his house – which frankly came off more as Sunday School games with trite moral lessons than anything resembling immersion in the Word of God. Rather, everyone went off on their own to read their Bibles. Is that kind of mutual isolation for “devotions” supposed to somehow reflect the ecclesial unity for which Christ prayed? Yet the reading of the Bible was presented as something at lest pretty close to the pinnacle of Christian life. But reading the Bible – especially alone – not infrequently produces heresy as well as holiness, and we’re talking here about a group of thoroughly wet-behind-the-ears pre-teenage boys, with no apparent Christian community to provide them wisdom, temperance, and mature direction. Whatever role “church” played in the film’s home-town community, it was unrelated to the thematically crucial issues at the center of the movie, and peripheral to the lives of those characters who were meant to reflect Christianity. And that is a thoroughly impoverished view of Christianity.

Never mind community, these young boys didn’t even have families to speak of – they either didn’t exist, or they served as minor props. The plot’s most important parental character was the deceased father of the bully! In what was perhaps the most bizarre example of the disconnectedness of the film’s Jesus movement from the realities of human community, the wife of that man, whom were are told had thoroughly despised and rejected her deceased (ex-?) husband’s turn to Christianity, never even makes an appearance in the story as her son adopts of the same faith under the tutelage of the elderly Mr. Sperry. Are we to suppose that she would not have had some kind of reaction, which might somehow have complicated the story – at least for the boy? This is just clueless story writing.

It might be objected that I am criticizing the movie for not being what it did not set out to be. Fair enough. But if the point of the movie was to convincingly show how one person’s faith can influence others for the good, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to insist that the faith in question – and its alleged effects – be presented at a level of authentic personal engagement which exceeds that of a typical Care Bears episode, which is pretty close to where this film engages its audience. With better character development, it could have been a Hallmark Special with a Jesus message – not that I’d ever expect to find a Jesus message in a Hallmark Special, seeing how offensive such blatant religiosity is to the gatekeepers of cultural standards. But as a piece of evangelism, I have to say that I think the film fails for lack of believability and, hence, credibility.

molokai Ironically, the day after I viewed the movie, Pope Benedict XVI canonized Damien of Molokai, about whom a feature film had been made roughly ten years ago. The film, Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, portrays the life of Damien as he ministers to leprous outcasts exiled to to an island colony in 19th century Hawaii, becoming one of them, and eventually dying of their shared affliction. Rich Christiano could learn much about authentic presentation of the Christian faith, and its power to transform communities through the faithfulness of individuals, by watching this moving, and truly evangelistic, film.

Given the blank slate of pure fiction, Christiano created a bunch of cardboard characters engaged in a series of events that together make Christianity look unbelievable and childish, if not downright cartoonish. Director Paul Cox, by contrast – not even a Christian filmmaker, mind you – working with the actual life events and legacy of a real saint, painted a picture of Christian love that continues to inspire, and that reveals many of the finer aspects of a practical Christian faith. One hero is today known as the patron saint of HIV/AIDS sufferers, and their caretakers. The other will soon pass the way of a plastic Happy Meal toy. If evangelization is worthwhile, we need more of the former, and less of the latter; more message, less messaging.