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The Camera Never Lies

The Camera Never Lies

October 26th, 2007  |  Published in Reporting commentary

I’m trying to write this post about TV because my Normblog profile went up today (shameless I know) and of course I’m stuck. When I’m stuck I check what time is in Joisey City and give my friend Joey the Tuna a call.

ME: Tell me Joey, what do you think of TV?

Joey: You know it’s like a guy is always straight with ya – ya trust him like a brother. He starts double dealin’ and the next thing ya know, ya having him whacked.

Me: Thanks, Joey – you’re right – I whacked my TV last month.

Eric at Classical Values gives the media a pretty good whack in this post reacting to independent journalist Michael Yon’s shock at the difference between his experience in Iraq and the coverage he sees when he comes back to the States.

I think that the general public is fatigued to the point of being burned out. While this is often thought of as war fatigue, unfortunately it takes the form of information fatigue. People just don’t want to hear any more.

I do watch mainstream media reports pretty closely, and what I have noticed is that at the same time the situation in Iraq improved, mainstream news reports seemed to dwindle in a direct relationship to the improvement. To me, that’s a clue. But to others (especially the more “normal” people who rely on news accounts) no news is not seen as evidence of good news, but just a relief from news. Unfortunately, all they remember is the steady drip drip drip of bad news from Iraq. Without any news, they’re probably just hoping that the channel has been changed.

I think there is a clue here too and that Eric is onto something because his observation goes to form as well as content. In a recent post at newmediatheory about the nature of TV I made the point that TV is a form of drama and that the visual part of the medium is dominant and primarily works on our emotions. I agree with Eric that there is information fatigue but I think the larger factor is the emotional fatigue which simply comes with the medium. This really came home to me in 2004 while visiting the US when I noticed that Fox was as unable to resist endless footage of burning vehicles and masked insurgents as its ideological opponents.

To paint with a broad brush I think we are starting to see the effects of a shift in the media environment. Specifically, people are becoming more aware of and tiring of the emotional manipulativeness of TV. Moreover, this change in form operates subliminally. WWII and Korea were reported in a media environment dominated by radio and newspapers. Vietnam ran squarely into a media environment ruled by TV and neither the government nor the military dealt effectively with it because they were still operating in the earlier era. Today, I believe that in the Iraq war we are seeing the Internet erode the dominance of TV. This time around the MSM in general is being blind sided, as well the government and military.

My view rests of two basic foundations: Freud and Jung’s concept of the unconscious that tells us there are many things that affect us without our being aware of them and McLuhan’s idea that so long as we consciously focus on content we remain largely unaware of the impact of form. So alerted, I believe it is possible to become more conscious of the effects form in a changing media environment. I wont go into that any further here except to say that, given these ideas, it is logical to anticipate that TV’s hegemony over war reporting is bound to be shaken by the emergence of new forms on the Internet. In the event, I believe blogging has had the biggest impact so far. In this sense, it doesn’t even matter which side the bloggers are on in terms of content – the very fact that there is a debate about what is really happening in Iraq on the Internet undermines TV’s unfettered ability to determine what the public perceives. Because the blogosphere is functioning as a back channel with direct connections to those involved – Iraqis, soldiers, independent journalist bloggers – the uniformity of TV news is becoming more obvious. Fox, CNN, al Jizz – it doesn’t matter – one way or another you know you are going to jerked around emotionally.

Both Eric and Michael Yon are discouraged by the situation because they see it primarily in terms of content. Eric says:

A good friend recently told me that he supports the war in silence, and he absolutely refuses to talk about it any more.

Bloggers, I am sorry to say, cannot fix this problem. Most people do not get their information from blogs, and those who do are usually on one side or the other, so their minds are not likely to change.

And Yon, in the post that triggered Eric’s, speaks with concern of the disconnect between his experience in Iraq and the picture painted by the media:

Knowing this disconnect exists and experiencing it directly are two separate matters. It’s like the difference between holding the remote control during the telecast of a volcanic eruption on some distant island (and then flipping the channel), versus running for survival from a wretch of molten lava that just engulfed your car.

I was at home in the United States just one day before the magnitude hit me like vertigo: America seems to be under a glass dome which allows few hard facts from the field to filter in unless they are attached to a string of false assumptions.

I have tried to see the situation through the lens of form ever since I first read McLuhan in the late sixties and therefore it seems obvious that I would not be reading the above discussion or writing this post were it not for the Internet and blogging. Furthermore, I know that the awareness that TV is drama is working its way consciously and unconsciously through our collective awareness. On the conscious side, Yon is one of the leaders in raising media issues and the above post is a gold mine of links to other revealing experiences he has had with the established institutions. If this post has interested you spend some time reading Michael Yon’s experiences over the past few years. Some of it will surprise – he is ideologically unpredictable – the media, the government and the military all get praise and criticism. On the less conscious side, our awareness of computer constructed imagery – still and motion – is an example of how emerging new media shift our relationship to older ones. Today, we don’t need Joey the Tuna to tell us that ‘the camera never lies’ is passe. Any eight year old will do.

Crossposted at Yankeewombat 

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