Towards a Society of Individuals: On the Press

I've written briefly about this before for Thought Catalog — here — but I have to say I will never cease to be amazed by the press: of all the possible things to consider news in the world, of the literally billions of events and ideas, why is it that all the newspapers, all the tv news, cover the same things?

And, even more shocking to me, why does no one say anything about it? In fact, people actually argue over which newspaper or news program is better — as if there were any difference whatsoever! I know people in my community love to bash Fox News (in all honesty, I have never seen in so I cannot opine). But can you tell me that the events and topics they cover are any different than the events and topics covered by whatever network you prefer?

Sure, they have different tones, more or less (although who invented that awful, inhuman delivery that all newscasters seem to have? I find it literally unbearable). But they all seem to have the same purview — the happenings of governments.

In "The Present Age"— thanks, Dr. Watson, for reminding me of this fantastic book —, Kierkegaard argues that the press eliminates the individual by proffering in its stead, "the public." So we get phrases such as, "The American people believe...." Who? Who are these American people? I'm sure as shit never included.

This is to say that the press functions as an extension of the corporate state, working towards the elimination of the individual and all that that entails — peculiarity, particularity, multiplication of perspectives. The press rigorously frames the discussion of what matters so that people on the street reiterate this same frame, these same terms: Is Obama living up to his promise? Is the Tea Party gonna vote for unemployment compensation?

When someone actually has an opinion that lies outside the terms of the discussion, this person can't get a word in edgewise — his words, his ideas, are predetermined by the idiotic discussion, invented by the press and parroted by the American people — whoever they are.

Let's imagine, for a moment, a different kind of press. This would mean a) having multiple multiple perspectives on what even counts as content for the new; and b) having multiple perspectives, multiple readings, of that content.

First of all, let's have an official government newspaper and tv program. Here, the government can say all the nonsense they say in press conferences — the president did this, the attorney general did that. No reason for there to be reporters to type it up for us. Let's get those reporters actually reporting.

So now imagine all the things that you might consider news. Don't assume this news has to do with legislation or governments or armies. Imagine for a moment that the news can be anything, anything that is literally of interest to you and your world.

And then there are the frames of discussion. Rather than there being one frame for any given topic — are you pro-life or pro-choice (a specious distinction)? — why not multiple frames? The example I often use is the word "abortion": it has already framed the discussion in such a way that the focus is on the fetus, on stopping something that's in progress? But why not focus on the woman's menstrual cycle and call it a "renaissance"?

This is to say, why not imagine a press that actually proliferated topics and perspectives?

Look at how we talk about movies: thumbs up, thumbs down. But why not have readings of films, multiple perspectives on what makes a film interesting. Why not a film critique of nuance? A culture of film critique based on individuality, not sweeping generalizations?

Of course, the interweb seems to promise just such a thing. But what I find, for the most part, is that the grammars of the interweb, of social networking sites such as Facebook, is that they recapitulate existing corporate grammars: likes and dislikes, place of work, male or female, single or married.

A society of individuals would put aside the ready judgments and embrace, encourage, multiple perspectives. Wouldn't it be nice to enter a conversation wondering what the other person might say? And have that person open to hear what you have to say? Wouldn't it be nice not to have to relentlessly qualify and explain oneself because one doesn't fit into the existing brain dead discussions?

Wouldn't it be nice if we lived in a society of individuals in which we expected peculiarity, nuance, particularity, multiplicity?


Ruby said...

Very interesting.

It seems the media have always claimed to speak for, about and to 'the public’. Currently, there is a mania for public opinion as if random tweets and Facebooks pages define a mass of people.

The public are also alocated a role in every debate. In the ongoing media drama of God Versus Evolution, a scientist might be presented with points like ’78 Facebooks groups are in favour of god only 5 for quantum physics’ or a theologian is relayed a tweet about how ‘religion did no gud 4 no1’. The idea that every little thing we do online is evidence of ‘public opinion’ is very strange.

The internet has become like the mainstream news - what’s trending on twitter - but the non-trending random websites are as much evidence of the public as the oppressively popular - lazy news presenters just don't bother to look for them.

Nicolás Añón said...

for me the dificult thing is to switch modes, i can read Nietzche, Shopenhauer or Goethe, but can i forget, re-learn and start over ?, ill keep at it, may be one day.

Nathan said...

@ Nicolas Anon: This is such a great question. A practice I would recommend - it's been helpful for me personally - is to quit reading for awhile and just start asking and answering questions. You can do this in writing, in discussion with someone else or just quietly to yourself.

I think there's a tendency in reading, especially great texts like Nietzche, Schopenhauer, Goethe, to desire a sort of total identification with the thought before you. It's so natural that, in becoming some beautiful, radical thought, we desire to be that thought, to have its boldness arise perpetually in each moment of our existence. The danger is that we would seek an identification with what is radical rather than a radical way of being, of becoming. I mean, it's great if we can chapter and verse Nietzche but the point is not to re-present, it's to be present, to attend the event of your own becoming. As Daniel explains perfectly, the desire to transgress calcifies in habit. This is, perhaps, where we turn from thought to academics.

In the preface to Difference and Repetition, I think Deleuze captures this point perfectly: "We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms the one into the other." Find the questions that leave you speechless and just start trying to answer them. You may find that a concept from Goethe or Nietzche helps you along the way. But, these concepts will be emerging with you, rather than in spite of you, which introduces a whole new relation to the text, to thought and to yourself.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Ruby: It's odd, isn't it? What is supposed to represent public opinion — as if that were not an oxymoron? How can a public have an opinion? That's the domain of the individual!

It is certainly relevant that x number of people are tweeting about this or that. But how it's relevant demands reading, demands discussion. Everything is always multiple....