Media as Fable 25-06-2013

At the moment, there are a great many events and series of events transpiring across the globe which would give most anyone cause for concern and distress. Take, for instance, the ongoing protests against corruption and generally poor governance across Brasil, numbering in the millions of citizens, or the protests against redevelopment of Taksim Gezi Park in Turkey which were violently suppressed by police forces, or the apparently historically massive privacy breach by the United States' National Security Agency. All of these have been covered heavily by media sources, both within and without the nation-states of origin. However, the overall perceived quality, accuracy, and integrity of media reports has varied wildly among different media outlets for each of these matters, with some engaging in rampant sensationalism and others attempting to sweep matters under mainstream rugs. With some providing credible journalism direct from the source and others echoing talking points from the saturated twenty-four hour news cycle. With some missing critical points entirely and still others providing keen insights and nigh objective reporting. All of this is to say, when consuming news media about the most important matters facing humanity today, one must exercise caution and skepticism.

Jacques Derrida delivered a generally weekly series of seminars, from December 12, 2001 through March 27, 2002, dealing largely with the rule of law in society and the encompassing, permeating symbology and language. This was later translated from French into English by Geoffrey Bennington and subsequently published as The Beast & The Sovereign: Volume I. In the second seminar, presented December 19, 2001, Derrida delves into the genre of the _fable_ while deconstructing the line, "the reason of the strongest is always the best" from Jean de La Fontaine's The Wolf and the Lamb. He makes it a point to mention that fables draw their intrinsic power not only from their "linguistic nature" but also from the fact that they produce narratives. To this point, he provides the media as an example:

What has been happening on big and small television channels, for a long time now, but in particular in time of war, for example over the last few months, attests to this becoming-fabulous of political action and discourse, be it described as military or civil, warlike or terroristic. A certain effectivity, a certain efficacy, including the irreversible actuality of death, are not excluded from this affabulation. Death and suffering, which are not fabular, are yet carried off and inscribed in the affabulatory score.

This is a very dense passage from which much may be gleamed and interpreted, but I think that one particularly relevant point is this: news media, for various obvious reasons, is largely in the business of creating salient narratives which can sustain and amplify the newsworthiness of the story. No matter the seriousness, the tragedy, the "death and suffering" of those involved on all sides of the event being reported, those doing the actual reporting are wont to invoke certain language and project particular images which are hand-picked for reproducibility, in order to maximize the virality of the fable. From the event or series of events is spun a compelling narrative, framed in such a way as to emphasize whatever points are expected to be of the highest intrigue to the intended audience. The goal is one of headline journalism: to optimize on eyeballs per story, per word even, so as to optimize on profit.

From this perspective of news media as (capitalistic?) fable, we can reason about both the inconsistency and the fantastic nature of the reporting on Brasil, on Turkey, and on the NSA. As a complement, we can witness the apparent self-censorship on matters which are deemed to be of lesser interest, perhaps explaining, for example, why protests in Bulgaria are found in a virtual blindspot far, far away from yet simultaneous to the growing media swarm surrounding Brasil. What may be most important, however, is that we can see the obvious refraction of the perspectives which are most commonly produced and regurgitated for our perusal. And perhaps we can be motivated to dig for more reliable, less compromised news sources.

Combined with a somewhat Chomskyan view of the media as state-support[ed/ing] propaganda, this brings all new meaning to the aforementioned warning: the reason of the strongest is always the best. We can evade and negate this tendency through simple mindfulness of our own media consumption.