Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barack Obama and the age of hysterics

This could be my imagination. I just feel like we've been in a mode of permanent media agitation since the presidential campaign started heating up. That's natural, I guess, considering American presidential elections are important, and cable news loves political coverage: lots of supposition, lots of analysis, lots of ways to fill time with meaningless verbiage, never-ending opportunities for talking heads to demonstrate their unique genius. It's exhausting, though, and the Internet was just as frantic. I was assuming (and hoping) that this hectic pace and breathlessness would naturally subsume after November 4th. But I look around, and don't see it happening. In fact I see a media that has basically forgotten how to cover mundane times.

Does anyone else feel that way? It seems like the media is treating the transition and the Blagojevich scandal with the same interest and hype that they treated the election. Which, frankly, is madness. Yes, Cabinet appointments are important. Are they really deserving of the kind of round-the-clock coverage and analysis the campaign was? The amount of media attention devoted just to the Hillary Clinton appointment was staggering. And the sense of importance that was attached to all of those discussions was totally out of line with the day-to-day impact the Secretary of State will have on the average American. Yes, our chief diplomat is important, but this was over the top. Same thing with the Blagojevich indictment. Crazy for a governor to be so corrupt, great story for the news. But not, in the final analysis, particularly relevant to the life of most people.

This is all made sadder still because I, and I suspect many others, have been waiting for the end of the Bush administration out of a deep desire for a return to normalcy, to the mundane reality of everyday life. The media was especially hyper about the election, like I said, but it's also seemed extremely agitated for pretty much the entirety of the Bush administration. Again, probably natural, considering the events. The Gore/Bush debacle. 9/11, of course, which was not only a time of natural hysteria and grief, but also an event about which many people insisted that, if you weren't in a state of hyper-emotionality, there was something wrong with you. Afghanistan and Iraq. The government deciding it could break any law it felt like, as long as they believed they were justified in doing so. The justice department punishing prosecutors for not making political prosecutions. And, you know, New Orleans being swallowed by the sea, and the government not really feeling like something needed to be done about it.

I'm so tired of the sense of never living in normal times, the feeling that our country has taken to careening from one disaster to the next. It's funny. Barack Obama is famously the candidate of change. But what I want from him is a return to normalcy, a return to the feeling that, while there are crises and there are disasters and there are challenges, we still live in the ordinary ebb and flow of time and events. That sense is lost to me; I feel like it's just a time of crisis, all the time. People tease me about my pining for the good old 90s, and of course I'm looking at the decade of my youth and my adolescence with rose-colored glasses. But I do think things were calmer then.

I know Barack Obama can't really bring back my lost America. Certainly, the news media is disinclined to change; they have every incentive to keep reporting at a fever pitch. But I'm hopeful for the future. Getting rid of George Bush-- warmongering, wiretapping, Katrina-enabling, torture-supporting, prosecutor-firing, environment-destroying, country-crushing George Bush-- well, that'll go a long way all on its own.

10 comments:

The Abstracted Engineer said...

It would be nice if the media would gradually stop with the politics-coverage-only and start doing stories on other things, like the rising child poverty rate in America, and rather than sandwiching a 1 minute summary of the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe between two analyses of Obama's energy team, maybe we could have five full minutes of Zimbabwe coverage?

Take the Kash said...

Freddie, I'm overly found of the old saw, "To a hammer everything looks like a nail." So it sort of follows that if you immerse yourself in media that sells a lot conflict you tend to see the conflict. I don't know how you, given your blog, can avoid the feelings you describe. You are in my view the hammer.

JS Bangs said...

The solution, of course, is not to pay any attention to the media. All of my news comes via a handful of blogs; if it's really important, they'll eventually say something about or post a relevant link.

rusty said...

I was at the Houston airport (unfortunately for Houstonians they don't use the extra initials "H.W." when they refer to their airport as the George Bush Int'l Airport) last week and they informed me that the Threat Alert state is still "Orange". The Crisis is still "on".

Dara said...

I feel the claustrophobia, but the argument that it's just the media being more breathless than usual isn't cutting it for me. (As I may have mentioned somewhere, I came of age politically during Clinton's impeachment, and I was sort of shocked to realize that there was a whole industry convinced that civilization was on the verge of collapse when no one in my town seemed to care much at all.)

What I do think is different is that more people started following the news compulsively during the election, and have kept doing so. This should make me jump for joy--civic engagement and all that--but instead I'm wondering when everyone else will go back to their regularly scheduled programs so I won't have to keep on top of my RSS feeds just to hold a conversation.

I don't know if the media's insistence on covering everything as if it were just as important as the election has been a factor in that. It probably has. Philosophically, though, I can't say I have much of a problem with pointing out that issues of global and national concern didn't disappear six weeks ago. Annoying, sure, but not a threat to democracy.

Take the Kash said...

There is no way to prove this, just my observation, but I see a lessening of posts on the few blogs I look at. TalkingPointsMemo, Americablog have really decreased post election. Andrew Sullivan seems to have cut back but I see he is still flogging the Trig story, poor Andrew. I don't go to conservative blogs much so I not going to comment on what is going on over at the right. But if you read a lot of blogs I'm sure you will find more than enough crap to keep yourself roiled.

Cascadian said...

I can understand your weariness and disappointment at the lack of relief. I'm grateful that we have Obama vs McCain, but to a State's Rights paleocon, Obama never had the promise to let me off the political hook. I only do blogs, no tv. That may be what keeps me from being overloaded.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cascadian and ask the same question: Why, Freddie, do you watch TV news? You clearly hate it (Blitzer drives you nuts), so quit watching. It's not particularly worth watching, especially compared to the data-rich environment that is the web.

Do you think you'll be less well informed? I doubt it. -K.

BP said...

'naturally subside'

Wellsy said...

The media is comprised of companies that have to make money just like any other. They report the news. They get paid for doing it. So the next logical step is to make people want the news.

There was a study, and I'm sorry I have no source for it, but it found that regardless of what was actually happening, when the news reported more crime stories, people thought crime was actually worse than when they reported fewer crime stories. Crime was unchanged; reporting on it changed.

Crazy how much power they have, huh?