Our correspondent, T-Bone Burnett, added that comment to the New Yorker cartoon I posted which has generated so much traffic in the last couple of days. This comment is echoed in a magnificent essay in this morning’s New York Times by Michiko Kakutani, entitled Texts Without Context.
Other challenges to the autonomy of the artist come from new interactive media and from constant polls on television and the Web, which ask audience members for feedback on television shows, movies and music; and from fan bulletin boards, which often function like giant focus groups…As reading shifts “from the private page to the communal screen,” Mr. Carr writes in “The Shallows,” authors “will increasingly tailor their work to a milieu that the writer Caleb Crain describes as ‘groupiness,’ where people read mainly ‘for the sake of a feeling of belonging’ rather than for personal enlightenment or amusement. As social concerns override literary ones, writers seem fated to eschew virtuosity and experimentation in favor of a bland but immediately accessible style.”
From the day I started this blog, I have tried to resist this urge to write what the search engines tell me would be popular. For reasons that are lost on me, posts with the word “Torture” in them are very popular on Google. This 19 month old post is still regularly on of the most searched out ones on this site. And of course there is always this favorite, which must be an immense disappointment to the thousands of web surfers who have landed there searching for porn. If I wanted to really get a lot of hits, I’d combine these two “focus group” hints and just call the site “Torture Porn”. I’m sure it would be very popular.
Let’s face it, we are drowning in a sea of media crap. Yes of course there is some wonderful art being made, but the fact that any sentient human being spent their working hours producing “Kirstie Alley’s Big Life” or “Jerseylicious” is a convincing argument that Darwin might have been wrong–we can devolve as a species. As Ms. Kakutani points out, there are even academics willing to legitimize this drivel.
In a recent Newsweek cover story pegged to the Tiger Woods scandal, Neal Gabler, the author of Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality absurdly asserts that celebrity is “the great new art form of the 21st century.”
I wonder how the executives at A & E (remember when that stood for Arts and Entertainment?) or the Style Network that finance this reality garbage can look their children in the eye and tell them to study hard so they can grow up to be like Mommy or Daddy and add to the world’s store of cultural heritage with “Jerseylicious”?
I know we have had some epic battles on this site over the meaning of the Internet, reality TV and its effect on our society. And in those fights I have glimpsed something that Jaron Lanier references in his new book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto. Kakutani synthesizes it this way.
For his part Mr. Lanier says that because the Internet is a kind of “pseudoworld” without the qualities of a physical world, it encourages the Peter Pan fantasy of being an entitled child forever, without the responsibilities of adulthood. While this has the virtues of playfulness and optimism, he argues, it can also devolve into a “Lord of the Flies”-like nastiness, with lots of “bullying, voracious irritability and selfishness” — qualities enhanced, he says, by the anonymity, peer pressure and mob rule that thrive online.
Perhaps one of the reasons I keep blogging is that somehow (with a few exceptions) we’ve managed to have a civil discourse with myriad political and cultural points of view represented here. And I too am addicted to my I Phone and my constant connectivity, so I really don’t have an “get off the grid” cure for what ails us. What I do suggest is that we all try to create more communion, where we sit around a table, share a meal with our family or our friends–free of the distraction of the the TV,the computer, the crackberry, the I phone. And we make those meals last, as we often do in my house, where we find ourselves still at the dinner table at 11 at night, teasing out the last bit of a theory over the last drop of wine.