Archive for May 8th, 2012
Who wants to see a bunch of good singers performing? Not so many hands.
Who wants to see a bunch of good singers competing, with the losers sent home and the winner crowned as champion? I see lots of hands, and you people might be big fans of a TV show called The Voice, which just completed it’s finale for this season.
A man named Jermaine Paul was the overall winner, and everyone else from a huge field of singers, was not the winner. The stage from one of the earlier shows says it all. The singers were competing against each other in a boxing ring. They are hitting each other with notes. This is the art of war. The image at the right was from one of the early shows this year. I saw a few of the shows, and my family kept me posted about the shows I missed.
Although this post is about singing, it could have been about most anything in America. We are a country that insists that we rank things from bad to good and that we need to have a best, a winner. To have a winner, we’ll need some dejected competitors, some sad tears.[caption id="attachment_22546" align="alignleft" width="218" caption="Image from The Voice"][/caption]
I thought of The Voice two weeks ago, when I attended a poetry reading by 50 seventh graders chosen by their schools to present their work. No, they didn’t compete against each other at the reading. They merely stood up (many of them nervously) and read their work. We in the audience applauded them all because they were all admirable.
To keep most people interested in anything, however, you need a good overall story. World class art hanging in a museum doesn’t get loud applause. It turns out that conflict provides its own story. All you need is two people struggling over something, even something stupid, and you’ve diverted attention toward the struggle from every angle, like laser beams. While at work today, I glanced at the TV in the lunch room–it’s always on and it forces me to see what corporate garbage (not always, but often enough) is pouring out. I glanced at the tube in time to see the beginning of the Wolf Blitzer “news” show called “The Situation Room.” The opening graphics appeared to a series of images from around the world viewed through a gun site from a fighter jet. I suppose this isn’t too surprising, given that the show airs in a country that is always at war, and would lose any sense of identity were it not at war. Our national anthem fits us well. Just keep giving us enemies or else we’ll create them. If we weren’t currently obsessed about the Middle East, we’d be demonizing China (actually we already are demonizing and provoking China).
Would a TV show that simply featured excellent singers singing get good ratings? Not likely, but this is true even if the performances were much the same as one would see on The Voice. That is my assumption, and I based it on the powerful and highly addictive effect of gratuitous conflict, of conflict pornography.
U.S. drones kill five more kids in Afghanistan. The mainstream media keeps wondering why anyone would want to kill a U.S. soldier. Glenn Greenwald points out that these mental blockages tell us a whole lot about our warped view of the world:
To the extent these type of incidents are discussed at all — and in American establishment media venues, they are most typically ignored — there are certain unbending rules that must be observed in order to retain Seriousness credentials. No matter how many times the U.S. kills innocent people in the world, it never reflects on our national character or that of our leaders. Indeed, none of these incidents convey any meaning at all. They are mere accidents, quasi-acts of nature which contain no moral information (in fact, the NYT article on these civilian deaths, out of nowhere, weirdly mentioned that “in northern Afghanistan, 23 members of a wedding celebration drowned in severe flash flooding” — as though that’s comparable to the U.S.’s dropping bombs on innocent people). We’ve all been trained, like good little soldiers, that the phrase “collateral damage” cleanses and justifies this and washes it all way: yes, it’s quite terrible, but innocent people die in wars; that’s just how it is. It’s all grounded in America’s central religious belief that the country has the right to commit violence anywhere in the world, at any time, for any cause.
Today it was announced that authorities had foiled a plot to blow up an airplane. It was clearly stated that the plot never got off the ground, because the “attacker” was an informer working for the U.S. What dominated the news today? You guessed it. I’ll quote Glenn Greenwald once more:
Indeed, on the very same day that CNN and the other cable news networks devoted so much coverage to a failed, un-serious attempt to bring violence to the U.S. — one that never moved beyond the early planning stages and “never posed a threat to public safety” — it was revealed that the U.S. just killed multiple civilians, including a family of 5 children, in Afghanistan. But that got no mention. That event simply does not exist in the world of CNN and its viewers (I’d be shocked if it has been mentioned on MSNBC or Fox either). Nascent, failed non-threats directed at the U.S. merit all-hands-on-deck, five-alarm media coverage, but the actual extinguishing of the lives of children by the U.S. is steadfastly ignored (even though the latter is so causally related to the former).