The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Jan 3, 2012 by

The  election you are watching is not the election that is happening. Sitting in front of the television my uncle and I flip from channel to channel: The wiled eyed conservative party pundit news; the reactionary union brandishing liberal news; the preciously ironic attempt at legitimate middle ground news. By endless alternating of channels and looking at print media one hopes to compile an amalgam of truth.

“But who does one believe ultimately?” my Uncle turns and asks me.

“I generally stop channel surfing when I become angry. If I am mad, I at least know they are challenging my perception.”

The reality of course is that there is nothing to believe. What I am seeing are not events at all. On the contrary it is one or more people’s perception of events. The more they aspire to some unbiased mimesis of reality the more subtle their narrative framing necessarily becomes. But what is beyond the frame, beyond the carefully contrived sound stages they filter events to us from?

One of the principle functions of news media has become the recycling of retired campaign strategists. An endless parade of winners and losers, has-beens and never-weres are trotted out as talking heads to tell us who is ahead, who is behind, who will surge and who does not have a chance. The majority of these commentators are from failed campaigns, and so one wonders why we would trust their opinion anyway. “Fortunately, no one will hold this expert or general or that intellectual for hire to account for the idiocies or absurdities proffered the day before, since these will be erased by those of the following day” (Baudrillard  69). In this way we are all constantly reacting to the imagined/projected narrative created by the media to inform us of events. These events are then, at least indirectly caused by the narrative projecting imposed by the news media.

The coyly moderate 24 hour news loop goes to commercial and we again are cast adrift looking for a veritable information source. The knee jerk conservative station is also at commercial so my Uncle and I land on the belligerently liberal station. “That graph says one thing: Chaos! …This is really proving to be the really, really fun part of the political year: Stuff is just a mess in Republican politics right now” (Maddow).

I have since, given that graph quite a bit of thought and shaped not only one counter narrative from it but several. The graph says something else to me entirely. It says that Iowans’ are a fair minded folk who take the election process seriously and are open to persuasion; it says the rise and fall of individual campaigns can be ascribed to positive or negative media attention during their surges and slips; it says that schizophrenic, pseudo-scientific statistical gathering is in total chaos!

As far as the Republican primary what I see is perhaps the most wide ranging intra-party debate the Republicans have had for a long, long time. The type of debate that features key legitimate differences between candidates on the handling of such issues as Iran, the government’s role in the economy in general and the Federal Reserve in particular, on the extent to which liberties should be curtailed within the United States to guard against terrorist attack etc.

However, the talking heads, the experts of the failed campaigns of the past keep telling us that electability is the key to the nomination narrative. Any candidate is electable directly in proportion to people’s perception of their electability. But that perception of electability is shaped by the narrative created by the news media. News sources are far to savvy to attempt any kind of direct propaganda. But propaganda takes more than one form. It is not necessarily the dissemination of information but also the restriction of information.

When the election or any campaign is turned into media disseminated information it “ceases to be realistic…and becomes virtual…And just as everything psychical becomes the object of interminable speculation, so everything which is turned into information becomes the object of endless speculation, the site of total uncertainty” (Baudrillard 64). None of this is a representation of events. The news is one abstraction (at least) away from real events and yet to a certain extent the abstraction is concurrent with the event it seeks to portray – The two phenomenons run parallel of one another but do not intersect. The narrative proclaims candidate X to be electable and candidate Y to be otherwise. The problem is that the voters are not yet aware of this fact. It will necessarily take a protracted primary season to help them find not just the candidate with whom they most agree or think would most benefit the nation but the candidate whom they think most likely to win.

Baudrillard uses the metaphor of the stethoscope to describe CNN’s role in the first Iraq War. “CNN seeks to be a stethoscope attached to the hypothetical heart of the war, and to present us either its hypothetical pulse. But this auscultation only provides a confused ultrasound, undecidable symptoms and an assortment of vague and contradictory diagnoses. All that we can hope for is to see them die live (metaphorically of course), in other words that some event or other should overwhelm the information instead of the information inventing the event and commenting artificially upon it” (Baudrillard 68).

Still the media framed narrative/information/news, flows in (now in actual/virtual time) faster than we or they can derive any significant meaning from it. This does not stop us from accepting their overt or implied interpretation of it. “At a certain speed, the speed of light, you lose even your shadow. At a certain speed, the speed of information, things lose their sense…History implodes in real time, all communication and all signification implode in real time” (Baudrillard 68). We are no longer discussing an election or a war or anything else the media might choose to portray. We can only discuss the portrayal of those events, the selection of key images to represent those events and the necessary dishonesty of their neutrality.

The revolution (whatever form it will take) will not be televised – The revolution will unravel the critical mass of the pre-packaged narrative. The revolution will be organic, not imposed from the air waves. The revolution will not be broadcast – because the revolution can not be broadcast .


Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “The Gulf War: Is It Really Taking Place?” Postmodern Debates. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 63-74. Print.

“Season 2011: Episode 1228.” Rachel Maddow Show. MSNBC, Dec. 2011. Television.


1 Comment

  1. Vince Giglio

    The Media has been setting the agenda, reporting the stories that they want us to be aware of, and framing the issues, providing information that they select about those stories, since the Vietnam War. The documentary “Television’s Vietnam” is an insightful look into the blatant misuse of the First Amendment by the media.

    Are we still independent thinkers or simply empty vessels being guided by our media personalities? I will let you know after I watch Jon Stewart.

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