March 04, 2013
by Jalees Rehman
"For every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency."
The British-Australian art curator Nick Waterlow was tragically murdered on November 9, 2009 in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. His untimely death shocked the Australian art community, not only because of the gruesome nature of his death – Waterlow was stabbed alongside his daughter by his mentally ill son – but also because his death represented a major blow to the burgeoning Australian art community. He was a highly regarded art curator, who had served as a director of the Sydney Biennale and international art exhibitions and was also an art ambassador who brought together artists and audiences from all over the world.
After his untimely death, his partner Juliet Darling discovered some notes that Waterlow had jotted down shortly before his untimely death to characterize what defines and motivates a good art curator and he gave them the eerily prescient title “A Curator’s Last Will and Testament”:
2. An eye of discernment
3. An empty vessel
4. An ability to be uncertain
5. Belief in the necessity of art and artists
6. A medium— bringing a passionate and informed understanding of works of art to an audience in ways that will stimulate, inspire, question
7. Making possible the altering of perception.
Waterlow’s notes help dismantle the cliché of stuffy old curators walking around in museums who ensure that their collections remain unblemished and instead portray the curator as a passionate person who is motivated by a desire to inspire artists and audiences alike.
The Evolving Roles of Curators
The traditional role of the curator was closely related to the Latin origins of the word, “curare” refers to “to take care of”, “to nurse” or “to look after”. Curators of museums or art collections were primarily in charge of preserving, overseeing, archiving and cataloging the artifacts that were placed under their guardianship. As outlined in “Thinking Contemporary Curating” by Terry Smith, the latter half of 20th century witnessed the emergence of new roles for art curators, both private curators and those formally employed as curators by museum or art collections. Curators not only organized art exhibitions but were given an increasing degree of freedom in terms of choosing the artists and themes of the exhibitions and creating innovative opportunities for artists to interact with their audiences. The art exhibition itself became a form of art, a collage of art assembled by the curators in a unique manner.
Curatorial roles can be broadly divided into three domains:
1) Custodial – perhaps most in line with traditional curating in which the curator primarily maintains or preserves art collections
2) Navigatory – a role which has traditionally focused on archiving and cataloging pieces of art so that audiences can readily access art
3) Discerning – the responsibility of a curator to decide which artists and themes to include and feature, using the “eye of discernment” described by Nick Waterlow
Creativity and Curating
The diverse roles of curators are characterized by an inherent tension. Curators are charged with conserving and maintaining art (and by extension, culture) in their custodial roles, but they also seek out new forms of art and experiment with novel ways to exhibit art in their electoral roles. Terry Smith’s “Thinking Contemporary Curating” shows how the boundaries between curator and artist are becoming blurry, because exhibiting art itself requires an artistic and creative effort. Others feel that the curators or exhibition makers need to be conscious of their primary role as facilitators and that they should not “compete” with the artists whose works they are exhibiting. This raises the question of whether the process of curating art is actually creative.
It is difficult to find a universal and generally accepted definition of what constitutes creativity because it is such a subjective concept, but the definition provided by Jonathan Plucker and colleagues in their paper “Why Isn’t Creativity More Important to Educational Psychologists? Potentials, Pitfalls, and Future Directions in Creativity Research” is an excellent starting point:
“Creativity is the interaction among aptitude, process, and environment by which an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful as defined within a social context.”
Using this definition, assembling an art exhibition is indeed creative – it generates a “perceptible product” which is both novel and useful to the audiences that attend the exhibition as well as to the artists who are being provided new opportunities to showcase their work. The aptitude, process and environment that go into the assembly and design of an art exhibition differ among all curators, so that each art exhibition reflects the creative signature of a unique curator.
Ubiquity of Curators
The formal title “curator” is commonly used for art curators or museum curators, but curatorial activity – in its custodial, navigatory and discerning roles – is not limited to these professions. Librarians, for example, have routinely acted as curators of books. Their traditional focus has been directed towards their custodial and navigatory roles, cataloging and preserving books, and helping readers navigate through the vast jungle of published books.
Unlike the key role that art curators play in organizing art exhibitions, librarians are not the primary organizers of author readings, book fairs or other literary events, which are instead primarily organized by literary magazines, literary agents, publishers or independent bookstores. It remains to be seen whether the literary world will also witness the emergence of librarians as curators of such literary events, similar to what has occurred in the art world. Our local public library occasionally organizes a “Big Read” event for which librarians select a specific book and recommend that the whole community read the book. The librarians then lead book discussions with members of the community and also offer additional reading materials that relate to the selected book. Such events do not have the magnitude of an art exhibition, but they are innovative means by which librarians interact with the community and inspire readers.
One of the most significant curatorial contributions in German literary history was the collection of fairy-tales and folk-tales by the Brothers Grimm (Brüder Grimm or Gebrüder Grimm), Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Readers may not always realize how much intellectual effort went into assembling the fairy-tales, many of which co-existed in various permutations depending on the region of where the respective tales were being narrated. I own a copy of the German language edition of the “Children's and Household Tales” (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) which contains all their original annotations. These annotations allow the reader to peek behind the scenes and see the breadth of their curatorial efforts, especially their “eye of discernment”. For example, the version of Snow-White that the Brothers Grimm chose for their final edition contains the infamous scene in which the evil Queen asks her mirror, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Who is the prettiest in all the land?” She naturally expects the mirror to say that the Queen is the prettiest, because she just finished feasting on what she presumed were Snow-White’s liver and lungs and is convinced that Snow-White is dead. According to the notes of the Brothers Grimm, there was a different version of the Snow-White tale in which the Queen does not ask a mirror, but instead asks Snow-White’s talking pet dog, which is cowering under a bench after Snow-White’s disappearance and happens to be called “Spiegel” (German for “Mirror”)! I am eternally grateful for the curatorial efforts of the Brothers Grimm because I love the symbolism of the Queen speaking to a mirror and because I do not have to agonize over understanding why Snow-White named her pet dog “Mirror” or expect a Disneyesque movie with the title “Woof Woof” instead of “Mirror Mirror”.
The internet is now providing us access to an unprecedented and overwhelming amount of information. Every year, millions of articles, blog posts, images and videos are being published online. Older texts, images and videos that were previously published in more traditional formats are also being made available for online consumption. The book “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” by James Gleick is quite correct in using expressions such as “information glut” or “deluge” to describe how we are drowning in information. Gleick also aptly uses the allegory of the “Library of Babel”, a brilliant short story written by Jorge Luis Borges about an imaginary library consisting of hexagonal rooms that is finite in size but contains an unfathomably large number of books, all possible permutations of sequences of letters. Most of these books are pure gibberish, because they are random sequences of letters, but amidst billions of such books, one is bound to find at least a handful with some coherent phrases. Borges' story also mentions a mythical “Book-Man”, a god-like librarian who has seen the ultimate cipher to the library, a book which is the compendium of all other books. Borges originally wrote the story in 1941, long before the internet era, but the phrase "For every rational line or forthright statement there are leagues of senseless cacophony, verbal nonsense, and incoherency" rings even more true today when we think of the information available on the web.
This overwhelming and disorienting torrent of digital information has given rise to a new group of curators, internet or web curators, who primarily focus on the navigatory and discerning roles of curatorship. Curatorial websites or blogs such as 3quarksdaily, Brainpickings or Longreads comb through mountains of online information and try to select a handful of links to articles, essays, poems, short stories, videos, images or books which they deem to be the most interesting, provocative or inspiring for their readers. They disseminate these links to their readers and followers by posting excerpts or quotes on their respective websites or by using social media networks such as Twitter. The custodial role of preserving online information is not really the focus of internet curators; instead, internet curators are primarily engaged in navigatory and discerning roles. In addition to the emergence of professional internet curatorship through such websites or blogs, a number of individuals have also begun to function as volunteer internet curators and help manage digital information.
Analogous to art curatorship, internet curatorship also requires a significant creative effort. Each internet curator uses individual criteria to create their own collage of information and themes they focus on. Even when internet curators have thematic overlaps, they may still decide to feature or disseminate very different types of information, because the individuals engaged in curatorship have very distinct tastes and subjective curatorial criteria. One curator’s chaff is another curator’s wheat.
Formal Education and Training in Internet Curation
There are no formal training programs that train people to become internet curators. Most popular internet curators usually have a broad range of interests ranging from the humanities, arts and sciences to literature and politics. They use their own experience and expertise in these areas to help them select the best links that they then pass on to their readers or followers. Some internet curators are open to suggestions from their readers, thus crowd-sourcing their curatorial activity, others routinely browse selected websites or social media feeds of individuals which they deem to be the most interesting, others may plug in their favorite words to scour the web for intriguing new articles.
Internet curation will become even more important in the next decades as the amount of information we amass will likely continue to grow exponentially. Not just individuals, but even corporations and governments will need internet curators who can sift through information and distilling it down to manageable levels, without losing critical content. In light of this anticipated need for internet curators, one should ask the question whether it is time to envision formal training programs that help prepare people for future jobs as internet curators. Internet curation is both an art and a science – the art of the curatorial process is to creatively assemble information in a manner that attracts and inspires readers while the science of internet curation involves using search algorithms that do not just rely on subjective and arbitrary criteria but systematically interrogate vast amounts of information that are now globally available. A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program in Internet Curation could conceivably train students in the art and science of internet curation.
In scientific manuscripts, it is common for scientists to cite the preceding work of colleagues. Other colleagues who provide valuable tools, such as plasmids for molecular biology experiments, are cited in the “Acknowledgements” section of a manuscript. Colleagues whose input substantially contributed to the manuscript or the scientific work are included as co-authors. Current academic etiquette does not necessarily acknowledge the curatorial efforts of scientists who may have nudged their colleagues into a certain research direction by forwarding an important paper that they might have otherwise ignored.
Especially in world in which meaningful information is becoming one of our most valuable commodities, it might be time to start acknowledging the flux of information that shapes our thinking and our creativity. We are beginning to recognize the importance of people who are links in the information chain and help separate out meaningful information from the “senseless cacophony”. Perhaps we should therefore also acknowledge all the sources of information, not only those who generated it but also those who manage the information or guide us towards the information. Such a curatorial credit or Q-credit could be added to the end of an article. It would not only acknowledge the intellectual efforts of the information curators, but it could also serve as a curation map which would inspire readers to look at the individual elements in the information chain. The readers would be able to consult the nodes or elements that were part of the information chain (instead of just relying on lone cited references) and choose to take alternate curation paths.
I will try to illustrate a Q-credit using the example of Abbas Raza who pointed me towards a 3quarksdaily discussion of “Orientalism” and an essay by the philosopher Akeel Bilgrami. Even though I had previously read Edward Said’s book “Orientalism”, the profound insights in Bilgrami’s essay made me re-read Edward Said’s book. The Q-credit could be acknowledged as follows:
Q-Credit: Abbas Raza --> The 2008 3Quarksdaily Forum on Occidentalism --> “Occidentalism, the Very Idea: An Essay on Enlightenment and Enchantment” by Akeel Bilgrami published 2008 on 3Quarksdaily.com and 2006 in Critical Inquiry --> Bilgrami identifies five broad themes in Edward Said’sOrientalism
The acknowledgement of information flux is already part of the Twitter netiquette. The German theologian Barbara Mack uses her Twitter handle @faraway67 to curate important new articles about history, science, music, photography, linguistics and literature. She sees the role of web curators similar to that of music conductors, who do not compose original pieces of music but instead enable the access of an audience to the original creative work. She says that “web curation is a relatively new field of dealing with information and good curation is an act of creativity which requires dedication and a keen sense for content.” She agrees that curators should indeed be given credit, “not only out of courtesy but to acknowledge their efforts of taking upon the challenge of bringing the vast information the web provides into a handy form for their followers to enjoy.”
Twitter curators such as Barbara Mack use abbreviations such as h/t (hat-tip) or RT (retweet) followed by a Twitter handle to acknowledge their sources. Contemporary Twitter netiquette suggests that if curated links of use to followers, these should acknowledge the curators' efforts before tweeting them on.
One challenge that is intrinsic to Twitter (but may in an analogous fashion apply to other social media networks as well) is that each tweet can only contain 140 characters, which presently makes it very difficult to acknowledge the comprehensive curatorial information flux. If I decide to tweet on an interesting article about the philosophy of science, which I found in the Twitter feed of person X, the space limitations may make it impossible for me to give credit to all the preceding members of the information chain which had directed X’s attention to that specific article. The Q-credit system may thus be best suited for acknowledgements at the end of blog posts or articles, but not for social media messaging with strict space limitations.
The Future of Internet Curation
The area of internet curation is still in its infancy and it is very difficult to predict how it will evolve. Managing online information will become increasingly important. Even though such managerial roles may not necessarily carry the title “internet curator”, there is little doubt that managing online information in a meaningful manner is one of the biggest challenges that we will face in the 21st century. I am quite optimistic that we will be able to address this challenge, but the first hurdle is to recognize it.
Image Credit: The Librarian by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593)
1. “The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity” (2010) by James C. Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg --> Chapter 3 “Assessment of Creativity” by Jonathan A. Plucker and Matthew C. Makel --> “Why Isn’t Creativity More Important to Educational Psychologists? Potentials, Pitfalls, and Future Directions in Creativity Research” (2004) by Jonathan A. Plucker et al. in EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 39(2), 83–96
3. Book review of “The Information” at Brainpickings --> “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood” (2011) by James Gleick --> “Library of Babel” by Jorge Luis Borges as an allegory for the information glut
May 11, 2009
Pressed: Obama at the White House Correspondents' Dinner
Last Saturday night, over dinner and drinks, the President of the United States was overheard saying:
Michael Steele is in the house tonight. Or as he would say, 'In the heezy.'
For the last time, Michael, the Republican Party does not qualify for a bailout. Rush Limbaugh does not count as a 'troubled asset.
That's right. At the White House Correspondents' Dinner, Obama killed. American humor in the commercial media, over the last decade, has largely trended toward the coarse and snarky, so Obama's delivery – mature, intelligent, and martini-dry with a hip-hop twist – was thoroughly (in a word laden with meaning) disarming. (Even as he reaffirmed Michelle's right to bear arms.)
Disarming, because journalists and Big Media – in a crisis for survival – are now reckoning with their role in the great failures of the Bush Administration, in the failures of the economy, and the failures of their own profession. All are connected. And as Obama was happy to take the heat, as well as dish it ("Sasha and Malia are not here tonight. They're grounded. You can't just take a joyride to Manhattan.") – because he took responsibility – he opened the possibility for the press corps to say to one another, like Hardy berating Laurel (though with a sheepish grin), "Well, that's another fine mess you've gotten us into."
The American press might have been on "suicide watch," as Frank Rich wrote yesterday, since Stephen Colbert's monologue three years ago (surely a critical event in media history). But the news industry had been in a severe depression long before Wall Street laid its latest egg.
Print newswriting methods are like the internal-combustion engine: their basic mechanics and operating principles have been little altered for a hundred years. For pistons, gears, sparkplugs and the carburetor, journalists have the lede, the quote, the counter-quote, vocabulary set and wordcount. They're all housed in an engine-block called the inverted pyramid, a structure whose wide use in American journalism dates back to the mid-19th century. This structure has its essential uses, but I think it also has, over the long-term, determined the way we receive, process, and use information, with negative aspects.
The lede, as they call it in the biz, is the one-sentence lead paragraph that provides the who, what, when, where and how of the immediate event under discussion. That's the broad top of the inverted pyramid. Descending into the story, we encounter context and detail and background, so that, theoretically, the least important details are at the bottom and even the most casual or harried news-reader can grab the most important news of the day.
Trouble is, in the modern world, events are wildly complicated. And the news, that is, the tip of the iceberg by which we call the newest new development – driven by the economics of the "scoop" – is often confused with the most important overall story, by the very nature of this information structure.
In other words, the news and what's really happening are not necessarily the same thing – although in our reading of the news, as quickly as we do, we may subcognitively conflate the two. The inverted pyramid, while intending to convey information efficiently for the headline reader, only has real utility for those who follow stories.
In investigating Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein ran up against the limitations of this structure: small articles over here, small articles over there, the latest indictment, the most recent subpoena. They owed their ultimate success to the Washington Post's editor at the time, Ben Bradlee, and publisher Katharine Graham (surely two of the great Americans of the 20th century), who risked not only the paper's reputation, but also its profitability, by publishing articles that attacked Nixon at the zenith of his popularity. They insisted that readers follow the story – and surmount the very obstacles that the journalistic profession itself had placed in the way of successful narration.
Bradlee and Graham had the foresight and tenacity to read beyond the lede.
To interpret the news, we were once told, "Read between the lines." Decades of fill-in-the-blanks and multiple-choice tests in our nation's schools, however, have proven to be inadequate means of teaching reading comprehension and critical thinking. The speed and volume of information assaulting us, and the continual triage we must execute in order to function in our lives, means that we have become a nation of headline-readers. You can't read between the lines if you haven't reached the second.
It's apparent now, the truth of the old adage, "A democracy gets the government it deserves." The hallmarks of American society during the '90s and '00s had been intellectual disengagement, physical fitness, superannuated adolescence, and empty talk – and we managed to acquire (elect seems too strong a word to use here) a president who acted like us. And for all its incompetence and nefariousness, the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party was, for a time, highly successful in controlling the media. Derrida said, "There is nothing outside the text," and critical theory asserts that language is a study of power relations. As often happens, the weaker the grasp on power, the more aggressive are the attempts to consolidate it – and the Bush Administration, using this headline-deep approximation of poststructuralism, openly claimed the ability, and undertook a strategy, to construct its own "reality." America had its intellectual incuriosity used against itself, and in the main was too intellectually incurious even to interrogate that mortifying assertion.
Step one in this strategy of media control had already been taken care of, on its own, by market forces – the consolidation of news and entertainment under the large conglomerate corporation. As early as 2002, Frank Blethen, the publisher and CEO of the Seattle Times Co., said, "Our democracy is far more fragile than we'd like to admit. And the concentration of our media in large, public companies is posing one of the greatest threats ever to its survival."
Now, one thing business – and thus a business-oriented government –learned from Hollywood is that no matter how shoddy your product, you still have a good chance of turning a profit with a strategically planned, widely disseminated marketing campaign. The eight-year long Bush presidential campaign ("administration" seems too strong a word) was able to combine a deft understanding of market forces, American intellectual incuriosity, and Clintonian spin in an attempt to monopolize the market of ideological marketing.
Condemn journalists for "left-wing bias," hold the 4th Estate in contempt, and exploit television news's profit-based valuation of entertainment over journalism. Neuter critical press by denying access, plant government-paid "journalists" and "commentators" in the pool, counter-attack your critics with slanders of un-Americanism (a page out of McCarthy's book), combine business with pleasure in the Beltway cocktail circuit (a page out of the business handbook) and adopt a stance of seclusion and secrecy (a page out of Nixon's book), rendering the only uncontrovertible facts capable of being printed into direct quotations of spin: "The Bush Administration said X today..." If language constructs reality, and our educational system made critical thought into a rare – yet bizarrely devalued – commodity, to the uncritical headline- and lede-reading American, "Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, the Bush Administration said today" becomes "Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction."
Thinking critically now, I'm not sure Frank Rich is entirely correct when he posits Stephen Colbert's sack of the News Establishment as the crucial date for the Decline and Fall of the Media Empires. I believe it was only the second of three acts. I think the first unmistakable sign of the Fall was the failure of the entirety of the American press to adequately examine Colin Powell's address to the United Nations, in which he "made the case" for the Iraq War. He did no such thing, and even a mediocre attorney could punch holes in it the size of a Mack Truck on cross-examination. But the press relied on Powell's reputation, just as credit agencies relied on the reputation of financial institutions without investigating and interrogating the constituent parts of mortgage bundles. And we relied on the reputation of our media, without interrogating it. Even people strongly opposed to the war checked the totality of their opposition for a moment, thinking, "Well, if the New York Times bought it, they must know something we don't…maybe…"
This colossal failure of the mainstream media directly led to the explosion of blogs and online media that now threatens the totality of the established 4th Estate. Someone had to watch the watchdog because as starving mutt knows all too well, you can't bite the hand that feeds you.
When history becomes farce, and all the political media become courtiers at Versailles, only the court jester has transgressive license to oppose power with truth. In hindsight, however, Colbert's evisceration of the media lapdogs appears to me merely the equivalent of the Soothsayer whispering in Caesar's ear, "Beware the Ides of March." I mark the coup de grace as the broadcast and commentary of the Vice-Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, it became clear that electoral drama was throwing Big Media a ratings lifeline. The media establishment had a vested interest in keeping the horserace a carnival ride. I watched, flabbergasted, as Palin ran on – and on – in arabesques of incomprehensibility wreathed around substanceless, talking-point zingers. I continued to watch, dumbfounded, as the cadres of cable bloviators lauded the image of her performance – because they, too, had created entire careers around image and substance-challenged zingers.
"Surely," I thought, waking up the next morning, "this madness will end." No such luck. The early newsfeeds and initial reports merely cut-and-pasted the cable commentators, lauding Palin's chirpy loopy logorrhea as a creditable performance in the gladiators' arena.
But then a strange thing happened on the way to the Forum. As the clock turned to noon, reader comments began to accumulate across the Web. "You've got to be kidding me," they said. What had been arcane numbers on a balance sheet now had the force of the vox populi. "We're no longer buying what you're selling us," America said to the media, and by the day's end the public achieved the courage to challenge and overwrite the opinion-makers.
As of Sunday, the members of the press who managed to write through their hangovers described the genius of Obama's Saturday Night Live act and noted the sheer audaciousness of some of the jokes. Very few, however (the Huffington Post, an online publication, being one of them) reported Obama's candid words to the press corps. Suddenly, the comedy routine was a Constitutional law lecture, and after eight years of the Executive Branch regarding journalists with contempt – in part, because of their own spinelessness – it was nothing short of astonishing to hear these words from Obama, which I'll quote in full:
"It's a time of real hardship for the field of journalism. And like so many businesses in this global age, you've seen sweeping changes in technology and communications that lead to a sense of uncertainty, and anxiety, about what the future will hold. Across the country there are extraordinary hardworking journalists who have lost their jobs in recent days, in recent weeks, in recent months. And I know that each newspaper and media outlet is wrestling with how to respond to these changes, and some are struggling simply to stay open. And it won't be easy. Not every ending will be a happy one.
But it's also true that your ultimate success as an industry is essential to the success of our democracy. It's what makes this thing work. Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter. And clearly Jefferson never had cable news to contend with [laughter], but: the central point remains: a government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America. [applause] I may not agree with everything you write, or report, I may even complain – or more likely Gibbs will complain – from time to time about how you do your jobs. But I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people to do our jobs better, by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of. And that kind of reporting is worth preserving. Not just for your sake, but for the public's. We count on you to help us make sense of the complex world and tell the stories of our lives the way they happen. We look to you for truth, even if it's always an approximation [laughter].
This is a season of renewal and re-invention. That is what government must learn to do, what businesses must learn to do, and what journalism is in the process of doing. And when I look out at this room, and think about the dedicated men and women whose questions I've answered over the last few years, I know for all the challenges this industry faces it's not short on talent, or creativity, or passion, or commitment; it's not short of young people who break news or the not-so-young who still manage to ask the tough ones time and time again. These qualities alone will not solve all your problem, but they certainly prove that the problems are worth solving. And that is a good place to begin."
Obama's voice fell as he spoke those final words, and in that falling voice he spoke a hard but necessary truth: the government may well be unable to help the field of journalism, as necessary to the nation as the auto industry, or the financial industry, and perhaps more deserving of relief than either of the two. Because the failure of the media, and its role in the larger failures of American business and government, was due to its overly close relationship to both.
Frank Rich, yesterday in The Times, was exercised about the terrifying attrition of journalists – of the professionals who actually go out and hunt the news – a far more expensive endeavor than opinionating. "Such news gathering is not to be confused with opinion writing or bloviating – including that practiced here," Rich demurs. But reporters alone, as we've seen, often neither have the time nor the structural ability (concerned as they are with basic facts) to make sense of the news, to police themselves, to locate the story within the story, to connect the dots. Frank Rich has been among the best of the best in doing so. There are many online outlets, including this one, that assist this task, a task made essential by the very limitations of journalism itself, and the speed with which information is consumed, without being digested thoroughly, by a public used to a diet of fast food.
The mainstream media spent most of 2007-8 dismissing online upstarts, "citizen journalists," and "bloggers" – with the identical contempt once shown to it by the Bush Administration – right up until they were the ones receiving the pink slips. But in the current multifaceted crisis, which is in many ways a crisis of information, connectors of dots ought to be equally valued for their ability to, in Walter Benjamin's words, create a constellation of facts, for us to sail our ships by. The role that the online media plays should be integrated into a new idea of the journalistic profession. That has already begun happening, although opinionators, rather than dot-connectors, often seem to be the ones most often embraced by the ancien regime.
Following Obama, comedian Wanda Sykes took the podium, and began a harangue so pointed she might be painted, in the right-wing press, as Obama's featured attack dog. But it was then that I understood why the White House Correspondents' Dinner has its tradition of comedy. More than a few times, she crossed the line – even satirizing Rush Limbaugh, who went on record saying that he wanted Obama to fail, by calling him the 20th hijacker who missed the flight because he was so whacked-out on Oxycontin. I heard boos. She'd gone beyond the pale. "Oh, you'll be telling that one tomorrow," she promised, and she was right. Comedians, by nature of their job description, have to risk going beyond the pale: it's their job to connect the dots, to reveal the hard truths, to expand the envelope of the sayable, to speak the comedy of language and unclothe the constructed reality of it, to protect, defend, and champion the First Amendment, to go where even journalists fear to tread.
November 22, 2005
MySpace and culture of fear
Danah Boyd writes about how youth culture is treated in the US and examines the connections between Columbine and banning MySpace:
"I'm tired of mass media perpetuating a culture of fear under the scapegoat of informing the public. Nowhere is this more apparent than how they discuss youth culture and use scare tactics to warn parents of the safety risks about the Internet. The choice to perpetually report on the possibility or rare occurrence of kidnapping / stalking / violence because of Internet sociability is not a neutral position - it is a position of power that the media chooses to take because it's a story that sells. There's something innately human about rubbernecking, about looking for fears, about reveling in the possibilities of demise. Mainstream media capitalizes on this, manipulating the public and magnifying the culture of fear. It sells horror films and it sells newspapers.
...The effects are devastating. Ever wonder why young people don't vote? Why should they? They've been told for so damn long that their voices don't matter, have been the victims of an oppressive regime. What is motivating about that? How do you learn to use your voice to change power when you've been surveilled and controlled for so long, when you've made an art out of subversive engagement with peers? When you've been put on drugs like Strattera that control your behavior to the point of utter obedience? "
May 23, 2005
What's on the 22nd Century News-stand
Futurist Andrew Zolli on the imaginary cover stories from the future created by members of industry body Magazine Publishers of America:
What's particularly interesting is not just the consistency of themes (robots, cloning and climate change are heavily represented) but a kind of consistent visual rhetoric of technology used by the editors. The "future" is still conveyed with a kind of cliche'd visual language that's all about shiny, hard, quantitative, often 'consumable' technology gadgets...
...None of the participants envision a future of integrated, organic technologies that are likely to appear, or new political and personal realities, for instance.
More on Zolli and the business of predicting the future from the March edition of I.D. magazine.
March 13, 2005
how rich you are, exactly
Enter your income into the GLOBAL RICH LIST and find out. This ingenious little site is a public service from the folks at Poke, a creative design firm in London that produces websites for the likes of Alexander McQueen and Jamie Oliver. To learn more about their groovy post-*Wallpaper achievements, check out their Obligatory Blog.