Dec 5, 2013
Connecting the Dots on the Great Disconnect
Posted on Nov 12, 2010
By Mark Heisler
The stuff I cover, sports, is frivolous by definition, but, connecting the dots on the Great Disconnect, you can see the same pattern in all areas of journalism, like business (now a CNBC fiefdom with stars like hottie Maria Bartiromo and folksy Jim Cramer) or the entertainment industry (goodbye motor scooters, hello TMZ and citizen-paparazzi with cell phone cameras).
If the old principles remain and things are pretty much the way they were, now they’re obsessively, hysterically, inescapably so.
Sports journalism is a daily lemmings rush into the sea to pull someone down and raise someone else up, even if they’re replacing each other, like LeBron James, the golden child, who just traded places with Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s most shunned superstar until LeBron did that dumb TV show.
Stardom rules but has a lightning rod quality. Everything runs on two tracks since, in our desperation to quantify the unknowable, we now have approval and disapproval ratings.
So now LeBron, Kobe and Tiger Woods head “most hated” lists, while making tens of millions, endorsing $125 sneakers and costlier golf clubs.
With all media platforms, and the audience participating on handhelds, competing moment by moment on the same Internet, sports writers have little time to think about anything, tweeting 140-character updates of the games they cover, as well as writing stories about them.
As ESPN’s Bill Simmons, the new king of modern media and an unabashed Celtic fan, tweeted from Game 7 of last spring’s NBA Finals:
Of course, it’s only sports writing.
Sports was always about what we wanted to believe, loving our wonderful guys, hating your lowlifes unless they’re traded to our team and go from assholes to members of the family.
In politics, on the other hand, ideas are important, as is the functionality of the process that impacts lives, as opposed to fantasies.
Unfortunately, the nation is dividing into ever-more-irreconcilable niches—like fans of competing teams, rather than members of a greater whole with shared purpose.
The niches are succored, if not created, by media outlets whose primal instinct is keeping their newly won audiences by dramatizing differences with other niches.
Thus came “spokesmen” like Beck, the former “Morning Zoo” deejay at Y95 in Phoenix, and Olbermann, the former ESPN anchor who smirked hugely at his own lines then as now. As George Will said wryly of Beck’s appearance at the 2010 CPAC Convention, “It’s the hour of the entertainer.”
Unfortunately, it might last longer than an hour, like forever.
If our political and cultural issues go back decades or centuries, this institutional component is new, isn’t going anywhere and isn’t inclined toward moderation.
There’s a new name for mainstream media—losers—like CNN, trying to become edgier while remaining unaligned, as its audience slips away to MSNBC and Fox, which offer tailored Weltanschauungen, with alternative approaches to philosophy, history and science.
Pundits still recite that old favorite—You’re entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts—as if it means something. In fact, if Americans once differed, they’re now in alternate universes.
Today’s narrative features a running argument over whether our system tilts right or left. The real bias is against taking any action, since few things turn out as planned, right away or ever, and the center is easily mobilized into joining the other wing in denouncing the initiative.
Tragically, it’s easier to justify foreign adventures, with villains all Americans can agree on, than anything we do domestically. Hence, the era in which repairing roads and bridges is controversial.
Appropriately for an upside-down world, the alarm is sounded loudest on Comedy Central, with Stewart and Stephen Colbert taking their “Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear” to Washington, D.C.
Noted Stewart, with the majestic dome of Our Nation’s Capitol as a backdrop:
“We work together to get things done every damned day! The only place we don’t is here, or on cable TV!”
The narrative is now fixed on the “transformative 2010 election” ... even if it was an off year with turnout down from 130 million to 82.5 million ... and came so hard on the heels of the “transformative 2008 election.”
We seem to get transformed a lot these days, don’t we?
The world doesn’t turn anymore, it spins like a top. Stock market boom-and-bust cycles that took decades have recently occurred within years—and not too many years, with two major bubbles and two meltdowns in little more than a decade.
Happily, whether by traditional forces, or an already skewed narrative exaggerated by an African-American president, we’re headed for a real choice in 2012, presumably between Barack Obama and some Republican who’s at least tea party-friendly.
It may also test the theories on each side of the perception divide.
If our political process is still rational and Sarah Palin runs, she’s a long shot to be nominated over all-out opposition from GOP regulars as hard-core as Karl Rove (“There are high standards that the American people have ... a certain level of gravitas”), who are convinced she’d be DOA in the general election.
If the process is star-driven and blind, Palin would blow the doors off Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, et al.
Whatever’s really going on, the perception remains it’s still the world we know. Palin is at 18.8 on Intrade, to Romney’s 22.7. Discounting the impact of Palin’s new reality T.V. show, Stuart Rothenberg just told USA Today, “She’s a celebrity, a brand and a phenomenon—much bigger than she was as a vice presidential candidate but this isn’t really about politics. It’s about pop culture.”
So, there’s still a difference?
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