December 6th, 2010 11:57 EST
Is News What We Think It Is, Or is It The 24-Hour Manipulation of Our Emotions By An Elite?
An exhibition raises questions about the nature of news
Currents 1970, a Robert Rauschenberg screenprint installation at New York City`s Museum of Modern Art, raises more questions about the nature of news than the media think tanks do.
Aside from the squalid Arab-bashing implicit in the artist`s collages of news pages and headlines "Arabs Boast: We Bombed Jet " Arabs Ambush U.S. Tourist Bus " Arab Bombs Miss Dayan`s Son "the unavoidable message is not only that distressing news trumps reassuring news but that information and relevance must be shot up to qualify as news.
On July 11th I wrote here that Currents 1970 is both irrelevant and inappropriate. But, revisiting it today, I changed my mind. Perhaps in July I was freaked out by the sound of Yoko Ono screaming in the museum`s echoing chambers. Today there were only two silent pianos where Yoko Ono`s sound box had been.
I can`t get your attention unless I disquiet you, the exhibition says, like Ono`s screams. In this view, news is exhibitionistic and of its nature demeaning in that its appeal is not to our higher aspirations for ourselves. The problem is not as much the low common denominator as it is the definition of news as what disturbs and polarizes us.
The ebb and flow of events is manipulated to influence us in ways that cannot be trusted. It`s rather like the television weather people who turn climatic event into climactic event, transforming a plain fact of life into something like the Red Menace. This apocalyptic fervor has much in common with elements of the Christian right.
Did Rauschenberg intend to raise these issues? It doesn`t matter. An artist`s intent is second fiddle to outcome.
What seems important to me is that a society engulfed in such a terroristic presentation of life`s challenges must be jerked every which way and ultimately become untrusting, uncertain and increasingly inclined to seek comfort in polarities. News in this sense is both anti-educational and anti-intellectual. In fact, the popular media have made the very word intellectual pejorative.
Nailing us with skewed facts (there is no such thing as true objectivity "all news accounts have a demeanor if not a bias) rather than engendering a broad spirit of inquiry cultivates the kind of cultural environment in which our schools fail. They fail, at least in part, because a smart-alecky media industry cheapens the quest for knowledge.
The media choose the question and the answer and then they shut the door with a thunderous or sly headline and move on. But we do not move on from real knowledge. Inquiry is, or should be, lifelong, a habit, not the mere grabbing of yet another throwaway object. Information is not disposable, it is indispensable. A republic is unlikely to survive on the censored handouts of the media. A republic needs to acquire the habit of constant inquiry, reexamination, reconsideration. The news media have claimed too much for themselves in our society and they have done too little to live up to their claims.
The more one stares at Rauschenberg`s newspaper collages the more one feels ill-informed, played, gamed and misled. If these headlines were actually telling us what was going on in our culture at the time, where were the rest of us "the musicians, artists, writers, scientists, mathematicians " where were the people who were elevating the society instead of dismantling it?
The news, as we know it, is not a running account of our life and times, it is rather a fix, not unlike shooting up a horse with vodka.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com