Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Your Own Personal Reality

It's a paradox of globalization. It's a paradox of the era of extreme choice in this nation. In fact, it's a paradox of the life of leisure most of us enjoy (a life in which, more than any generation before, we get to choose how to spend our time because we don't have to build our own homes, hunt and gather or tend to our own food, make our own clothing or furniture, maintain all that, etc. etc.).

The paradox is that with the whole world as one's oyster, with more options, more opportunities, and thus more security to be open-minded, we mostly choose to live within a world that is sheltered from opposing viewpoints. We choose to ensure that we're very comfortable in how we socialize, comfortable with the news we consume, comfortable with the people--and thus opinions--we expose ourselves to. We choose a cozy myopia. We've become the United Cliques of America. The problem with this (besides falsely leading us to assume we're well informed) is that on the occassions we're thrust out of our comfort zone by forces beyond our control, we're ill-equipped to find common ground or often even a common vocabulary.

And it's a trend that only seems to be getting worse. The parody Tina Fey offered recently of a Sarah Palin television network...

is actually coming soon to a TV near you if conservative actor Kelsey Grammer has his way. In case, as the Daily News puts it, the Fox Network is "too liberal for you":

Actor Kelsey Grammer is one of the names behind The RightNetwork, a new operation that is being targeted at "Americans who are looking for content that reflects and reinforces their perspective and world-view."

The network is expected to launch this summer and is hoping to be available to on-demand cable offerings, online and mobile phones.

"There's wrong, and there's right, right network, all that's right with the world," Grammer says in a video clip on the network's Web site.

Likewise, the network's promotional materials say it will focus on entertainment with "pro-America," "pro-business, pro-military sensibilities" that will ultimately invite conversation and influence "the national conversation."

Because the RightNetwork is being pitched as an on-demand offering it means it wouldn't initially have the same reach - or draw - as traditional cable networks that are on all the time on a cable system. Subscribers would physically have to click through to get the service.

"We're creating a welcome place for millions and millions of Americans who've been looking for an entertainment network and media channel that reflects their point-of-view," Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, said in a statement on the site. "RightNetwork will be the perfect platform to entertain, inform and Connect with the American majority about what's right in the world."

Oh goody. A channel that reflects your own point of view...as in one that never challenges you to consider whether you're mistaken, that reinforces any prejudices you may carry. One that facilitates even more the ability to live within your own personal reality and pass that along to your children.

Of course, one does have to wonder how Grammer's own network will discuss his current performance as the flamboyant gay nightclub owner, George, in Broadway's La Cage aux Folles. Will his own personal reality network be forced to ignore Kelsey's own professional reality? It would seem to be another paradox. Unless, that is, living within my own personal reality I never noticed that the "pro-America... pro-business, pro-military sensibilities" contingent has embraced gay love stories, bawdy drag queens, and men who kiss each other tenderly.

If so, well, then, carry on with your bad-ass own-personal-reality selves...

Labels: politics


Blogger Samuel Monnier said...

Thanks for this very interesting post. I was very surprised when I arrived in the States from Europe and discovered channels like MSNBC or Fox. They are so obviously and dishonestly biased toward one point of view or another that I had trouble figuring out what could be their audience. I feel pissed off watching Fox, bored and slightly uncomfortable watching MSNBC, when I see ideas I support being defended with intellectually dishonest means. Your explanation makes sense, but it's kind of disturbing to think that most of their audience simply enjoy being told variations on the same nonsense again and again.

A related point is the abundance of political shows with overly egocentric hosts. They present their point of view as the one truth, again using mostly intellectually dishonest means, the most common of which is sarcasm. The result is a blend of comedy and politics which is really not the best way to get a well-formed and measured opinion on a delicate subject.

This is very much in contrast with what I've seen in Europe (mostly Switzerland, to be more precise), where hosts of political shows. For instance I can't remember being able to tell the political tendencies of the host of a political show there.

4/20/2010 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

Your point of the trend towards using preferences as filters to limit "insights" is also really highlighted in Google's search engine (among many) where past history "dictates" the search results and determines your "market" sector. The digital realm risks aggravating such a phenomena beyond the political spectra...

... yet all is not lost, history shows the radical idea of Christianity that put forth the concept of not relying on an eye for an eye, but instead practicing of forgiveness in order to break the cycle of dictates of the past on the possible choice of futures one might have. (turn the cheek so you need not be obligated to strike back simply because of another's acts) Not to say go convert to Christianity, but to say there are ways to open up the future without being at the behest of the past ( either of actions or thoughts).

One of those ways I think which is still valid as opening the future independent of the past is via art. It's suspension of reality allows one to try on a new paradigm of thought revealing different insights. That gained insight might then be re-applied to ones daily life after reassuming reality.

Unfortunately, the digital epoch is putting into question that original reality to suspend. Which makes arts future look really murky from here. If there is no reality to suspend, how does one return to reality to utilize the gained insight? If we are moving into an epoch of concurrent realities that are not linked to each other via a common reality, (beyond even political points of view) we risk being as lost as drug addicts in their dream realities, never to find our way home, because home is no more.

I think this dislocation of our common reality (via augmented reality in my opinion)-which Ed has illustrated here in the political realm- and hence arts inability to suspend a no longer in-existent common reality is the greatest danger to us and to arts future.

4/20/2010 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous mike said...

"Of course, one does have to wonder how Grammer's own network will discuss his current performance as the flamboyant gay nightclub owner, George, in Broadway's La Cage aux Folles."

I don't remember the Christians saying much about Mel Gibson starring in Payback before directing The Passion of the Christ. {Thinking about it now, those movies actually have a fair amount in common}.

I think the MO for someone like Grammer is to just ignore glaring ideological inconsistencies and hope the average TV viewer is too drunk or too stupid to connect the dots.

4/20/2010 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger Saskia said...

Wow! I agree with Samuel, and think RightNetwork sounds even more disturbing than FOX and the likes.

Though I have to say, having grown up in America with half my family in America, half in Europe (my father is Dutch), I always heard a lot of criticism from my European family and friends about racism and the prejudice mindsets of people in American.

And yet, with countries like Holland, France, and Germany whose previously very homogeneous populations now becoming less homogeneous, it is somewhat shocking for me to see the strength and depth of their hatred and intolerance for the outsiders that have settled in those countries. I have to leave the room whenever my German mother-in-law starts talking about the Turks. I realize this intolerance and bias is probably not played out in the media in Europe nearly as much as in the US, but still, talk about an entire intolerant to outsiders clique of a nation. um, are these the same people that were criticizing ME all these years because Americans are racist?

I realize that my example is about racism, and networks like FOX and the RightNetwork aren't specifically racist (although one can guess at the demographic that they are targeting), but I can't help but feel that cultural and racial tolerance are all interrelated. From my limited reality, I feel that overall, America actually does an OK job with tolerance, considering our incredible diversity. It's easy to be tolerant when you have a smaller nation with limited cultural or racial diversity. Not to say we can't do better-- oh, we could do a lot better (especially where gay rights are concerned.), but I can't help but feel that is probably easier to be a minority in America than it used to be, and perhaps easier to be a minority in America than in many, many other countries.
This type of extremist media like this is nothing more than a desperate attempt for a certain population to hold onto some sort of power that they feel slipping away. The thing that makes it disturbing to me is that they present it all under the guise of 'news'- as in truth or reality, or even the majority opinion. But I guess the best defense against that is to just continue to speak out against bias, to be as open and tolerant as possible, and to let the American struggle with diversity, our little successes and failures, be an example for other less diverse places in the world.

4/20/2010 11:08:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Freedom of screech.

4/20/2010 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger Theron said...


I highly recommend that you read Possum Living by Dolly Freed. I have a feeling it would wildly change your opening thoughts...


4/20/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It rather looks like they're not interested in social conservatism. (Unless we count the Speedo bit, which I think we can all unite behind as a nation.) In that case, Grammer need not hush discussion of his performance as Georges (which is earning raves) and this network might provide a sensible alternative to Fox.

4/20/2010 02:53:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

Nine times out of ten whenever I come across an American I am inevitably struck by the paradox that here is a people who landed men on the Moon; have 'dominated' the world for the past 50 years or more & yet seem so ill at ease whenever they come across something which is outside their experience they construct an almost impregnable wall of assertive, narrow nationalism .

Wasn't it the Hilton chain that constructed hotels all over the globe with a similar lay-out so that their customers would have the reassuring comfort that they had never left the USA ?

(PS A small step towards a greater openness of mind may be to drop the bizarre tradition of wearing lapel badges with the Stars & Stripes emblazonned thereon & only display flags on days of national relevance.)

4/20/2010 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous John Legweak said...

Edward, I’m glad you posted this. As I look at the world that my young adult daughters are inheriting from my generation and think about what they will face, the thing that scares me the most is the deteriorating state of political dialog in the United States.

As I said fleetingly in a comment on another of your stimulating posts a couple weeks ago, now that we live in a world where there is no truth, just what different groups want to believe, how are we supposed to run our country?

It’s ironic that that the mess we’re in started out right here in the art world, back in 1989 (a big year for history) with Jesse Helms and Alfonse D'Amato vs. Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe. Culture Wars.

I can hear an eager young scriptwriter pitching his concept to a studio executive. “Imagine that the quote-unquote culture war that the talking heads on TV are always going on about turned into a real war with armies and fighting and killing and shit. The real thing, all over the country. Now here’s our hero, he’s a black ghetto dude, he used to be a graffiti artist and now he’s a sniper because, like he says, he can see in the dark, and he gets trapped behind enemy lines and breaks into a house and he finds this girl, she’s white and scared and she tells him her dad is the general of the whole Christian militia, and …”

Like most script ideas, it’s a stupid one, just a bunch of stereotypes thrown into a story that’s been done way too many times already.

Plus it’s totally unbelievable. Nothing like it could ever happen in real life. Not here. We’re an orderly and peace-loving nation. We don’t like war. We don’t have militias, Christian or otherwise. We have our differences, sure, but we all know what’s right and when push comes to shove we pull together and do the right thing. Right?

I wish I could believe that it’s all temporary craziness but there’s huge amounts of new technology involved and huge amounts of money. I feel like changes are happening that cannot be undone. A new game is evolving and we all have to play it if we want to hold on to our world.

Comment to Saskia:

American politics boil down to taxes. There are three positions:

People who are willing to pay taxes if the money goes to make the country as a whole a better place for all, even if they don't personally gain as much as others (liberals)

People who are willing to pay taxes if the money goes to make their own lives, and maybe others’ as well, better (centrists)

People who are willing to pay taxes as long as the money does not go to support people who do not subscribe to their values (conservatives)

I’ll leave it to you to decide how these three positions relate to racism.

4/20/2010 03:53:00 PM  

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