Monday, January 05, 2009

The Journalist and Her Prize

There is nothing like reading a good screed to get one thinking along different lines. One of the more bracing modern extended tirades I have run across is William Gaddis, Agapê Agape (New York: Penguin Books, 2002). The work is an extended tirade on the contradictions between the few and the many, the elite and the mob, the production of culture and its mechanical reproduction, and the hierarchy of those binaries. His reflections on the taste for democracy, and its reflection in participation at the lowest levels, grounded in a pretense that there are no vertical hierarchies of power or influence between the individual and the vote, and thus the purity is left for another day.

Instead, the discussion of the relationship between the press and its prizes, and between those prizes and the masses, provides something of a thought for the day.
American classic Leaves of Grass he says the poet's merit is determined by the multitude good God, write what they want you'll end up with a Pulitzer Prize follow you right to the grave. Maybe won the Medal of Honor the George Cross even the Nobel but once you've been stigmatized with the ultimate seal of mediocrity your obit will read Pulitzer Prize Novelist Dies at whatever because they're not advertising the winner no. No, like the whole plague of prizes wherever you look, its the prize givers promoting themselves, trying to rescue their thoroughly discredited profession of journalism. "The press is a school that serves to turn men into brutes," Flaubert writes to George Sand "because it relieves them from thinking." The prize winners? They're just props, cartoonists, sports writers, political pundits, front page photos the bloodier the better for the instant of fame wrap the fish tomorrow, good God how many Pulitzer Prizes are there? Over fifteen hundred entries, fourteen categories for journalists because if you started your bondage there you're halfway home with that whole gang of sponsors, trustees, juries, God knows what who've survived that Slough of Despind and floated to the top.
Geddes, supra, at 60. I am reminded of this as I review the organization and presentation of news in the major organs of the media. There is a certain circularity between the hunger for a thing, its exposition in the manner hungered for, and a reward for that rendition that in turn serves to assuage the doubts of any as to the quality, veracity and importance of the thing served up. Hunger is sated, workers rewarded, and an image is preserved that serves an interest--the interest in the many for the elaboration of their view of things, the interest of the providers of that vision in confirmation of their position as providers of things that sate hunger, and the interest of the controllers of that system in the production of material that might be of service to those among whom they might operate for the greater good of those whose hunger they sate. But it is also altered. For the greatest service to the hungry is provision of the highest good--the satisfaction of confirmation that hunger has been appropriately satisfied. And there is no greater sign of that good choice than the badges of honor distributed in confirmation of good taste, sound judgment, excellent opinion, and an appropriate digestion of reality.

Reality is the prize.
Hearst's Journal and Pulitzer's World, nothing they wouldn't do, accuse the other of and promptly improve upon in the name of circulation and even survival, bogus news and personal thievery, scrapping the bottom for crime and sordid sensationalism to bring the stupidity level of the bourgeoisie down to the subliterate appetite of the prols. Bogus news? It was, who was it, Pasteur wasn't it in a happier context who observed that chance favours the prepared mind.
Id., 62. And yet, neither Mr. Pulitzer nor Mr. Hearst, nor their progeny are necessarily "in control." Though the mechanics of control of deep, controller and controlled merge within the systems of self perpetuating realities that they create and affirm. This is a mechanics of circularity, the outcome of which is essentially understood before the question arises and the form of the issue is preconceived along lines that satisfy an appetite that itself is constructed from out of the cioppino of understanding and desires that must be shaped, roused and sated.

This is as much the essence of the postmodern--its focus on the disciplines--as it is of authority.
In the modern system, and even more so in the postmodern one, authority is a matter for argument. It is never attributed, or conceded, so to speak, to an individual or a group, which may occupy the location of authority only for a limited time. That location is, in principle, empty. Authority is designed by a contract, even if it is te final word in which the Law itself speaks.
Jean-François Lyotard, "The Wall, the Gulf, the System," in Postmodern Fables: Jean François Lyotard 67, 77 (Georges Van Den Abbeele, trans., Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 1997). Authority is confirmed by a prize, given by authority to itself in honor of its own work as an incentive to its producers and an assurance to its consumers for the operation of the stage on which such consumption has meaning--or effect. So we come to the reverse of meaning, and confirmation of the circularity of the production of knowledge that is meant to be consumed. "Discipline rewards simply by the play of awards, thus making it possible to attain higher ranks and places; it punishes by reversing this process." Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison 181 (Alan Sheridan, trans., New York: Vintage Books 1977).
The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an 'ideological' representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called 'discipline'. We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it 'excludes', it 'represses', it 'censors', it 'abstracts', it 'masks', it 'conceals'. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production.
Id., 194.

No comments: