Saturday, March 24, 2007

Flipping the Hourglass
Of the more than 126 million, 144 thousand seconds of real time that mark the Iraq War, our impression of its nature and reality is formulated by exposure to media clips 5 to 60 seconds in duration. How much of those millions of real-time seconds that the average American citizen has digested is anybody's guess. Exposure depends on where one has turned to to view footage and how varied are its themes. For instance, how often in media are precious informative seconds devoted to 10 second flashes of fire or smoke? Of twisted metal? Of hooded Iraqis wired to electrodes? How often are those images looped? So that as the millions of real time seconds tick by, the average viewer is treated to reruns of prior years spectacular footage? How overweighted are those media 10 seconds - compared to the millions of seconds filled with trivialities and non-events; media unfriendly footage?

And how much of prescious informative real time seconds are not shown at all? Instead the American citizen gets treated to peripheral footage. 10 seconds here and 10 seconds there of Pelosi and Mutha? Of supplemental budget debates, non-binding resolutions, sense-of-the-senate stances, and other parliamentary kabuki - all while the real important stuff ticks by unnoticed in time's slipstream? How much of our impression is influenced by the 10 second media discussions of parliamentary kabuki when we could learn far more with 1000 or 10000 second revelations on Karbala?

Unless one is motivated enough to truly study War, one isn't going to understand in any meaningful sense what is meant by a tactic such as the Surge. No 10 second soundbite by Pelosi or Reid will educate. How meaningfully encompassing is our understanding of what is fully going on in Iraq? How much do we truly know what American soldiers do on a daily basis there? Indeed, the stories of history's warriors were written by such minds as Homer, Thucydides, Virgil, Shakespeare. Today's warriors will be mythologized by heavyweights Diane Sawyer, Michael Moore, and Jon Stewart. The Epic Poem or literary Tragedy as means will be sidestepped for the current en vogue methods of storytelling: the morning show, the "documentary", and the comedy sketch, or more devistatingly, the 10 second video clip.

We as a people are ready to lavish millions to watch 7200 seconds of a cinematic CGI abs-fest spectacular having to do with 300 Spartan warriors. Yet our own real life warriors get nary more than 10 seconds exposure here or 10 seconds exposure there on the airways of hostile networks more interested in treating them as children, or boys and girls, or victims - not as soldiers, not as warriors. Forget body armor or up-armored HUMVEES. The resource most important to give to our soliders in Iraq is ample media exposure for them to tell us back here in America what they are doing daily. Our soldiers deserve far more than brief 10 second narrative bursts.

6 Comments:

At 4:27 PM, Anonymous bobsalive said...

Hey, in the third sentence of the second paragraph you misspelled the congressman's name.

I believe it's spelled J-A-C-K-A-S-S.
(Seriously, you forgot the 'r' in Murtha.)

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger YouWho said...

I'm not sure what your thesis is here: Big Media is bad? The American People are are lazy, ignorant and fickle? The Dems are to blame for the proliferation of the 10-second-soundbite (I couldn't help but notice you mentioned only Dems, as if the White House are not expert in the use of jackhammered talking points)?

I believe the in-depth coverage exists. Whether people choose to seek it out is another question, and not something you can pin on Big Media. I've heard some in-depth stories on Iraq -- mostly told by soldiers or other first-hand participants themselves -- at least on NPR. Some approached nearly a full hour. There is excellent writing out there as well, but I can understand you don't count that.

So, you've outlined the problem and denounced it. We've discussed this before: News has become Entertainment, with a profit generating bottom line to meet. Sex and violence sell. So... what do we do about it?

 
At 5:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like you're arguing in favor of nuance and context... Many people can't handle that these days--detracts from easily manageable cookie-cutter black-and-white views that make life simple.
Peacebuilding is boring, and good news is no news. Dead babies always make for better news.
The only place you'll see the boring, positive stuff ever reported is on the UN website, they're the ones who engage in it.

 
At 11:03 PM, Blogger Granite said...

All good points YouWho. I agree the White House is a horse's ass when it comes to edifying explanation. I scream at the TV nearly every time I see Bush struggling to answer reporter's questions. Stupid questions. I would love to hear the President say, "You know, I don't agree with your premise, and here's why..." and proceed to provide an answer that is not constrained by the inferior premise. Rumsfeld did this and I applauded him for doing so. No way was the Press going to let Rumsfeld outsmart them. They wore him down as intended.

You mention the issue of talking points. I agree this trend in political discourse is lamentable. Its easy to blame Bush on this and his team does indeed deserve blame. However, I take the historical view on this. It wasn't until Clinton's 2nd term when cable news really took off with the newstainment. The Talking Points are the offspring of the 24 hr news ascendancy. Under Clinton, there dish-out was new and novel. The media largely gave a pass at the on-point messaging. Plus, his team was adroit with the delivery. Fast forward now through 6 years of Bush's office. We've had dominance of cable news, decline of standard nightly news, and emergence of powerful blogosphere. We're just entering into politics shaped by YouTube. The power of Talking Points erodes faster in this new environment. Gaffes are quickly exploited. The Bush team are worse than bags of hammers in message delivery. They get no pass from the Media. Clinton barely got a whiff of the power of the New Media while Bush has been smacked head-on by it. This White House suffers by poor tactics and execution when it comes to message. Is it any wonder why that same deficiency carries over when it comes to explaining Iraq/GWOT?

I believe we must elect someone akin to a Philosopher King soon. Someone bullish enough to reign in the excesses of Media while also confident enough with their beliefs to explain issues fully, roundly, and completely.

Yes, to conclude I say again I agree with you. We, as citizenry must reject both 10 second Media and Talking Points Politics.

 
At 11:26 PM, Blogger Granite said...

Another point. I'm trying to grasp the changing nature of society's worship of heroes. As it appears to me, previous eras gravitated toward the exploits of individual warriors. Inspiring commanders tended to take hold in the public's imagination. During the Civil War, Gen. Robert E Lee attained godlike status. Gens. Grant and Sherman emerged as the few Union commanders able to achieve victory (or at least not surrender after stalemate). Their aura lived on well after the war (in fact, in his later years the struggling Grant remade his estate and reputation through the publishing of his memoirs). Certainly WWII produced its share of memorable warriors - Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur. Maybe it was MacArthur's fall during Korea that marked the end of warrior worship. Virtually the entire US military comes out of Vietnam as a faceless, brutalized collection of frazzled and addled misfits press-ganged into service. The beginning of the "warrior as child and as victim" storyline that continues today. One could say Gens. Schwarzkopf and Powell gained for themselves some warrior nobility. How much of this was more the result of delivering good press conferences and less to do with actual arts of war? And what name will emerge out of Iraq that will be the stuff of tales of honor, bravery, fortitude? Who can name a true warrior from the present fight? Tommy Franks? He skeedaddled as soon as Saddam's statue fell. Then we had a few years of the stuffed shirt Bremer. Not really the warrior type. And now the Dems are trying to decapitate Gen Patreus before he's even had a chance to do anything. Sad really. Patreus, as Greek warrior, came on the scene several millenia too late. No Epic Poems will be spoken for him....

 
At 8:10 AM, Blogger Granite said...

To be fair, there's a special issue of Newsweek out now with letters and emails from the soldiers. The issue is a good one

 

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