Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On nuance (part one)

[Warning: rant inspired by 24-hour news to follow]

“Nuance” is currently my favourite word. Unfortunately, it also seems to be the favourite word of almost every left-leaning media or political critic more than one foot outside of the mainstream (I’m being charitable to publications like Harpers here in including them in this peripheral group—there’s a strong argument to be made to the contrary, but let’s leave that for the moment). The lament both from the left and occasionally from the right when it comes to our 24-hour news world is the lack of “nuance.”

It annoys me that so many people are using my favourite word so promiscuously. It further annoys me to be in agreement with all of them.

I had CNN on the other morning as I was getting ready, and they had a correspondent in the Gaza strip reporting on the often forcible removal of Jewish settlers. And of course, though the vast majority were going peacefully, if perhaps reluctantly, the cameras were superglued to one skirmish in which a few militants had linked arms and were being hauled away by the military.

The fixation of the media on the violent and sensational elements doesn’t really surprise, of course, nor can one entirely blame them. What bothered me immensely—what always bothers me immensely about CNN and their imitators—was the inane commentary. Here’s an approximation:

“Yes. Yes, they seem to have linked arms. They have linked arms and are refusing to move. The soldiers are being forced to drag them.”

“And they’re resisting, Sheila?”

“Yes, they’ve linked arms.”

“Are they holding onto anything?”

“Just each other. There’s a tree there—they might have chained themselves to it—but I don’t see anything like that yet. They just seem to be holding on to each other.”

(cut back to main desk)

“There you have it. Settlers have linked arms in resistance to being removed from Gaza.”

This is just a taste—I swear, this one piece of reporting went on for ten minutes. Endlessly repeating what was happening. Over and over. This might have been forgivable if this was a radio report, but of course WE COULD SEE WHAT WAS HAPPENING. We could see that the settlers had linked arms, that they were resisting the soldiers; there was nothing the correspondent (I really should put that word in quotes, except that everything she said exactly corresponded to the visual) reported that wasn’t immediately obvious and apparent. This kind of “reporting” reduces the news to a kind of fundamentalism of the visual: nothing that isn’t immediately depicted can be weighed intellectually, contextualized, historicized, or interpreted beyond the strict parameters of what might be sensational and/or hysteria-provoking (at which point, all bets are off—“The authorities say it was probably kids with a roman candle, but for all we know it might be terrorists with a dirty bomb!”).

At least this was a real event. The inane-O-meter goes into the red when it’s someone filming a black limo for twenty minutes speculating on why Michael Jackson hasn’t emerged.

OK—part one of screed completed. Look for part two soon.


Femme d'ailleurs said...

Hi. I just found your blog and thought I write you a comment, since I too am from St.John's. I haven't read anything yet, so can't really comment on your posts, but I think it's really cool that as a prof you decided to have a blog. I attend MUN, my last year, too bad I won't be doing any more English courses. LOL. Anyway, keep up the good work and I'm off to read your posts ;)

amy said...

ok were you slagging Harpers there? Because it sorta sounded like that. I will not permit any disrespect to Lewis Lapham.

Chris in NF said...

Oh, I wasn't meaning to slag Harpers ... I do love the Lapham too (though I think he's kind of gone to the zoo since the election -- his editorials have become increasingly unspooled of late). I just meant that it's hard to classify them as "marginal," esp. when your editor is firmly ensconced in the NY aristocracy ...