New Books This Week

Another fine week for reading. From top to bottom, they are: Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin by Kristin Brace, The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, Narrator by Bragi Olaffson, Salvage issue #5, and Jacobin issue #30.

Kristin announced Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin at a reading back in, I think, late April. This is her first book, and it is wonderful!

I picked up The Cooking Gene and Kitchen Confidential at the We Are Lit popup bookstore, which was set up in the Downtown Market in Grand Rapids. They are run entirely online, with occasional popups, and have an excellently curated selection of books.

Narrator came in as the most recent volume from my subscription to Open Letter Books.

Salvage is an interesting journal based in England, to which I subscribed on a whim. I discovered it during an afternoon of reading leftist fiction and researching different -punk subgenres. I came across a reference to “salvagepunk” and, upon further inquiry, this was one of the top results, with China Mieville’s name displayed prominently. I honestly never expected to receive any issues of this, but here it is, and it is a thing of beauty.

Receiving a new issue of Jacobin is always a pleasure. The writing is top-notch, the content important and interesting (particularly in the current pre-apocalyptic political climate), and the physical artifact is a thing of beauty.

All Media is Mainstream Media

The title of this post sums up everything which is to follow.

All media sources which have internet access are mainstream. Full stop. Any story which appears virally on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram or any of the other click-bait aggregators, even if the original outlet was created only an hour earlier, is at that moment mainstream.

Post 2016 election, much hay has been made of “fake news” and how to distinguish the real from the unreal. Without falling into the rabbit hole of implicit vs. explicit bias–which is about as useful in this context as debating free will vs. determinism–let us agree that there is news which is deliberately false in its entirety, and news which is true from a certain point of view.

The news which is deliberately false is that in which the headline serves as click-bait, ESPECIALLY when the headline in question imparts no information about the content of the story. These are headlines which are in the form of a question, or are followed by a listicle. These are headlines meant to drive traffic rather than impart information. With this filter in place approximately 75% of all social media noise can immediately be ignored. For the rest, the next filter requires a little more thought.

Deliberately false news also includes everything which falls under the category of “opinion” or “editorial”. Here we can safely dismiss everything from Fox News and Breitbart, and all right-wing hatriot hives like World Net Daily, InfoWars, The Blaze, Focus on the Family, StormFront, Red State, and so forth.

This is not to say the left-leaning news and information sites don’t have similar problems, but “the liberal media”, to the extent that it ever existed, is responsible for only a tiny fraction of all noise generated by American outlets.

Oh: Fair warning–my political sensibilities fall fairly far to the left by American standards, which by rational world standards would make me ever so slightly to the left of center on most issues.

The entirety of mainstream American political though is skewed severely to the right side of the global political spectrum. Our Democrats are, in the main, to the right of where Reagan stood when we were engaged in nuclear brinkmanship with the USSR. Our Republicans are somewhere far down a slope along which lies plutocracy, corporatocracy, neo-feudalism, Dominionism and straight up reactionary sensibilities. And the Democrats are fast on their heels. Thus the center of American political conversation is substantially to the right of center. And thus any “compromise” between political parties moves the entire local spectrum farther to the right.

All of which is to say, any American media outlet which deliberately brands itself as “conservative” can be dismissed out of hand. The output of these outlets can be ignored for the same reason that fish have no words for “water.”

With these filters in place, recognize that whatever news media remains is driven first and foremost by the profit motive, and (distantly) second by journalistic integrity. This is a subtle form of regulatory capture which has always existed, but came to prominence when the Fairness Doctrine was revoked during the Reagan presidency.

So when someone on social media posts a story which includes a headline hinting of some grand conspiracy of silence, it can be safely assumed that the originator of the underlying story or meme is simply looking for attention. Or a quick buck. Not that there is much difference between the two.

Sometime soon, I’ll discuss the difference between “media” and “journalism.”