Clowns and Coke

"Fresh Fish", by Mr. Fish (Dwanye Booth)Mr. Fish sounds off on the transformation of modern journalism—

In fact, if you were to compare the old, pre-merger LA Weekly and, while you’re at it, the Village Voice from 5 or 10 or 30 years ago, with today’s versions you’d see how Mr. Fish (not to mention Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Barbara Garson, Katherine Anne Porter, M.S. Cone, James Baldwin, E.E. Cummings, Nat Hentoff, Marc Cooper, Ted Hoagland, Tom Stoppard, Lorraine Hansberry, Allen Ginsberg, Joshua Clover, Jules Feiffer and R. Crumb) no longer fits in with the TMZ/Your-ad-here!/journalism-produced-cheaply-will-produce-cheap-journalism look of the papers.

I recently received a letter from someone bemoaning the obvious drop in quality of the LA Weekly, as evidenced by the paper’s online incarnation, by saying that, “If I knew nothing about LA, I would think all that went on there were Burlesque shows.”

No kidding.

Sure, in response to a shitty economy and a pandemic shift by news junkies from pulp to PC, there have been definite changes in the print media industry over the last five years. And, sure, attempts to restructure the financial model on any business institution that sees its profit margins shrinking will always have some effect on the product that’s being produced, but mustn’t a shift to protect the body of an organization take special care not to jeopardize serious trauma to the head as well?

Does an incoming administration really assert its authority when it rips up the old Constitution so beloved by those it seeks to rule, saying, “This thing is pointless – it was written with a feather! We have Microsoft Office now!” or does it merely demonstrate its own arrogance and self-centeredness and misguided sense of intellectual privilege?

Haven’t we learned anything from the New Coke fiasco from the 1980s, for Christsakes?

—and, of course, his dismissal from the L. A. Weekly newspaper.

Once upon a time ….

"Dominos Theory", by Mr. Fish (Dwayne Booth)In the first place, we are seeing capitalism in motion. To the other, though, capitalism itself is transforming. Once upon a time, when I was younger, my father—unquesitonably a capitalist—taught me the general purpose, benefit, and process of business: find a need, fill that need, make a profit. Business was not just greedy people trying to make money. That was some mythical minority of businessmen. Real business was a community service for which we ought to be grateful.

Poke what holes you must. It sounds great, but I’m not sure what dimension that idea came from. If business was about providing something people need, then the products would have those things we need.

But filling that need is, to many capitalists, an unfortunate necessity. Thus we find ourselves eating more and more synthetic food. You can call it “cheese” if it has cheese enzymes in it. Really. I mean, I adore those jars of salsa con queso, but let’s be clear: there’s no real cheese in them.

Or the supremely unhealthy partially hydrogenated oils. What was the reason for that? Actually, it’s rather quite sickening: It is easier to store mass quantities of these oils for longer periods if they are partially hydrogenated. That’s right; your food is unhealthy in order to cut costs and boost profits.

Yet over the years we have become accustomed to artificial food. Does anyone remember Wow chips? Olestra? The secret there was that the stuff was undigestable.

So if we are used to food without actual food in it, why not news without any actual news content?

You can call it new, improved, and even cutting-edge. So was “new” Coke.

When I was a kid, journalism was a noble endeavor. Indeed, looking to our Constitution, it seems journalism was so important that we enshrined it in the First Amendment.

Yet what is journalism today in the United States? An unfortunate joke. Not that the joke itself—

Listen buddy: not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.

—is bad. Rather, it’s quite funny if you turn your conscience off for a moment and try not to think of what it represents. But when Jim Lehrer agrees, in the context of a serious discussion about journalism—

Barrett: Is there any place for writing, “Billy Bob said it rained Thursday. The weather bureau said it didn’t. I was out that day and I say it didn’t.”

Lehrer: I would never do that. That’s not my function to do that.

—one might be inclined to wonder what the Founding Fathers were thinking.

After all, the purpose of the news these days isn’t actually to bring us news. Rather, it’s to bring us advertisements, so that the news companies can make money. What is presented as news is simply filler, an unfortunate necessity for the executives trying to make money. If they could just take your money and cut out all the middleman bullshit of hiring reporters, sending them out to pretend to cover a story, and either printing or broadcasting the results, they would.

But nobody ever said life is fair. My father taught me that, too. So those news executives are just going to have to keep on inconveniencing themselves for the money.

And the people? They don’t seem to care. I mean, sure, they whine and moan, but just like with the politicians we don’t actually do anything about the problem.

So, unfortunately, my answer to Mr. Fish is that no, we haven’t learned a damn thing.

Lehrer also said:

If Letterman tells a joke with a piece of information in it that you didn’t know before, that’s fine with me, that doesn’t bother me. I mean, my God, you’ve got to get it off a serious news program or it doesn’t count? I don’t believe that for a second ….

And I can easily agree with him, except it’s somewhat tragic to consider that, compared to the Fox News Channel, the Cable News Network, my local television news, or even newspapers in general, I can get better—more accurate, more coherent, more relevant—information on world events from commentators like Keith Olbermann, or comedians like Jon Stewart.

"Love and Haiti", by Mr. Fish (Dwayne Booth)No, Mr. Lehrer. It’s not that if it doesn’t come from a “serious news program” it isn’t real or doesn’t count. Rather, it’s a problem that “serious” news programs and “real” newspapers aren’t to be taken seriously, or relied upon for real, useful information.

It sucks that Mr. Fish lost the L. A. Weekly gig. And it sucks that Jim Lehrer thinks it isn’t his job to call bullshit on obvious truckloads of the stuff. And it certainly sucks that we didn’t learn a damn thing from the New Coke fiasco, or partially hydrogenated oils, or, generally, history itself. But this is a market-based society, filled with market-oriented citizens, who demand the marketplace accommodate their desires.

We’re getting nothing more or less than we have asked for.

Shame about that.

But we still have Mr. Fish. And, yes, the site is called Clowncrack.

I don’t know. Take it up with him. You know, when you go visit his new digs.

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