"Oh Dear"-ism
April 9, 2009 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Love the funky reggae-ish "Hawaii 5-0" theme.
posted by hifiparasol at 7:24 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I saw this on Newswipe (which I, contrary to the author of the 'via' page, find to be quite excellent) the other day, and found it quite amusing, though little more. Curtis sets forward the backstory, the turning point, and concludes that now we have "Oh Dearism". So what? The tone of the whole thing indicated disapproval (a position I'm not unsympathetic to) but offers no alternative conception of reporting, no exposition of the negatives or consequences of "Oh Dearism", or indeed much analysis beyond pointing out that the only real response to many modern news stories is "oh dear".

Well great, but as the news-viewing public, surely we discovered that ourselves over the course of the last many many years of muttering the very same.

Still, it's a fun and informative few minutes. I'd recommend watching it.
posted by Dysk at 7:25 PM on April 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

"Charlie Brooker’s rather weak British answer to the Daily Show in the US" says the via link.

This is wrong. Newswipe is a funny show about news, but that doesn't make it a Daily Show impersonation. It's a completely different animal.
posted by tapeguy at 7:31 PM on April 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

It holds a much bigger debt to Screenwipe, as surprising as that is.
posted by Dysk at 7:33 PM on April 9, 2009

So, basicaly he's complaining that they should be making news about terrible conflicts more uplifting so we can feel warm and fuzzy inside or that the news needs to taking an active role in solving the conflicts they report on. It kind of seems like the complaint is that since the news is more shades of gray than black and white, that it no longer motivates people to get involved in these situations.
posted by Sargas at 7:42 PM on April 9, 2009

Were you just watching the repeat on BBC Four? Jeez...I could have done that.

But yeah, it was a nice short argument, and probably summed me up pretty well, especially the reasons why I generally avoid tv news.

Oh, and his The Power of Nightmares was fantastic, everybody should look it up.
posted by Sova at 7:43 PM on April 9, 2009

posted by spiderskull at 7:44 PM on April 9, 2009

My first comment as a MeFi user, hope I don't screw it up.

This reminds me a lot of a blog post I saw today on ~synthesis~. Linked here. It goes along with the video in analyzing the human condition as applied to philanthropy and how much self-interest is truly at stake. I think this video applies that same logic, but on the level of TV news.

Good report, thoroughly enjoyed it.
posted by seandq at 7:49 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

He doesn't suggest that the news about conflicts should be more uplifting. He offers an alternative: report on them as political situations, with the kind of history and nuance that television audiences are historically bored by. I don't know if hippies are as he suggests at the origin of this kind of simplified and manipulative emotivist goodguy vs. badguy framing, but every political party seems unashamed to do it now. I agree with him regardless. I, too would prefer less emotional manipulation and more political analysis in my news.
posted by idiopath at 7:53 PM on April 9, 2009 [8 favorites]

idiopath: "He offers an alternative: report on them as political situations, with the kind of history and nuance that television audiences are historically bored by. "

I can't help but feel that there's a better, easier, and faster way to convey the nuance of political situations in news broadcasts. Imagine if instead of stupid 3D pie charts, CNN would commission Edward Tufte and Hans Rosling to create some elegant multivariate display that could use relatively objective measures (GDP/capita, literacy rate, life expectancy/preventable disease prevalence, and freedom house scores, all as a function of time) to give immediate context to countries/groups being discussed. If you can imagine that, it's not too much further of a jump to consider these sorts of graphics describing movements, political parties, and even individual leaders in order to show complex power relationships in just seconds. I imagine that the learning curve wouldn't be too steep, and that you could cut out a lot of "boring" this way, giving more talk time to the interesting work of how conflicts get resolved.
posted by The White Hat at 8:11 PM on April 9, 2009 [5 favorites]

Welcome, seandq. We're one big family here. A big dysfunctional family.
posted by nola at 8:14 PM on April 9, 2009

Some of the links on the youtube page were to some Live Aid footage (I guess because of the starving Africans). I was never a huge Queen fan, but damn Freddy Mercury can sing.

Back to your regularly scheduled whatever it was you were talking about.
posted by marxchivist at 8:27 PM on April 9, 2009

no sargus, he's suggesting we find a way to convey a more nuanced narrative than 'us vs them' or 'us helping them.' Bush was great at "you're with us or against us," but it doesn't really help.
[mindyou, who's with me as predicting Bush as the new Godwin for the 10s?]

we have 24 hour news networks. we have complicated stories that take a long time to explain and often move beyond simple dichotomy. why are we still getting soundbites, crossfire, and filler?
posted by es_de_bah at 8:31 PM on April 9, 2009

or what idiopath and the white hat said
posted by es_de_bah at 8:35 PM on April 9, 2009

Thanks for those links, nola. I hadn't heard of Newswipe before today.
posted by homunculus at 8:49 PM on April 9, 2009

Yay, more hippie bashing! Can't ever get enough of that!

I agree with his basic premise -- that news broadcasting is failing us in our quest to be fully informed. I note that it's a BBC analysis of news coverage, so I'll have to watch to see if it really is a hippie nightmare on the news every night here in the US. Being a hippie, I'd just sort of assumed that it was a nightmare on the news because the world's news has been rather nightmarish. Maybe that's wrong, and if I have enough context I will not feel as though things like Bosnia or Rwanda or whatever are all that bad.

Do British local news programs get as involved in the "shooting / car wreck / house fire / other tragic moment" coverage to the detriment of news that matters, like local politics? That seems to be pretty much what happens here in the USA. I can't remember watching a local newscast in the past 15 years and not have felt somehow dirty. So much of the coverage I see on local news broadcasts (this includes news out of LA, Phoenix, Seattle, and Spokane) seems to be all about being afraid. Does this happen in other countries?

Honestly, I fail to see many changes happening in how we get our news as long as news is viewed as a profit enterprise by the networks.
posted by hippybear at 8:50 PM on April 9, 2009

This user appears to have all the episodes
posted by Catblack at 8:57 PM on April 9, 2009

I'm pretty sure it's no coincidence that USA Today was established about the same time I noticed a sharp decline in nuanced news analysis in print media, which seemed hell-bent in following TV-"news" presentation down the sound-bite-and-crossfire, us-vs.-them (as es_de_bah puts it) path. I'm still hoping the Internet will step up to the plate, but frankly it's got a ways to go yet before it collectively develops the perspective, maturity, and gravitas to elevate it beyond LOLnews in my estimation.
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:07 PM on April 9, 2009

Just watching the 1st episode now, and while he's wiping up the media coverage of the credit crisis, the music in the background is Rossini's 'The Thieving Magpie'. Oh that's some subtle British humor there.
posted by Catblack at 9:35 PM on April 9, 2009

I found most of it annoying. Hippies ruined everything. The media is lazy and jerks from one meta narrative to another mindlessly over decades, or something. The problem is I don't actually this his two "frames" are actually incompatible. It's possible that these horrible things are both the result of horrible politicians and political systems and examples of human cruelty. Or different situation can have different mixes of those two poles.

The idea that the media can only handle one meta-narrative at a time also seems preposterous.
posted by delmoi at 9:37 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

News reporting isn't bad because it adheres to a singular narrative, it's bad because the profit motive driving it demands sensation over substance. McLuhan is still right.
posted by gallois at 9:54 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

And yeah, the Hawaii 5-0 theme kicked!
posted by gallois at 9:54 PM on April 9, 2009

News reporting isn't bad because it adheres to a singular narrative, it's bad because the profit motive driving it demands sensation over substance. McLuhan is still right.

I guess, also, there's a big diffrence between the way world events are covered in the UK and the U.S. In the U.S, most of these things aren't really covered that much at all. That would take away air time from stories about crazy bitches squeezing out eight babies and reality shows where people are setup in anti-pedophile stings.
posted by delmoi at 10:23 PM on April 9, 2009

Thanks for the post homunculus. As ever, your choices are thought provoking.

Adam Curtis is one of my favorite contemporary thinkers. The conclusion he has drawn in this documentary seems to be that telling the news with complex details is essential if an intelligent and truthful picture of the situation is to be known.

This means people need to be able to shift their emotional satisfaction preferences, as far as news is concerned, away from the polarity of black and white thinking or the victim-abuser mindset. It means being able to sustain interest in comprehending complexity, not just a simple cartoon-version of real life. It means not having only sound bites but becoming familiar with a many-faceted narrative.

Complexity may be tedious to some but unless it is included in telling the whole story, the narrative may be falsely appealing in a black and white, good versus evil way. I do not think this is a hippie issue at all. I am biased as a former hippie. However, it is my observation of humanity that wanting a narrative to be told with emotions painted in simplistic, boldly colored ways with easy conclusions, is an international phenomenon, known in ages old folktales and mythology.

On TV these days there's mostly one kind of news, cheap infotainment that simplistically satisfies preconceptions as part of a backdrop of selling products. For actual news, told with contemplative complexity, one needs, in my experience, to come to the web and put the pieces together oneself. Or, for example, to come here to the blue and read a variety of points of view.

One of the many fantastic things about the web, imo, is its ability to offer complex and subtle viewpoints and information. The site, Visual Complexity offers wonderfully complex graphics, which might be a much better choice for real narrative-news telling than pie charts.

In the past things that were complex were often conveyed in boring ways. To do justice to the truth of a story, newswriters need to find ways to tell a complex tale -more of the whole story- in interesting ways. And audiences need to adjust to learning about the world in greater depth.
posted by nickyskye at 10:56 PM on April 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

Wasn't the theme music from 'The Fountain' playing behind much of that second part?

Oh dear.
posted by eclectist at 11:18 PM on April 9, 2009

Can I disagree with the call for the Tufte-ization of TV news graphics? Much as I love the information-rich graphics that Tufte celebrates, they're much more suited to print media or the net than they are to TV news, where the amount of time that they'd remain on the screen is very short.

What we need, imo, rather than flashier graphics, is much more emphasis on explanation via extended narratives. And to be fair, we're quite well served in the UK in this respect via BBC2's Newsnight and (to a lesser extent, IMO, though I don't really catch it much lately) Channel 4 news, which will generally devote some portion of the show to a longer, more explanatory segment on some aspect of the news that *does* try to deal with the political complexities behind the story.

Also, I think Curtis has his tongue in his cheek when he blames the hippies, but he's correct when he locates the historical moment that this begins, and some of the forces that were responsible for its genesis. Wasn't Live Aid really just a much bigger version of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh? If I were Curtis, I would have been focussing on the tendency that the parent culture has of taking the good and useful impulses from the counter culture, stripping them of their radical core, and then selling them back to the world, denuded of any ideology or politics, as a flashier, more contemporary consumer good.

And while I have been watching Newswipe, I missed this segment, so thanks for posting it, Homunculus. FWIW, I think it's much better than the Daily Show. For one thing, we don't have to sit through Charlie Brooker having to sell us somebody's piece of shit book or album for half the show.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:26 PM on April 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

It just goes to show, you can't be too careful.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 5:51 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

It just goes to show, you can't be too careful.

Is that working yet?
posted by educatedslacker at 6:03 AM on April 10, 2009

Thanks for the video Homunculus, a bit of Adam Curtis never goes a miss.

I thought this video about Japanese food self sufficiency tried to pull together a lot of complicated issues in a way that lends itself to TV, not sure how effective it's been in mobilising change and the particular happyhappyhappy-ness of it all is definitely a japanese delicacy. Another compact graphic exposition this one on American adventurism/imperialism, a bit contentious, but can't be faulted for breadth and interrelation of subjects tackled. Finally we have the ultimate apotheosis of digital PSAs - total interrelations, minimal content, maximum enjoyment.
posted by doobiedoo at 6:19 AM on April 10, 2009

For one thing, we don't have to sit through Charlie Brooker having to sell us somebody's piece of shit book or album for half the show.

And it's not mostly mugging to a sycophantic audience on a cocktail of ecstasy and amphetamines.

I think it would be wrong to see Newswipe as comedy per se, though it does make me laugh, but rather an attempt to confront a genre of television that takes itself far too seriously using snark and flippancy.

News is strange, though. I was commenting to my wife the other day, that Newsnight became a lot more like The Day Today after the latter had been broadcast, and Jeremy Paxman became a lot more like this.

The pomposity and self-aggrandisement of news organisations is extraordinary, especially considering their job is to convert real evidence into a kind of controlled lie.

(For example, take the death of Ian Tomlinson. All news media except The Guardian accepted the Police's description of events and repeated it verbatim, despite the fact that it was a tissue of palpable and demonstrable lies. When the video emerged and it looked like blowing up, they bust a few Pakistanis in the north west - "look, look! a shiny object!" - and sacrifice a chief officer, who was unpopular with the Tories anyway (and they're likely to be the next Government). Lo and behold, the media fall into line and say exactly what the police want them to say, despite the fact that it was an obvious bit of desperate misdirection.)

Ooh, that's better. It's good to rant.
posted by Grangousier at 6:32 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

Worth pointing out, perhaps, that the chief officer in question was let go for flashing classified documents in public, and has no relation whatever to the G20 protests, or Tomlinson's death.
posted by Dysk at 7:05 AM on April 10, 2009

What we need, imo, rather than flashier graphics, is much more emphasis on explanation via extended narratives.

You know who is REALLY good at this? Rachel Maddow.

I only recently started watching her MSNBC show, and my jury is still out on some of what she does. But I really REALLY appreciate one thing she does consistently: when there is a more complex news story she's about to talk about, or when it's older news with details which might be fuzzy, she takes the 60-90 seconds to lay out a simple and clear thread of narrative for the story.

Granted, she does this partially to allow her to lay the groundwork for what she is about to add to the story, and being a commentator all of what she says needs to be filtered for POV and purpose to find the facts... But the fact that she does this at ALL is remarkable.

How that would translate to national news broadcasts, I cannot fathom. With only 22 minutes (maybe less?) of actual air time, if they took 1.5 minutes to summarize the background of every story they were about to air, they'd end up with only about 10 minutes of new content. BBC World News America is an hour long, and often still feels too cramped.
posted by hippybear at 7:31 AM on April 10, 2009

To continue my point about the difference between the Daily Show and Newswipe that I was too tired to bother with last night...

Besides the audience mugging and book promoting, The Daily Show 'merely' covers the preceding few days' events, with Jon Stewart and his correspondents making jokes about what has happened and the media's coverage of those events. It doesn't explain the history surrounding any of the stories it covers (say, the Iraqi journalist getting locked up for throwing shoes at Bush) but relies on the fact that the audience at home probably saw an earlier show (say, the day after the Iraqi journalist was arrested). Or, you know, watched the main news channels or read some atrocious right-wing war blog or some other rotten leftist anti-American forum. The youth of today, eh?

Newswipe, like Screenwipe, is a weekly show that's on for a short six-or-eight (?) week run. It's not a daily show like The Daily Show (clever joke, I know - cheers), so it's more an analysis of the issues that the news industry is suffering from, as opposed to covering the latest events. It's a bit like its sister series Screenwipe where Brooker's reviews weren't of "the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica (or The Wire, or that horrible High School Musical rip-off ITV show, or whatever else)" but covering the series as a whole. In Newswipe, the nearest Brooker really gets to the Daily Show is those three 'headline' quips he makes over the clips at the end of the title sequence.

And, like Adam Curtis points out in his Newswipe piece, I think the Daily Show writers like to pander to their audience, writing as if those watching don't understand much more than "LOL BUSH" and not trusting them to stay tuned through complex issues. Hence, the four minute interview format. Though, yes I know, that's American TV for you as a whole and not any decision that the programme makers would stick to if they had the chance.

Charlie seems a lot more likely to actually say stuff that his growing audience would disagree with, as opposed to just being "shocking" like the Barry Shitpeas-style of comedian.

On preview: I care too much.
posted by tapeguy at 7:44 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fabulous links, nola, thank you. I've been poking around at screenwipe ever since a MeFite linked to the episode about editing reality TV. Hadn't seen these yet.
posted by Decimask at 8:24 AM on April 10, 2009

(Also, Glen Beck is bloody terrifying)
posted by Decimask at 8:30 AM on April 10, 2009

It's like living in the mind of a depressed documentarian.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:03 AM on April 10, 2009

Anyone and everyone should check out Adam Curtis' wider work - this is just a little sliver of what he does. The Power of Nightmares (part 1 here), The Trap (here) and The Century of the Self (part 1 here) are all fascinating; not just for his very persuasive polemic, but for his fantastic editing techniques. His films are full of wonderful images and juxtapositions.

Basically, if George Orwell had made documentaries, they would have looked like this.
posted by tiny crocodile at 9:04 AM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

The idea that the media can only handle one meta-narrative at a time also seems preposterous.

More preposterous is that they can handle more than one meta-narrative, but overwhelmingly choose not to.

Yay, more hippie bashing!

I don't see this as hippie bashing so much as suggesting that the dominant culture was much more prepared than the hippies realized to simplify and exploit their ideas to the end of its own survival. He made a similar point regarding consumerism in Century of the Self. I think the hippie era is for Curtis what, say, 1945 is to some other historians - a turning point, fascinating, and maybe a bit too central in his theories, but allowing a fascinating take all the same.

Most of his docs seem to be up on the Internet Archive. Well worth your time if you want a better understanding of your society (a grand claim, but borne by the material, I think).
posted by regicide is good for you at 9:04 AM on April 10, 2009

Guy seems to be quite an expert on "the" hippies.
posted by Forrest Greene at 11:03 AM on April 10, 2009

This video appears to be a simplistic analysis of why the news media are too simplistic.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:27 PM on April 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

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