New boss, same as the old boss

People think the media has changed rapidly. It’s the generational gap at work: Having graduated high school in the 1990s, I now think that what kids are getting into in the 2000s is insanity. Same will be true of people who are graduating now looking down at the class of 2020: “It wasn’t the same then”. One writer over at Boston.com finally broke through the social red tape and decided to tell it like it is:

A Catholic priest claimed that Superman “seems to personify the primitive religion expounded by Nietzsche’s Zarathustra’’ and said comics were a dangerous distraction from Christianity. A 1945 Time cover asked, “Are Comics Fascist?’’ Psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, employing some rather creative methodology, claimed that comic books influenced “the case of every single delinquent or disturbed child’’ he and his research team studied.

It seems quaint in today’s world of high-definition interactive violence and petabytes of free pornography that comic books could induce such hysteria. But they did, and we should pause occasionally to wonder how later generations will look at current efforts to rein in youth culture.

It’s useful, then, to place the concern over sexting into the broader context of youth culture hysteria. Just as was the case with comic books, many adults are reacting apoplectically to bits of technology or culture with which they have little familiarity. Like then, so-called experts try to convince us that kids today are more out of control than ever before. And like in the 1950s, misleading figures – often containing kernels of truth but conflating many unrelated elements – are broadcast at reason-suppressing decibel levels.

[+|Boston.com]

The idea being, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss”. The idea works for both media companies, who are always late to the game but retain just enough loyalty from herd-like creatures that they can afford to be perpetually late, and sexting as the author above describes.

The new boss is a type of site called a social news aggregator. This type, which feature commenting and voting/recommending, was made popular, in part, by sites like Reddit. People can vote up stories and try to get on the front page of the site, and there are circles of people – cliques, if you will – who vote up each other’s stories. Part of the reason to do this is to call “bullshit” but in a neutral piece of web space, and in standardized format.

The problem with traffic being diverted away from the Reddits and remaining at the larger media outlets themselves, is the idea behind a Reddit-type site is destroyed. If you post a Boston.com article on Reddit, anyone on Reddit from anywhere in the world can see it, and the more active (and one would hope, more intelligent) Reddit members would vote it up and comment on it as ideas about the article were discussed in an open forum.

Keep the discussion of a story or piece of news at the place from which it generates, and the quality of that discussion goes downhill. Now you’re mostly dealing with locals, and the company generating the content can decide whether or not to allow comments at all, or removing comments that are deemed unsuitable by way of generating too much controversy. In cases like these, a site like Reddit would normally take a much more hands-off approach than a larger media outlet “protecting the integrity of the interaction of its members”, or some such nonsense.

I wouldn’t call it a conspiracy, but rather business as usual: the larger, for-profit media outlets looking to sensationalize news stories but with a twist. Now they also want to control, as much as they can, how you react to that sensationalism.

One Comment

  1. The Crow says:

    Searching out information concerning what was going on in Haiti, earthquake-wise, I was unable to find out anything about the actual event.
    All I could find were reports about how people, in foreign countries, were reacting emotionally to the event itself.
    The news headlines were using a natural event to draw attention to the emotional responses of people responding to the event.
    The event itself seemed a mere adjunct to the response it generated.
    All this was followed – predictably – by appeals for money.

    I was aware that my emotions were being manipulated.
    This is a seriously bad thing.
    I may or may not have had an emotional response to the original event.
    If I had, I may have felt moved to try helping in some way.
    Once I noticed I was being manipulated, my own possible involvement was ended.
    This is the danger of manipulation: by media, groups, or individuals.
    When it doesn’t work, it causes a backlash bigger than mere uninvolvement.
    I remain that much more aware of manipulative presentations, and will more easily recognize them in the future.

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