Wednesday, October 28, 2009

TV Slide (Cont.)

Oh look! (via The Raw Story):

CNBC Viewership Plunges 50% In October

Specifically, CNBC has experienced a massive 52% decline in overall viewers during business day hours (5 am - 7 pm), and a not much better 49% drop in its demo (25-54) in the month of October as compared to last year. Specific shows that are likely to follow the fate of Dennis Kneale's recently cancelled 8pm gobbledygook are likely the Kudlow Report and Mad Money, which are down 59% and 56%, respectively.


The writer goes on to speculate that perhaps if CNBC stops peddling right wing free market bullshit (not his words exactly) the audience will return, to which I reply: nope. I do believe the dream is over for those clowns. When last I checked no one was watching FUX Business either and it remains to be seen in what form, if any, financial TV will stand. The marks wised up and moved on. (While we are at it, just for the mental exercise, we might also game-out what's in store for all current forms of cable news. I do believe the latest newspaper circulation figures give some hint)

If you'd like to speculate too that this is a pretty good indicator of just how shallow, or rather narrow, the recovery has been, feel free. Consider also what this bodes for heavy reform of Wall Street in the coming twelvemonth, as it looks like there won't be much popular opposition.

This is a good opportunity to bring up an element of Marshall McLuhan's thinking I've been pondering for a while, a proposition of his which we may be on the threshold of seeing tested in the real world. Briefly, McLuhan considered one of TV's main attractions to be the relatively fuzzy, pixel-based image it presents to viewers. The automatic effort people made to "fill in" the image with their imagination gave TV, according to McLuhan, an irresistible grip on their central nervous systems.

Strange idea, no doubt about it. But if he was right about this subliminal attraction (written, remember, over 50 years ago), then hi-definition TV is a death knell for the sort of addicted viewer engagement with television which has been the true lifeblood of the networks from the beginning. Put simply, people will not find hi-def images so mysteriously fascinating, so utterly involving as low rez pictures. TV will lose its addictive nature and become something people can take or leave, like magazines. The test of this idea has only begun, but as flat screens take over it will, so to speak, bear watching.

Monday, October 26, 2009

GOP Goes The Weasels

As we head into what promises to be the climactic week for health care reform I wanted to briefly consider a couple points sort of lost in all the excitement. First and mainly is the complete disappearance of Republicans in forming any alternatives or conditions on the final bill. In this regard conservative Democrats (and Olympia Snowe, who can be sometimes seen on the left of two or three of her Democratic colleagues) have completely taken up the duties normally assumed by the opposition party.

Considered away from policy details, in the light of pure political science, this is a breathtaking abdication of responsibility on the part of the GOP, one that does not strike me as planned. This is how a political party acts on its death bed, and Harry Reid's 60 votes for cloture will be the doctor's merciful administration of a fatal dose of morphine. No one is saying this right now, but I cannot emphasize enough that passage of reform with a public option is the last nail in the GOP coffin.

Why? Because they have demonstrated by their inane posturing, rancid tactics, and utterly listless legislative record that they are incapable of influencing events in their favor. This does not mean "winning" every battle, or even most of them. It means organizing an effective opposition that might even draw strength from defeat. Waiting for the other guy to fuck up is not a plan. But worse than ceding the field to the Democrats, they have offered nothing to their shrinking cadre of supporters, and by supporters I don't mean the assembled yay-hoos waving signs, but to corporate allies, many of whom have been laid low in the Great Recession, who would have benefitted from a more cooperative climate in DC. Those who survive will be looking for new friends.

Speaking of assembled yay-hoos, another, and far more entertaining, sign of a dead political party can be seen in northern New York State, as the true believers fight the not-right-wing-enough faction in the special election to fill the house seat for NY-23. Now the Republican vs. Conservative Party rivalry has been a staple of upstate NY politics for at least a generation and is altogether a healthy thing. What makes this an example of terminal decay is the enthusiastic and very public intervention of national GOP figures, all from very distant parts of the country, on either side of an intramural contest which by all rights should be of no interest to anyone outside the Watertown/Messina/Lake Placid nexus.

What this tells me is that no one is in charge of national GOP organizational affairs anymore, and that no one likely will be in time for next year's elections. If this does not strike you as the final stage of a political party which only got as far as it did by an utter fealty to top-down control, I don't know what else would.

And speaking of control, let me suggest that all my fellow Democrats, concerned and sincere, who have mainly bitched and moaned about Harry Reid and Nan Pelosi for the last three years prepare themselves to offer sincere apologies, along with their profound thanks.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

TV Slide

High on my list of petty annoyances are smart people who should know better. Take Steve Benen for example, wondering why-oh-why right-wing hammer heads like Frank Gaffney are asked to appear on MSNBC talk shows in the first place.

The answer is: because RWHHs are entertaining. They love talking the kind of smack that riles up centrist opponents (in the case above, honest Ron Reagan) and is broadly congruent with the interests of corporate ownership. Considering the example highlighted, TV is always, always pro-war as war delivers consistently high ratings and offers no risk whatsoever to their broadcast infrastructure (yet.) This is not hard to figure out, Steve, and to behave as though these so-called news networks, any of them, are somehow obligated to present sober and informative evaluations of current events for the enlightenment of viewers; that with just a little management towards fairness and good judgement the whole stupid medium could be made to work for the greater good, is breathtakingly dumb.

But this morning I want to suggest that TV really has lost its fastball so far as driving the agenda is concerned now. It dawned on me earlier this week that none of the ill-informed blather, flawed framing, and caustic misrepresentation that is TV's stock-in-trade for forming public opinion has worked a lick in guiding the healthcare debate this time around. The robust presence of some kind of public option here at the 11th hour, in a nearly inevitable reform package, in spite of the ample time given its opponents to run dishonest ads and make unchallenged claims; the enthusiastic publicity given subsets of mad sign wavers; in the face of active campaigns by some behind desks in front of cameras to derail reform completely; is really pretty remarkable.

Feel free to disagree, but it strikes me that healthcare reform is the first public issue thoroughly and definitively decided in and through the internet, by blogs that inform general readers while giving those participating on Capitol Hill broad real-time evaluations of any day's events (TPM is good. Ez Klein is king), to a pretty spectacular ability by advocacy groups to immediately publicize flaws in disingenuous reports (see: AHIP) that would once have permanently deformed debate.

TV has been nowhere in all of this, rather only providing ready forums for the bankrupt yammerings of the chronically aggravated, and their enablers, which, though entertaining to those watching, have all the effect of vapor rising from a wet driveway. I do believe the in-progress epic failure of the GOP (long predicted here) has a lot to do with its institutional and resolute focus on wining the day only on TV, the idea being that once-upon-a time that was all that was needed to drive events their way. Now, though, winning on TV is no more meaningful than winning Madden's NFL. Fun, I guess, but nothing like gaining yards for real.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

That's Rich

The Timesman today shows how he's still a drama critic:

Those Obama fans who are disappointed keep looking for explanations. Is he too impressed by the elite he met in Cambridge, too eager to split the difference between left and right, too willing to compromise? As he pursues legislation, why does he keep deferring to others — whether to his party’s Congressional leaders or the Congressional Budget Office or to this month’s acting president, Olympia Snowe? Why doesn’t he ever draw a line in the sand? “We know Obama has good values,” Jeff Madrick said to me last week, “but we don’t know if he has convictions.”

Matty Yglesias has been very good on the subject of why Obama defers to others in pursuing legislation (hint: those others are cranky and powerful senators and so, under our system of government, he has to.) And can we just walk back a year or two and recall a president who loved drawing lines in the sand, supported by a lock-step one-party legislative monopoly that loved railroading legislation, yea or nay? And, if you will recall, me liberal-hearties, it totally blew goats. It's a lousy way to govern and the nation is a mess for it.

Really, nothing gets me angrier at this point than people who wish Democrats were more like Republicans. There are fundamental reasons, reaching into early deforming psychological events and carried forward through life on waves of ego gratification, why this is not so, and to wish that, so to speak, a fireman acted more like a pyromaniac (both being in broadly the same line of work) because the pyro knows how to do his job with greater ease is the height of spoiled thumb-sucking. It shows an un-serious temperament.

Nothing would make me happier than urban half-way houses filled to capacity with white collar criminals made to clear city streets and wash buses and subway cars. I think the world would be a permanently better place if huge banks were regulated down to a 50th of their current size and most of their employees made to find gainful employment in agriculture, light manufacturing, teaching and public service. (I'm also crazy enough to think it might happen too.) But let's get real.

Notably absent from Mr. Rich's above cri de coeur is what strikes me as the real reason Wall St. has gotten a pass from the president: he had other, more important things to do, like healthcare reform (looking damn good this morning) and climate change legislation (which is surprisingly fit, all things considered.) Obama did the quickest, best fix possible under the circumstances. Recall he did not begin his campaigns with an eye towards fixing a collapsed economy, had to follow the first measures of his overwhelmed predecessor, and, in the main, did what nearly everyone, experts and congress-critters alike, agreed needed to be done, disagreeing only on degree. What we witnessed was issue triage, stabilize the patient and move on.

I think the president's statements this week, to the DNC convo in California and yesterday's warning to the insurance companies are the real deal. I do believe he is telling friend and foes, mainly his foes, that he's just warming up, and it sounds like he's in it for the long haul. Call me a dreamer, but once health care has been squared away and climate change given enough momentum, I fully expect a bracing revisit of certain Wall St. understandings and rules, probably just in time for next year's elections.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Summer of Shove

It was a bit over five years ago when Dick Cheney, on the floor of the Senate, regarded Sen. Pat Leahy, a persistent foe who'd come over to say hi, and directed him to go fuck himself. I mention this not to savor the people skills of a man who will be seeing more subpoenas than citizenship awards for the rest of his miserable life, but to note his subsequent reply to those who asked for him to apologize: Why should I? Dick wondered. In fact, "it felt good."

I bring this up as a retrospective landmark of a remarkable sea change (I'm a cement mixer of metaphors, baby.) For most of its storied history, the GOP, hammered in the forge of the Civil War, had been the party of sacrifice, of work, of self-denial as a beacon for self-sufficiency. Upright, stoic, abiding, you get the idea,

That this self-image always covered a garden variety of hypocritical human failings is, for the moment, besides the point. Republicans as a group identified with certain in-their-lights upright principles which were at philosophic odds with doing things just because "they felt good." That, after all, was Democratic territory.

I'm not sure just how the "If It Feels Good Do It" ethos crept into the party of Lincoln (I suspect a certain California governor, after presiding over our most hedonistic state for eight years, brought this new sense of fun to the midwest Main St. and Bible Belt crowd.) Be that as it may, the dam has collapsed and for the first time in their painfully proscribed lives right-wingers have a general absolution to let it all hang out. Is it any wonder that the modern stars of their ever-dwindling fortunes are a glamor-obsessed, status-seeking former cheerleader and a weepy boy-man with a storied history of substance abuse?

In early 1967, at the first Human Be In in San Francisco, Allen Ginsberg famously looked upon the assembled multitude of the amped-up and blissed-out and wondered to Lawrence Ferlinghetti: "What if we're wrong?"; always a good question to ask of any great undertaking which relies on certain tacit understandings.

I submit that the season past was the Right's long-delayed Summer of Love, and that it will turn out no better for them--in fact threatens to be several degrees worse--than the real one was for the assembled 60s dreamers. We can expect the same; goofy, solipsistic splinter groups and pathetic violent cells all working to reassemble something which was never quite intact in the first place, call it that City on a Hill.

I say degrees worse because the first "feel good" crowd, say what you will about it, acted out of optimism and possibility, the opposite conditions holding now. What's more, the Right's Summer of Shove was a purely political enterprise pretty disconnected from any avant ideas of art and living, that is: any alembics of order that might incubate a movement outside the scouring realm of politics.

That may sound silly, but from a political perspective Ginzy was absolutely correct, and what saved the "new left" as a force were its ideas about how people could live that existed entirely apart from winning elections: expanded boundaries of spirit- and sexuality, new notions of rural and urban order, classic civil rights and radical libertarian personal freedoms, which the GOP has been fruitlessly fighting tooth-and-nail ever since.

Let's not overlook demographics either. Those stoic Republicans are dying of old age by the thousands now every day, leaving behind a different set, raised in far more affluent and permissive, media-rich ways. The right-wing demonstrators have less to offer their times because they traffic in used goods, now animated by the potential for anger instead of the possibilities of love. In trying to look fresh, they end up looking silly to all but themselves. Also missing from the current GOP tough-lovefest is apparently anyone with enough status to guide events (which Ginsberg certainly was) who also has enough sense to wonder aloud if maybe they're wrong.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Daze Of Our Lies

Yr. Obt. Hubl. Svt. has been reading a lot lately and not inclined to write much, though the temptation has been marked to post some book reviews, or at least Amazon links.

A large part of my problem regarding regular posting is recognizing that successful blogging entails a great deal of repeating oneself. Some, like A. Sullivan, J.H. Kunstler, and M. Ygelesias (to name but three) do it exceptionally well (most of the time.) I however feel there are better things to do most days, no offense to you, my dear and valued readers.

But hey, I was surprised by the insurance industry's 11th-hour drop of the Price-Waterhouse study, both as a desperate political act (which spoke volumes of the IN.IND's disarray) and in the rather sharp response it gathered in mere hours (including a very sorry walkback by the study's chastened authors.) The first tells us that the insurers are now pretty sure they're screwed (at least in their understanding of what a relatively mild realignment of industry regulation means for them) AND that there's been a resultant fracturing of their camp into appeasers and hardliners. The P-W report was so out-of-nowhere, so contrary to earlier policy towards reform initiatives, and so utterly flawed as supporting evidence that one can only assume it was dropped by a desperate faction acting without intramural concord.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the panicked measures of the McCain campaign as it lurched to its foregone conclusion a year ago. So sure of getting their way for so long, the interests of money and power come unglued astonishingly easily when presented with nothing more challenging than a united, sure-footed opposition. That the president has largely vanished from the narrative of day-to-day details of the bill's progress only makes me admire him further.

The sharp and dismissive answer the report generated (to the, I think, very credible notion that it increased the chances of a public option) points not only to the climatic support for reform but to the relatively subtle and granular means by which policy can be hashed out in our new age of communication.

Okay, maybe I'll have more to say about this shortly.

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents

A guilty pleasure.