Confused by Entertainment Masquerading as News


Ezra Klein explains

Oral cultures teach us to be conversational, typographic cultures teach us to be logical, televised cultures teach us that everything is entertainment. So what is social media culture teaching us?

Noting that George Orwell feared a dystopia of information deprivation, while Aldous Huxley feared a dystopia of information overload, Ezra elucidates:

Since Trump was elected, the bookshelves and op-ed pages have been alive with fears of Orwellian fascism — fears that, for the most part, remain far from manifesting. But even as Orwell’s dystopia has failed to materialize, Huxley’s dystopia has: We are buried under ignorance disguised as information, confused by entertainment masquerading as news, distracted by a dizzying procession of lies and outrages and ginned-up controversies, inured to misbehavior and corruption that would’ve consumed past administrations. We have lost control of our attention, if not of our government. …

The chaotic swirl of information, anger, conflict, identity, performance, and trivia that characterizes Trump’s governance also characterizes the mediums that created him. For all the talk of normalizing Trump, it was our normalization of the platforms he thrived on — reality television, cable news, and Twitter — that made Trump possible. Could Trump have won the Republican primary and the presidency in the days before he could call into cable news shows at will, get his rallies carried live on television, drive media coverage from the comfort of his Twitter account? Could he have won if we hadn’t come to see our politicians as entertainers, to believe conflict the true story of governance, to connect the quantity of media coverage with the quality of candidates? I doubt it. …

We have been, to our credit, alert to the dangers of Orwellian tyranny. We have been much less vigilant against the threat of Huxleyan distraction. Trump manages the government clumsily, but he controls public attention masterfully. He is showing, daily, how the truth can be drowned under a sea of irrelevance, how easily the defense of the indefensible can go down if it is cast as entertainment.

The politicians who follow him will learn his lessons. Will the rest of us?