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JB: It’s an interesting question. I like the poetic justice of the idea that it is their own reductivism about cultural institutions which has ultimately brought down their position as a cultural institution. But it’s pretty hard to imagine, today, any “mainstream newspaper” that wasn’t a full partaker in the media madness of our times. As I mention in the book, the New York Times devoted as much coverage to the death of Anna Nicole Smith as People or the National Enquirer. In any case, if a newspaper tried to stand aloof from the madness, it wouldn’t be a mainstream newspaper anymore.
TAS: Why does the media seek to endlessly uncover blame in public service even while fetishizing celebrity culture?
JB: They are two sides of the same coin, two aspects of the same process, which is the moralization of politics. First, you take as many as you can of genuinely political differences — that is, those which men of honor will disagree about — and you convert them to moral matters. Oops! There is no legitimate difference after all. There’s a right and a wrong, and you know which side you’d better be on if you want to win the approval of the moralizers, who are the leading lights of the media and celebrity culture. They have already had great success in moralizing Global Warming and other environmental issues and, at least within the penumbra of the media culture itself which is casting its shade ever wider over the political spectrum, there are many more issues including the war on terror and the war in Iraq, government-run health care, government bailouts of the improvident and a few other matters, where debate is essentially closed.
The celebrity part of the equation comes into it because there is a huge celebrity demand for supposedly non-controversial moral issues that they can campaign about and so give themselves a pseudo-heroic gravitas. The symbiosis with the media comes because they can then cover the celebrities’ political campaigns — like Al Gore’s Live Earth extravaganza last summer — in order to sell more papers and advertising time, so that increases the incentive for them to moralize what is inherently political and therefore not moral. Celebrities, of course, love this, because it allows them to pose as crusaders against the forces of darkness — which is what leads Madonna in her latest concert tour to associate John McCain with Hitler and Robert Mugabe. Once, people who depend on other people’s paying money to come to see them would have been more chary about such things, but now they seem to be able to count on the public’s giving them a pass. Oh, that’s just what rock stars do. Having those sorts of infantile political views goes with the job-description.
TAS: Is there any particular topic you plan to turn your critical eye on next?
JB: Just as Media Madness follows on from Honor, A History so, I think, the next book will follow on from it. I want to take off from the last chapter on moralizing politics and look into the utopian assumptions in our popular culture that make it possible. No one has yet pointed out, I think, the extent to which — for example — we base our discussions of foreign and defense policy on essentially pacifist assumptions, or our economic decision-making on the assumption that it is the government’s function to make sure that everyone is happy. But this kind of assuming extends far beyond the political culture to affect our outlook on health and safety — because no one should ever die — or sex — because (in the words of an impotence clinic that advertises on the radio) “everyone has a right to a healthy sex life” — or popular entertainment — which is increasingly dominated by utopian fantasies of one sort or another. As usual, everything comes back to honor: once the honor culture has decayed, something has to take its place, and we find that this is both the media-celebrity complex and a utopian politics and foreign policy.
TAS: You end the book: “We must simply hope that, happy in our media niches, we won’t find that we have taken our media madness with us.” You’re a regular in the niche media world. How hopeful are you?
JB: Not very. I’m particularly disappointed that the relative anonymity of the blogosphere seems to have produced a level of incivility and hyperbole and vitriol that even the media would be ashamed of.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?