[EAS]News as Theater

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Oct 31 18:05:00 EST 2001

Subject:   News as Theater

(from NewsScan Daily, 31 October 2001)

      Communications theorist Neil Postman says (in his 1988
collection of  essays called "Conscientious Objections") that the
goal of the evening TV  news is to "try to do what cannot
reasonably be done: give a decent account of the days events in
twenty-two minutes." He continues:
      "What the viewer gets instead is a series of impressions,
many of them purely visual, most of them unconnected to each other
or to any sense of a history unfolding. Taken together, they
suggest a world that is fundamentally ungovernable, where events
do not arise out of historical conditions but rather explode from
the heavens in a series of disasters that suggest a permanent
state of crisis. It is this crisis -- highly  visual, ahistorical,
and unsolvable -- which the evening news presents as theater every
      "The audience for this theater is offered a contradictory
pair of responses. On the one hand, it is reassured by the smooth
presentation of the news itself, especially the firm voice and
steady gaze of the trusty anchorman. Newscasts frequently end with
a 'human interest story,' often  with a sentimental or comic touch.
Example: a little girl in Chicago writes  Gorbachev a letter, and
he answers her, saying that he and President Reagan are trying to
work out their differences. But -- and now we come to the other
hand -- the rest of the broadcast has told a different story. It
has shown the audience a world that is out of control and
incomprehensible, full of violence, disaster, and suffering.
Whatever authority the anchorman may project through his steady
manner is undermined by the terror inspired by the news itself.
      "This is where television news is at its most radical -- not
in giving publicity to radical causes, but in producing the
impression of an ungovernable world. And it produces this
impression not because the people who work in television are
leftists or anarchists. The anarchy in television news is a direct
result of the commercial structure of broadcasting, which
introduces into news judgments a single-mindedness more powerful
than any ideology: the overwhelming need to keep people watching."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/067973421X/newsscancom/
for Neil  Postman's "Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble
About Language,  Technology and Education" -- or look for it in
your favorite library. (We  donate all revenue from our book
recommendations to adult literacy action  programs.)

Neil Postman's books, "Technopoly" perhaps foremost, are highly
recommended.  --PJK

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