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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

tabloid sensiblities « Previous | |Next »
April 26, 2009

Toby Mundy in The republic of entertainment at Prospect draws a distinction between two distinct sensibilities have been competing for authority and attention in Britain and other liberal democracies the enlightenment state, and the republic of entertainment. He says:

The former reigns in the quality press, the civil service, the judiciary, science, medicine and, to some extent, the church and the military. The latter is most commonly embodied by the mainstream media, but is increasingly apparent in politics and other spheres.In the enlightenment state, reason triumphs over emotion, experts matter, elected politicians are legitimate, facts are the enemy of cynicism, means are often as important as ends, and the innocent remain so until convicted. In the republic, feelings take precedence, experts are treated with caution (if not contempt), politicians are in-it-for-themselves, cynicism is sophisticated; ends justify means, and people are generally guilty until proved innocent.

He adds that for the last two decades, it is the republican attitudes that have been on the rise, dominating the mainstream and edging into the sensibilities of previously immune institutions in politics, medicine, and the law. It is in the media that this tension is most visible, for it is here that the fight for market share has triggered the import of tropes from tabloids and soap operas into the mainstream—ones that support the narrative element of news, but that also make it more like entertainment.

The narrative is that the increasing absorption of republican values has done the media little good in that independent truth tellers, who believe that facts are more important than feelings, have for two decades been on the run. So the stories are more concerned the weirder, more idiosyncratic aspects of human existence at the expense of serious but more abstract issues like the environment.

High speed broadband will shake this dynamic up since organisations in the world of the arts, media, education, museums and so on, who can now create and distribute their own content. They have the money, expertise and high speed broadband is the spectrum. Peter Bazalgette gives some examples:

Tate Media is part of the Tate Gallery. It is run by techno-visionary Will Gompertz, a man who combines the long hair and casual dress of the art world with military directness. Gompertz acknowledges that the Tate's remit is "to increase people's knowledge and understanding of art." But might it be possible to do that without going to a building? Of course. With funding from BP, Bloomberg, the Arts Council of England and Channel 4, Tate Media now commissions and distributes its own content, just as if it were a small television station or website. They produce documentaries, like one about the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles (later picked up by ITV's South Bank Show, though it would never have commissioned such a rarefied piece itself).

The Tate Gallery isn't just a museum, it's a content business, with art as its theme."Tate Media produces monthly videos which it distributes on its own website, but also through other galleries, on YouTube and BBC iPlayer. And because the Tate owns the rights, this stuff is free and we the public, have access to it.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:33 PM | | Comments (3)


Mundy says

"Back in media-land, the oddity is that the enlightenment crowd both scorn the republic and see it is as their saviour. Looking to save themselves from crumbling business models and the recession, the enlightened see tabloid sensibilities as a route to safety. In doing so, the media have gained an audience and lost trust in equal measure."

So true. Media's obsession with balance has meant offering both ends of extreme views, but they would have been much better off seeking balance between the popular and the dull.

It's been a very expensive mistake.

If Fairfax (ie., The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald) stand for an example of Mundy's enlightenment crowd in Australia, them they have gone tabloid (infotainment) to save themselves.

Have they gained an audience in doing so?

Sensationalism and titillation will always get you an audience, but it erodes authority and legitimacy you might need later. Say, when your business model is failing and you're looking for large numbers who would mourn your loss.