Approximately three months ago, I stopped watching US news due to their never-ending focus on everything Trump but nothing else. We no longer have news, but a stream of talking heads is interviewing other streams of talking heads about Trump tweets and insults of the media that other talking heads are analyzing. Trump is running a reality show in the White House, and the media are active participants in the product placement. The news is 24/7 Trump’s product placement. Trump’s White House show is winning the daily rating with every anchor, news outlet and entertainment program preoccupied with the invented drama.
Television and social media companies are having a field day and running all the way to the bank laughing and don’t get their manufactured anger too seriously. Trump was a boon to the media industry in 2016, and brought audiences in the millions to TV screens, smartphones and pads with a little cost and high return product. Trump, his presidential campaign and the assembled staff, were the product, a non-stop reality show constructed around fear, and carried out on all media outlets free of cost. In the Trump reality show, the notion of truth, facts, decency, and proper conduct are frowned upon and have no place in driving the ratings. Trump’s show offered only real and cured for generations red-meat full of white nationalism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, and anti-Black rhetoric.
The daily tweet barrage by Trump is the morning whistle used to assemble media talking heads and unleash them to talk and scream at each other and anyone that disagrees with their interpretations of it. Policy utilizing daily twitter distraction is Trump’s strategy and as he expects all the media eats directly from his hands including those who supposedly are on the opposite end.
We are living the total fulfillment of Neal Postman’s thesis in “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” whereby the medium, the TV and internet, affects the message, or the medium is the metaphor of the contemporary age. Trump’s social media and media persona is the medium that is shaping and directing daily discourse into a steady stream, a reality show revolving around one person and one person only. The current period closely reflect and possibly goes further than what Postman wrote back in 1985: ”When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
“Culture-death” is how best to describe the current period, the dominance of social media and the emergence of reality stars, who peddle themselves as mere commodities that are locked in a perpetual cycle of seeking likes and shares, from fictitious algorithmically produced friends. The notion of a “culture-death” is very harsh but does aptly describe the total collapse of public discourse in the US and across other parts of the world. While the impact of media and the “culture-death” predates Trump, nevertheless, he more than any single person embodies the totality of what Postman meant by it. Moreover, the easiness by which Trump was able to capture the media and social media space illustrates the veracity of Postman’s framing.
The news, like show business, is driven by personalities, images, ratings and connected to product placement and commercial interests. Critically, the massive footprint of private and corporate media have made it impossible to have a sustained, serious, deep and rational public conversation on any topic let alone a debate on militarism, wars, obscene materialism, and racism. The medium has been reduced to communicating through images and 140 or more character, which so far has caused a shift away from the ”Age of Exposition” and into the ”Age of Show Business” whereby the camera positioning, the fashion, the hair, and facial makeup are more important than the content. “Communicating” in small 15 seconds bites and smartly coming up with a 140-character tweet, a tagline or develop an image oriented hashtag are the main concerns in the news show business.
Neal Postman rightly observed that the TV medium produces shallow conversations and does not provide depth: ”When a television show is in the process, it is very nearly impermissible to say, ‘Let me think about that’ or ‘I do not know’ or ‘What do you mean when you say . . .?’ or ‘From what sources does your information come?’ This type of discourse not only slows down the tempo of the show but creates the impression of uncertainty or lack of finish. It tends to reveal people in the act of thinking, which is as disconcerting and boring on television as it is on a Las Vegas stage.”
The social media medium has made everything instantaneous, and the news division is no longer engaged in investigative journalism or providing depth to the coverage. Just quote Trump’s tweet or passing statements to the press in the morning then requote and post is all that is needed to fill long hours while using commentators to express an opinion about it. Opinion is not news and does not make for an informed citizenry which becomes destructive when it is driven by the logic of a social media algorithm that is disconnected from the reality of life itself. Trump understands and deploys the power of social media like no one else and has been able to utilize it to set the agenda of all news outlets without exception. What we have today in the US is one single show, the Trump reality show, and everything revolve around it with no exception. Watching the news translates into more success for brand Trump and all the media companies are cashing-in for the low budget and high return production, which is the reason that I no longer watch it.