Thursday, August 30, 2012

Reading and Battlestar Galactica

"If only Barrack Obama's enemies had known what a scandal generator the Nobel Peace Prize would be, they'd have been hankering for him to win it last year."
Lisa Van Dusen, Calgary Sun Washington Bureau, October 14, 2009

Lately I've been reading about the recent terribly uncivil state of public discourse. Maybe the pendulum has really swung... or maybe this is permanent. Now crazy things are being believed, people prefer to indulge in hatred not research, and all this while the electronic media—or at least the taking heads—seem willing to sunder journalism from ethics. Why?

Why now? Many people are discussing this state of affairs on the essay-review website of Chicago Tribune movie critic Roger Ebert. One fellow proposed that this recent decline in common sense comes from broadcasters going digital (more channels) and going to 24 hours. (more time to fill)

I think part of the problem is fewer people are reading, in general, and fewer are reading newspapers. Hence they don't realize that journalistic ethics have always been compromised in the electronic media. I think regarding journalism the public, like any boardroom of business managers, needs to first know what is Right before they are constrained to compromise.

During a discussion on "journalism" a friend made reference to the Fox TV news. I didn't have the heart to tell him "Fox isn't real," that I didn't know of any city daily that was a Fox-style newspaper. It's too bad. If you don't read, then you don't have the same expectations for "real journalism." You won't even have the term "infotainment" in your vocabulary. This I know because the word was new when I said it to my night school class of older university students in their final semester. It's too bad: in their university education they had missed out on grasping everyday media.

... Fox News executive Michael Clemente said, "The average news consumer can certainly distinguish between the A-section of the newspaper and the editorial page, which is what our programming represents."
Only it's not called Fox Opinion, it's all called Fox News.
Lisa Van Dusen, October 15, 2009

While the public assumes that university people are smart, well, I've heard of graduates who don't read books or newspapers.

Reading has enhanced my understanding of everyday democracy partly because reading has enhanced my vocabulary. My favorite essayist, George Orwell, once wrote how the the word "tumbril" has taken on a sinister tone since Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." (Incidentally in one of the Star Trek movies Admiral Kirk receives as a gift A Tale of Two Cities.) I don't know whether a nonreader would know that word, but it makes a great line in the final season of Battlestar Galactica. A distinguished lady is politically imprisoned, awaiting her imminent death. They send only one drab person to lead her away. The lady says with contempt, "You should have sent a tumbril." Perfect!

Another word of the final season, which I looked up, is "harbinger." The word comes from old English and German. It means someone who goes ahead to find, and then announce, a safe harbor or fortified base, hence the related term herald. The colonists face a dilemma: Is a certain undead character a harbinger of Earth, or, as an oracle proclaims, "a harbinger of death?" The choice to use that word on the show was just so right.

Sean Crawford

~Also see my essay Readers Enjoy Battlestar Galactica of August 2011
~Regarding cyberspace, my constructive criticism is in Polite Blogs, April 2010
~I first explored uncivil discourse back in April 2010 in Decent Democracy.
~in case you go there, and read the footnote, be advised I analyzed uncivil professors in a subsequent essay during that same April month.

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