Blame the Media for Trump? I Don’t Think So.

I normally love Matt Taibbi, but in his latest Rolling Stone article The Media Is the Villain — for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump he totally misdiagnoses the problem with the media and Trump. To summarize, he thinks that over the years the media has created a monster with Trump. He also contends that the media has been dumbing down Americans and taking advantage of their baser instincts to sell ads. According to him this has culminated in Trump:

Donald Trump didn’t just take advantage of these conditions. He was created in part by them. What’s left of Trump’s mind is like a parody of the average American media consumer: credulous, self-centered, manic, sex-obsessed, unfocused, and glued to stories that appeal to his sense of outrage and victimhood. — Matt Taibbi

As I explained in my previous article, I do not believe we are in a top down system where the MSM dumbs down the masses. Rather, we are in a bottom up system where the masses drive the media. We just happen to be living in a period of decline and these are the symptoms.

Some of what is going on was described accurately by Guy Debord in the Society of the Spectacle. The Wikipedia article does a nice job of summarizing the book:

The spectacle is the inverted image of society in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”. “The spectacle is not a collection of images,” Debord writes, “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”

When you read that quote, does it not sound like he is describing memes? Pretty good for something originally written in 1967. If you have never read the book it is worth checking out. It is written punchy paragraphs as if written for a modern audience used to digesting information in sweet little chunks. One warning: Debord was a Marxist, so about three quarters of the book is steeped in those theories which makes it a little difficult for the modern reader. Especially if you are a Libertarian-leaning person such as myself. None the less, there are some gems in there.

The modern MSM can be seen as a spectacle factory. Debord thought that the spectacle was a result of “the economy developing for itself… the true reflection of the production of things, and the false objectification of the producers”. He undoubtedly thought it was a result of Capitalism. I don’t agree with him, but it is useful to think of it as a systemic problem rather than something that is engineered. What I think has happened is somewhere along the way, we as a culture lost some of the mental protections we had. Also, we haven’t developed new ones yet. I think somehow this is tied to a deep materialism. This is coming from an atheist. I will explore these themes further in future articles.

Really, my beef with Taibbi’s article is that he makes the same assumptions that the politicians do, namely that the MSM is a top down hierarchal system telling the masses what to think. I think they simply follow fads and are driven by advertising. By the way I have no problem with advertising-driven media; I think the audience is the problem.

What really worries me is that Matt Taibbi has, in essence, reached the same conclusion that Donald Trump has, which is that the MSM is the problem. We have a blind spot in that we cannot admit that the problem may be us. Why do we have such a problem admitting this? One because we have a bias toward blaming individuals and groups. The other is that if we admit we as a culture have this problem, then what do we do about it? I have an idea. As mentioned earlier, I think we need to develop “mental armor” which can hopefully spread. I am convinced that some of this can be found in the roots of Western Civilization. We will also have to develop new ideas. These are the kinds of speculations I hope to foster at DebateHub. Come join us.