No media criticism, please, we're cultured

The public's exasperation with media coverage in the media keeps growing. Now it's the press itself that's complaining.


I've been reading about the media with increasing frustration. But my frustration isn't with my reading habits. It's with the press. Every week, I open up Entertainment Weekly with about as much enthusiasm as the average Salmon reader might open a Web browser. Entertainment news and reviews fill me with a nauseating sense of déjà vu: another "gangsta rapper" murder, another movie glorifying a sex-obsessed media mogul. This media thing has really gotten out of hand.

I'm tired of media news and criticism. I can't keep track of it all and, even worse, I don't really want to. Oh, sure, I've forced myself to read more than a few of the articles on Private Parts, or whatever it's called, and I have rudimentary understanding of some of the high points of the East vs. West Coast rap feud. Tupac got whacked. Suge Knight went to the big house. Notorious B.I.G. died. Large amounts of money changed hands and somehow a person named Snoop Doggy Dog got onto the front page of The Wall Street Journal. But I couldn't explain the details of any of this to a curious Martian if he held a ray gun to my head and a rectal probe to my ass.

In this I'm not alone. Indeed, most Americans, it seems, couldn't care less if the entire Death Row Records roster started kicking out beats with the celestial choir. About the media in general, however, there seems to be a little more interest. At least on the part of the entertainment press, who have begun to speak of their self-absorption with a certain pride.

Some have gone even further. In a Suck screed that sounded all too much like snottiness on autopilot, Ann O'Tate declared with a sniffle of contempt that "if as a society we've become increasingly cynical, it's only because we've built up an immunity to infotoxicity. To continue walking over hot media coals, you have to develop psychic callouses."

Media critics suggest they speak for the people, but theirs is a curious populism indeed: Instead of railing against the media, they rail against those who read the media. You can't have it both ways.

Still, it's easy enough to understand their frustration. And it's rather difficult to imagine how any responsible media could consider complaining about the media new ... or even news.

"If food is not handy," psychoanalytic writer Calvin S. Hall has noted, "a hungry baby may place a wooden block or its own hand in its mouth."

Just so: If real analysis seems unlikely, we take out our anger on the institution that insists on reminding us, again and again, of our relative lack of critical acumen. We all know that media critics are cynical, out of touch with real Americans, susceptible to the blandishments of money and power. But we know we can't change them. So we accuse the press of being ... cynical, out of touch with real Americans, susceptible to the blandishments of money and power. Which isn't altogether irrational - but the press isn't quite as central to the problem as we'd like to think.

Eventually, babies realize that gnawing at blocks won't stop the gnawing in the pit of their stomachs, and they cry out for strained beets or some other facsimile of real food. We can only hope that Americans will realize that media criticism is a poor excuse for real thought.