The Fish
for 19 June 1998. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
Suck Staff
 

Joey Anuff
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[the fixin' pixie... ]
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and Vice President
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Senior Editor

 

[Ian Connelly]
Ian Connelly
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Carl Steadman
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Ana Marie Cox
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Executive Editor

 

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Owen Thomas
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Copy Editor

 


T. Jay Fowler

Production Manager

& Ass Kicker

 

[yes, it's a plunger. i'll l
eave the rest up to your imagination ... ]
Erin Coull
Production Manager

 

Matt Beer
Matt Beer
Development Manager

I Am the Cheese

Your 8 June piece raises many
of the same arguments,
delivered with the same
surprising level of
hostility, that I hear from
my friends when I make the
mistake of criticizing
something on television
(which I try to do only
during the news or a
commercial). Most Americans
don't take notes while
watching TV, but we do take
the medium pretty seriously.
It is a constant topic of
conversation among almost
everyone I know (people who
have what are considered
interests, jobs, and lives).
Yet the suggestion that a
network news piece is
possibly racist - or even
that a scene from some sitcom
really isn't that funny, or
that an ad isn't that cool -
can piss off these otherwise
reasonable folks. I just
don't get why we are so
defensive of our TV, as if it
were some divine pleasure
that will be taken away if we
don't thank God for it daily.

That said, media-ecology
people like Mark Miller often
miss what should be the only
point of serious media
criticism: What does TV mean
to the real world, if
anything? It doesn't really
matter whether comedies and
dramas are of any quality.
However, news and politics, I
think, mean real things to
real people (that is, people
who are not TV characters).
And television has changed
the way people think about
news and politics. Whether
things were better or worse
in the past doesn't matter at
all. As with any change, some
people win, some people lose,
but it's worth thinking about
who wins and who loses, and
why.

As for Starbucks and Borders,
does the ability to buy a
marginally tastier cup of
coffee justify the economic,
aesthetic, and historic toll
of having a Starbucks within
constant eyesight? Was it
that much more difficult to
find the book you were
looking for before Borders?
Does your city or town now
resemble every other city and
town in America? I'm not
certain; I'm just asking.

Dan Weisberg
<weisberg@us.ibm.com>

Condemning (or celebrating -
it may be the same thing) the
shady underpinnings of a TV
commercial or the racism of a
news story is pretty much
what Suck does on a regular
basis. It's what Mark Miller
used to do before he began
his new career as an
all-purpose blowhard. But The
Nation
article in question
doesn't contain a single
shred of content evidence. It
trots out the hackneyed point
that big companies own the
media and assumes that this
in and of itself is a
drop-dead argument.

And your rimshots against
Starbucks and Borders won't
get very far with me. I live
in San Francisco, which is
just like every other city
and town in the country, only
more so. But in Atlantic
City, New Jersey, where I
grew up, the bookstore
selection was utterly
atrocious until the chains
came into the area. We did
have the nonpareil Ireland
Coffees, but they stopped
manufacturing in the area
long before Starbucks arrived
(if Starbucks has in fact
arrived). And I know there
are large sections of the
country where the only coffee
available prior to Starbucks
was Folgers Instant. The
growth of chains may be worth
studying on an area-by-area
basis (and my anecdotally
educated guess is that in
many cases the chains have
actually helped local
independent retailers), but
I'm not such a fool as to sit
in a city and cry on cue when
big business brings a
slightly higher level of
quality to people in the
provinces.

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

I am puzzled by the "I Am the
Cheese" piece. You seem
recognize that TV is "a vast
wasteland," yet you seem
willing to die in the defense
of obsessive, mindless TV
watching. I watch little TV
myself. I think it is a
chimera of some sort of
electronic/intellectual/
cultural metaphor of
dysentery and some ephemeral
highly addicting drug.

I don't watch it, because 1)
it is largely crap, and 2) I
hate falling into the "I'll
just watch the next show and
then do something else (go to
sleep, get something to eat,
etc.)" [trap]. Yes, if I
watch some TV, I'll start
watching more TV, even when I
can see I'm just wasting my
time on a not very compelling
show. I detect a vaguely
similar undercurrent in "I Am
the Cheese," but with a far
more vigorous defense of the
"I'll just watch another
couple of hours" inertia.

So what's the deal,
Sucksters? TV or not TV?

Heinz Hemken
<zotz@franchiseloan.com>

Wow! You don't watch TV? You
must be, like, way smart or
something!

If, however, I gave the
impression that I'm willing
to die for TV, or for
anything else, I'd like to
correct that immediately. I
am unwilling to die for
anything other than
cigarettes.

Your reasons for not watching
TV sound suspiciously like
the "reality is just a crutch
for people who can't handle
drugs" temperance argument.
Can't watch TV in moderation?
Well, nyah, nyah, you're
missin' all the fun!

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 
I Am the Cheese

Dear Vicki:

Your valiant defense of
corporate-sponsored
entertainment was cute if a
bit misguided. Your entire
argument may be quickly laid
to rest by Mark Crispin
Miller's opening sentences in
that hated issue of The
Nation
: "Say out loud that
something's missing from the
culture of TV, and you will
surely hear some version of
the following: But look at
all those channels! It's a
naïve response, since it
mistakes mere quantity (so
many units there on sale!)
for true diversity of
stories, arguments,
approaches, voices."

I realize that the magazine's
"National Entertainment
State" issue may have lacked
the requisite irony (which
passes for intelligence here
in the Naughty '90s) to gain
Suck's approval, but news is
being disseminated by fewer
and fewer sources, even as
the number of outlets grows.
This is not a good thing for
anyone except the
corporations and governments
that wish to keep the status
quo of unquestioned, sedate
mass consumption.

Dave T.
<23skiddoo@thedoghousemail.com>

Miller's opening sentence -
to which my entire article
was a response - was not
backed up by anything other
than the writer's own
confidence that a clever turn
of phrase would convince an
audience of the converted
(having practiced this method
often, I know it when I see
it). While I'm still looking
for unquestioned, sedate mass
consumption, kneejerk
commentary seems to be
growing as luxuriantly as
ever.

As I recall, it was on CNN
that I learned that the
United States used chemical
weapons against its own
people
in Vietnam (a war
crime, which a few months ago
William Cohen was using as
one of the justifications for
a new war against Iraq). Are
we supposed to dismiss this
story because CNN is owned by
Time Warner? Should I ignore
ESPN's responsible
documentary on that holy
grail of corporate octopus
stories - conditions in
Southeast Asian sneaker
factories - because ESPN is
owned by Disney?

Feel free to respond with
your own catalog of Stories
the Cable Stations Won't
Touch. But I can't compare
television with the General
Accounting Office. I can only
compare it with television,
and anybody who thinks
television doesn't offer a
greater variety of subject
matter and opinion than it
ever has in the past needs to
switch to a new brand of
crack.

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Vicki,

You're an excellent writer
and I'm a computer programmer
whose Strunk and White is at
home. So I apologize for my
errors, grammatical and
otherwise. That being
said ...

I realize that Suck exists to
make fun of things, but to
paraphrase June Cleaver,
"Dear, I think you're being a
little hard on The Nation."
Do you really consider it
such a boon that you can find
all of the Mary Higgins Clark
novels at Barnes & Noble?
Why even bother with a
bookstore? Grocery stores
carry Mary Higgins Clark and
you can pick up a People to
see who the sexiest 50 people
alive are while you're at it.
Hey, it's just like being in
the The Truman Show, isn't
it? I couldn't get Beckett's
Endgame at Barnes & Noble
but by golly they had plenty
of Stephen King. That makes
me a cultural elite, wanting
to find real literature at a
bookstore instead of
adolescent tripe?

I guess what really bothers
me is the head-up-the-ass
free marketeer philosophy
that everything will be OK
if we just let huge
corporations take care of
things for us. Just because
corporate profits are at such
sickening levels that a few
tiny crumbs have managed to
fall the way of liberal arts
majors doesn't mean it's time
to break out the rose-colored
glasses and spend a few years
watching old movies on cable
(which has become so
cross-cultural that you saw
NASCAR and an American movie
and Pat Robertson? Wow).
That money's coming out of
the middle class, my dear
(the parts of it not in the
form of natural resources gbr>that they siphon out of the
third-world poor without so
much as a thank you) and note
that American debt is higher
than at any other time in the
history of the US. How are
your credit card balances? My
parents owned a house at 23,
whereas I'm still paying off
my education at 28.

Call me Chicken Little for
thinking that it's not in a
corporate parent's best
interest (or better yet, it
won't increase their bottom
line) for news shows to
report certain things or,
hell, let's face it - books
to encourage certain ways of
thought. In fact, mightn't it
be in their best interest to
make the public complacent
and ignorant? Dumb people
still need cable and Mary
Higgins Clark and Starbucks,
but they'll be just fine
without access to original
thought. Goodness, they might
even hurt themselves with it!

Ta,

Nate Bamford
<nbamford@qmsoft.com>

Not that it's any of your
GDB, Nate, but I pay my
credit card balance in full
every month, a fact I trumpet
shamelessly to people who
blame Viacom for their own
inability to pay back their
student loans.

I also don't think it's very
gallant of you to insult poor
Mary Higgins Clark, who I'm
sure is a very nice lady in
addition to being a
bestselling author. My point
was that mom-and-pop
bookstores can barely stock
her collected works or much
of anything else
.

If you click here you can get
a copy of Endgame and Act Without
Words
at a savings of
US$1.79, but here's a tip -
get it from your local public
library and you'll have more
money to pay that credit card
debt.

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

Vicki:

"As we thump the remote
control in search of new ways
to amuse ourselves to
death ..."

Nice! When you started out
with a reference to a "New
York University media kvetch
meister," I thought: "Who
could that be but Neil
Postman?"

Your answer: Mark Crispin
Miller - someone I have never
heard of before now. (He has
kind of a cool name, though -
"Crispin," M. C. M., etc.)

So I'm hoping that the "amuse
ourselves to death" line near
the end of your article was a
sort-of-subtle kudo to the
real New York University
(CUNY?) media kvetch meister,
Neil Postman, instead of this
phoney Miller guy.

Tom Laramee
<toml@starwave.com>

Mark Crispin Miller wrote a
good book called Boxed In
about 10 years back (on
whose fetid leavings The
Baffler
crowd has been dining
ever since); but lately he's
taken to the sort of
big-picture maundering of
which that Nation article was
a particularly sad specimen.
Good for his career, I
suppose, but if we're serious
about overthrowing the
captains of consciousness
(and I'm not saying we
shouldn't be), thumbsucker
articles in the usual outlets
ain't the way to do it.

You're right, though. Neil
Postman is the O. G. of Kill
Your TV, and these new guys
have no more claim to being
NYU's official TV Curmudgeon
than I have to being Lord of
the Dance.

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

What do you think of Neil
Postman's book, dear? I'm
dying to know.

AM
<murphy_a@cc.denison.edu>

Is that the one where he
talks about the
Lincoln-Douglass debates?
There's one book where
Postman cites the
Lincoln-Douglass debates -
which went on for hours and
contained much substantive
discussion - as an example of
the kind of serious dialog
that our debased age can't
perform. Like many of
Postman's observations, it
could stand for a little
perspective - i.e., the
reason the debates were
substantive was that the
country had not yet decided
whether or not slavery was a
bad thing.

All in all, I'll take life in
1998.

Vicki

 
Fish With Letter Icon
 

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