Oprah, Hollywood and the Great Stereopticon
I watched Oprah’s speech last night. A quote, said while talking about the press, struck me. She said,
We also know it is the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice.
First, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Oprah believes there is such a thing as “absolute truth.” (Well, maybe. She spoke later of “speaking your truth.” So who knows. Us old-fashioned folks talk of speaking the truth, not our truth).
Second, if her high rhetoric is truly intended to be about the press, she’s in la-la land. No one — either past or present, dead or alive — of even the slightest wisdom or discernment, would make such a sweeping statement. Most have said the opposite.
For example, upon visiting America in 1888, the British poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold decried our press. He said:
If one were searching for the best means to efface and kill in a whole nation the discipline of self-respect, the feeling for what is elevated, he could do no better than take the American newspapers.
Thomas Jefferson famously observed toward the end of his presidency:
I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens who, reading newspapers, live and die in the belief that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time.
The ‘Great Stereopticon’
Oprah, and many with her, have forgotten that we have a free press for many reasons. The fact that the world would be far worse without one is not the least of these reasons.
It seems the supposed Leftist distaste for corporations has a double exception: for the “press,” but only the “press” they like!
But they forget the corollary fact. While a world without a free press is terrifying, the world with one has terrors of its own. Terrors caused by false reporting. The malicious spreading of lies and smut. The dumbing down of the populace. The ubiquitous “tyranny of the moment” that thoughtful people on all sides have bemoaned. The constant drone of headlines and hysteria, most of which turns out to be false once sobriety regains the upper hand. And perhaps most pernicious of all, identifying massive corporate interests as the “enlighteners” of society. Many of which tend to have very cozy relationships with those in power. (Except perhaps now?) And whose purpose is not enlightenment, but profit. Somehow they’re sentinels who aren’t really there for themselves, but “for us.” It seems the supposed Leftist distaste for corporations has a double exception: for the “press,” but only the “press” they like!
In 1949, long before the cacophonous drone of 24/7 media, Richard Weaver spoke about the then-nascent “Stereopticon” (the press, movies and TV/radio industries). He said:
It cannot be said too emphatically that the operators of the Great Stereopticon have an interest in keeping people from breaking through to deeper significances. Not only is the philosopher a notoriously poor consumer; he is also an unsettling influence on societies careless of justice. That there are abysses of meaning beneath his daily routine, the common man occasionally suspects; to have him realize them in some apocalyptic revelation might well threaten the foundations of materialist civilization.
An Out-of-Touch Institution
This is the great lie about much of “the press.” This media-industrial complex that identifies itself as a constituent element of the Constitution. It isn’t. And it never was.
A “press” was merely a tool for transmitting ideas. The Constitution guaranteed that the government could not control or bar anyone from using such a tool to express ideas. It had absolutely zero relationship to the vast institutionalized “press” we have today.
On this subject (I refrain from discussing others), Oprah is in la-la land. She’s preaching to her extremely rich audience — her fellow multi-millionaire and billionaire friends, dressed in gowns that cost more than most will make in a lifetime, eating food most will never be able to enjoy, and living lives that have absolutely zero connection to that of most people. And yet somehow they think it is they — and their friends of the Great Stereopticon, who presume to enlighten the rest of us (and make the big bucks doing so) — who are the persecuted ones.
Pass me the vomit bag.