On the DVD of Žižek! the 2005 documentary about the Slovenian philosopher, there’s a great clip of his appearance on NiteBeat, an American news program. Žižek, who’s apparently in the midst of a misbegotten book tour, gamely tries to make Lacanian theory accessible while Barry Nolan, the proudly clueless host, makes him into a hilarious side-show—look at this funny guy with the accent! He’s all intellectual! He thinks about stuff—how amusing! Nolan actually calls him “Denis Leary but from Slovenia.” The wrap up makes it obvious that he has had Žižek on the show not because of his ideas but because the show wants to bill itself as the kind of show that has people like Žižek on it.
Anyway, Nolan seems like a genius of sympathetic listening compared with the tools on CNBC in this scarily similar clip (via Talking Points Memo), in which it takes five patronizing talking heads to willfully ignore and fail to understand guests Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb, whom the producers can’t resist belittling with nicknames. (Paul Krugman compared it to a classic Monty Python sketch in which Marx, Mao and Lenin are asked questions about soccer.) The entire clip makes it clear that CNBC, and by extension, its audience, wants nothing more than to trivialize analysis of the banking system’s larger problems while taking credit for being hip to the fad the network believes that Roubini and Taleb represent. It’s truly pathetic. Obviously, the in-studio interviewers think that recessions are caused by bad luck or something and just automatically right themselves without any intervention at all; thus the prudent thing to do is to get the right guru to tell you what indicators to look for to time one’s jump back into the markets. Roubini and Taleb are mostly silent, sitting helplessly while the hosts yammer on nonsensically like House Republicans during the stimulus debate. This is what has become of the discourse of the public sphere; many—including people who follow the financial world professionally—watch this sort of drivel and consider themselves informed, or cynically accept it as what the other viewers want to hear, as a barometer of what conventional wisdom is. This idiocy then guides policy. It make obvious the social catastrophe that ensues when commercially viable discourse becomes the only discourse we hear.