Machines for forgetting

by Rob Horning

8 September 2005

 

At TPMCafe, a French tourist posted an account of his week in New Orleans after the hurricane hit and the levees broke. In the midst of it, he expressed hope that the coverage of the event might change the way Americans think about the need for a social safety net, but then added, “I’m afraid that the medias, especially in this country,are also a very efficient machine to make people forget.” This seems like the fundamental problem with the media, and why it can’t ever serve as a means to prioritize a culture’s ethical commitments. For all the huffing and puffing about journalists’ responsiblity to their audiences, the media’s fundamental reason for existing is not to pay appropriate attention to things, to communicate a sense of what deserves what amount of public attention, but to perpetuate its own production schedule, which means producing news and stories according to a prearranged calendar. That is the only ethos it can communicate, that it is important to keep moving, to keep producing, that one should never pause for too much reflection. Hence, Bush’s bullshit talking points about not wasting time to look back and assign blame work so effectively; they correspond with the press’s own mandate. Overwhelmed with the new and trained to appreciate “originality” as inherently impressive we have many incentives to forget what just happened in pursuit of our constitutional right to happiness.

In my minuscule way, by writing daily in this blog, I do my part to reinforce the notion that new content trumps all other concerns, that nothing is worth lingering over for longer than a day and that the only messages that bear repeating are ones that can be repackaged as something fresh and new. As more people create their own blogs, perhaps more people will internalize this compulsion even more deeply, and novelty will become further entrenched as the only value anyone gives a damn about.

 

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