The US election gave us two lessons. First, when faced with a choice between two unremarkable nominees, many folks will select the one with most value to late-night gag writers. Second, media professionals can get it wrong. So terribly wrong.
The gulf between what the people want to consume and what rot they are provided was never so immense. Outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post offered coverage of Clinton so devout and uncritical, many readers lost both faith in the nominee and trust in establishment publications. Counterfeit “punks” like Breitbart were so ardent in their dismissal of the Secretary, they created nothing but an orgy of hate, shortly to be followed by a mass departure of readers, now, presumably, returned to their important work of teasing sad teens on YouTube.
Conventional media is in trouble. Outside of its sportscasts and various So You Think You Can Diet Like an A Capella Chef On Ice atrocities, network TV is tanking. Australians place greater trust in news that they aggregate independently than that delivered from a studio desk. Radio is largely for people who have forgotten to turn the thing off. Traditional print outlets who moved their mastheads online might be widely read, but there is no dependable revenue model to keep them in clickbait, and a diminishing public trust.
[T]he frequent claim that “every Australian has an opinion” or that the “nation is divided” seemed not to be borne out by my everyday conversations, and I talk a hell of a lot.
There are plenty of anxious essays written by persons, like myself, pissed off they spent decades learning how to craft stories that, now, no one believes, or will pay for. They say, “why don’t the people retain their once lucrative faith in our entirely predictable and unified approach to nearly everything?” and usually conclude it is because people are stupid and slaves to stupid machines. I would reproduce and answer these arguments if I were feeling more earnest and less irritated. But, here’s a three-word answer to all my fearful colleagues: Schapelle Effing Corby.
It is my ardent, but unverifiable, belief that not many people give a shit about Schapelle. Certainly, at one time, we were many seduced by those bushbaby eyes. I will say that the ganja enthusiasts of my acquaintance formed strong views on her conviction. But the frequent claim that “every Australian has an opinion” or that the “nation is divided” seemed not to be borne out by my everyday conversations, and I talk a hell of a lot.
This is not to say, of course, that we are without empathy for the incarcerated. It is, however, to say that our consumption of media has changed a good deal since the young woman’s arrest. Media companies might book their flights to coincide with the former prisoner’s, broadcast brazenly obsessed reports about “media obsession” or run stories daring us to pretend that we don’t care about Schapelle. None of this changes the fact that we may, in a particular moment, be more fixated on the latest snafu by the US Toddler in Chief or a dress of indeterminate hue.
I can’t truly comply with the injunction by a women’s publication to “stop pretending” I don’t care. Seriously, I’m not pretending.
By 2014, there were sure signs that the interest had begun to evaporate. When the Schapelle miniseries debuted on TV, it gained half the viewers of a competing INXS biopic, surely one of the nation’s least mesmerising bands. It’s true that the Corby family became part of the national furniture, and I, for one, will always be grateful for the reminder of my cultural heritage in the form of Mercedes, a lad’s mag vision in eighties-cut swimmers and accessories handmade by her sister in a Balinese prison. This was the true face, and thighs, of white working-class Australia.
The newly freed Corby may not be able to “profit from crime”, as print outlets constantly chide her. This knowledge appears as no barrier to them, however, as they profit from a conviction—or, at least, as they attempt to.
The feeling I am left with is not so much one of moral rage at hypocrisy etc., nor even one, particularly, of compassion for the convict. I mean, sure, it must be awful for her, but one has only so much concern, and as I am terribly worried about both Syria and the future singing career of Melissa Tkautz, I can’t truly comply with the injunction by a women’s publication to “stop pretending” I don’t care. Seriously, I’m not pretending.
It is our media providers who are pretending, or are possibly deluded. Despite all their strange business documents about “user engagement” or whatever, they have not lost their old media habit of telling us what we should care about, of withholding analysis and offering only thin opinion on everything from the colour of a mystery dress to the shortcomings of a presidential nominee.
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