Thursday, September 7, 2006

Fake Class

This semester, I enrolled for a class at the New School called "Fake News," Politics, and Popular Culture, and our first class was yesterday. Ah, the good old days of higher ed: the seminars, the enthusiastic professors, the token classmate who's about fifty years older than everyone else in the room, the three or four students who won't shut the hell up for ten seconds. But this time, I'm going the non-credit route, and I have to say that it's an absolutely awesome feeling when the professor hands out syllabi and is going on and on about grading procedures, papers, and the group project, and you're just chilling, thinking, "Hey, fuck this! ...Yeah, I'll do that reading, IF I FEEL LIKE IT, BITCH!"

I'll do the reading, though. The text for our class is The Daily Show, so now when someone tells me they're taking some class where they "get to" (instead of "have to") read Harry Potter, I can be all like, "Looks like I beat you. And what are you, eleven? You also get to read Judy Blume and maybe Dr. Seuss for that class?"

But this far — one hour and fifty minutes into the class — it seems relatively interesting. The professor's thesis, that which the credit students get to regurgitate in their papers (ha, ha!), is that the recent popularity of satirical news programs reflects Americans' fracturing relationship with the genuine thing. With the rise of the 24-hour news networks, and especially in the past decade or so, the network news has turned from the font of information one needed to make better decisions as a citizen into a hodgepodge of infotainment, debates grounded in dogma rather than reality, every crackpot who has an insane theory about Jon-Benet Ramsey, and Katie Couric's cooking segments and baby photos. The effectiveness of our journalists — and therefore our means of knowing what the government that represents us is doing or not doing in our name — has been so squelched by the national hegemony and the lines between propaganda and journalism have become so blurred that some alert citizens have turned to alternative sources for their information.

Enter the blogosphere, Stewart and Colbert, and stuff like The Onion or NPR's "Wait, Wait -- Don't Tell Me!" They're pseduo-journalists and pseudo-informative on the face of it, but the fact that they're already marginalized gives them the freedom to ask the questions Matt Lauer won't touch, like this gem from Colbert. The mainstream media, folks like Brian Williams, who refuses to call bullshit on Bush reading Camus and Shakespeare, superficially embrace the "fake" news but, behind the scenes, are seeing a serious threat to their turf, and to their business. We have columnists, like Richard Morin of the Washington Post, who charge, "Jon Stewart: Enemy of Democracy?" and complain that The Daily Show nurtures the same sort of political apathy that, ironically, fuels journalistic mediocrity. I'm glad that there's at least someone out in the news world who cared more about finding the weapons of mass destruction than a picture of Suri Cruise, and maybe if there were a bigger movement in that direction within the media, we wouldn't be fighting in Iraq.