Daily Archives: July 13, 2011

Frye on Mass Media: “If people did not resent this they would not be human”

Prime Minister David Cameron says Murdoch’s withdrawal of a bid for BSkyB is “the right decision for the country”

The wave of anger that threatens to swamp the cynical commercial interests of News Corp. — and Rupert Murdoch more specifically — is presciently characterized in Frye’s essay, “Communications,” published in 1970:

All the mass media have a close connection with the centres of social authority, and reflect their anxieties. . . [I]n the United States they reflect the anxiety of the economic Establishment to keep production running. . . [Such] communication is a one-way street. Wherever we turn, there is that same implacable voice, unctuous, caressing, inhumanly complacent, selling us food, cars, political leaders, culture, contemporary issues, and remedies against the migraine we get from listening to it. It is not just the voice we hear that haunts us, but the voice that goes on echoing in our minds, forming habits of speech, our processes of thought.

If people did not resent this they would not be human, and all the nightmares about society turning into an insect state would come true. My hair prickles when I hear advertisers talk of a television set simply as a means of reaching their market. It so seldom occurs to them that a television set might be their market’s way of looking at them, and that the market might conceivably not like what it sees. (CW 11, 135)

Today, under pressure from all three parties in the House of Commons, News Corp. withdrew its bid to obtain sole ownership of BSkyB, a satellite service with 10 million viewers in the U.K.

Meanwhile, the scandal threatens to spread to the U.S. with suggestions that News Corp. may have also hacked the phones of American politicians and the families of 9/11 victims.

If this catches on, it will be interesting to see if the Republicans line up behind Murdoch’s most odious creation, Fox News.

If it doesn’t catch on, that could be bad news as Murdoch divests in the U.K. and consolidates in the U.S.

In the meantime, News Corp. stock continues to lose value.

Quote of the Day II: The Sun and the Prime Minister

Just so there’s no doubt about the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and British politicians, there’s this:

“Well John, let me put it this way. I’ve got a large bucket of shit lying on my desk and tomorrow morning I’m going to pour it all over your head.” — Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, to Prime Minister John Major in 1992, an election year (hence the headline above).

Quote of the Day: “The new ecology of political discourse”


Chris Matthews, Joan Walsh and Eric Bates discuss Gore’s article and the corrupted political process — most especially on the right — that prevents anything substantial being done about global warming

Two related themes in at least a couple of our ongoing threads are environmental degradation and political degradation. Al Gore brings them together in “Climate of Denial” in the lastest issue of Rolling Stone:

In the new ecology of political discourse, special-interest contributors of the large sums of money now required for the privilege of addressing voters on a wholesale basis are not squeamish about asking for the quo they expect in return for their quid. Politicians who don’t acquiesce don’t get the money they need to be elected and re-elected. And the impact is doubled when special interests make clear — usually bluntly — that the money they are withholding will go instead to opponents who are more than happy to pledge the desired quo. Politicians have been racing to the bottom for some time, and are presently tunneling to new depths. It is now commonplace for congressmen and senators first elected decades ago — as I was — to comment in private that the whole process has become unbelievably crass, degrading and horribly destructive to the core values of American democracy.

Largely as a result, the concerns of the wealthiest individuals and corporations routinely trump the concerns of average Americans and small businesses. There are a ridiculously large number of examples: eliminating the inheritance tax paid by the wealthiest one percent of families is considered a much higher priority than addressing the suffering of the millions of long-term unemployed; Wall Street’s interest in legalizing gambling in trillions of dollars of “derivatives” was considered way more important than protecting the integrity of the financial system and the interests of middle-income home buyers. It’s a long list.

Almost every group organized to promote and protect the “public interest” has been backpedaling and on the defensive. By sharp contrast, when a coalition of powerful special interests sets out to manipulate U.S. policy, their impact can be startling — and the damage to the true national interest can be devastating.

Frye Alert: Anatomies


Bloom interviewed by the New York Times

Here’s a review of Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence in The Brooklyn Rail.

It’s difficult to be fully comfortable with Bloom when it comes to Frye. Frye himself suggested that Bloom’s “chief anxiety of influence” related to him. The reviewer notes, for example, that Bloom says he derived his title from Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, which he claims to love. It is also, of course, an unmistakable echo of Anatomy of Criticism, which Bloom recently claimed he can no longer read.

From the review:

Bloom has carried the banner for “secular canonization” for a long time, and notes that he fought for it first with the distinguished critic Northrop Frye and later against the New Cynicism. “For more than half a century I have tried to confront greatness directly, hardly a fashionable stance,” he says, “but I see no other justification for literary criticism in the shadows of our Evening Land.”

How is this “secular canon” established?

The weapon of choice in Bloom’s arsenal is the pronouncement. The book abounds in statements that can only be accepted or denied and that are not supported by anything more than the power of his assertions and explanations.

This nicely encapsulates the fact that the subjective response at the centre of Bloom’s criticism is only on the periphery of Frye’s. It is also a reminder that while criticism may include value judgments, it cannot be based on value judgments.

Jonathan Allan’s earlier post on The Anatomy of Influence here.