Samir’s Selection 09/30/2015 (p.m.)

  • tags: socialmedia Facebook Twitter media influencing rhetoric presentation publicopinion perception debate politics election provocation internet smartphone technology radio TV FranklinDRoosevelt Nixon Kennedy DonaldTrump HilaryClinton JebBush 2015

    • Trump’s glow may fade — online celebrity has a fast-burning wick — but his ability to control the agenda through the summer says a lot about how social media is changing the dynamics of political races. We’re learning that as the net shrinks to the size of a smartphone screen, the national conversation shrinks with it. The message, as always, has to fit the medium.
    • What Trump understands is that the best way to dominate the online discussion is not to inform but to provoke.
    • Trump’s glow may fade — online celebrity has a fast-burning wick — but his ability to control the agenda through the summer says a lot about how social media is changing the dynamics of political races. We’re learning that as the net shrinks to the size of a smartphone screen, the national conversation shrinks with it. The message, as always, has to fit the medium.
    • Twice before in the last hundred years a new medium has transformed elections.
    • n the 1920s, radio disembodied candidates, reducing them to voices. It also made national campaigns much more intimate.
    • In the 1960s, television gave candidates their bodies back, at least in two dimensions. With its jumpy cuts and pitiless close-ups, TV placed a stress on sound bites, good teeth, and an easy manner. Image became everything, as the line between politician and celebrity blurred.
    • Today, with the public looking to their smartphones for news and entertainment, we’re at the start of the third technological transformation of modern electioneering. The presidential campaign is becoming just another social-media stream, its swift and shallow current intertwining with all the other streams that flow through people’s devices. This shift is changing the way politicians communicate with voters, altering the tone and content of political speech. But it’s doing more than that. It’s changing what the country wants and expects from its would-be leaders. If radio and TV required candidates to be nouns — to present themselves as stable, coherent figures — social media pushes them to be verbs, engines of activity. Authority and esteem don’t accumulate on social media; they have to be earned anew at each moment. You’re only as relevant as your last tweet.
    • What’s important now is not so much image as personality. But, as the Trump phenomenon suggests, it’s a particular kind of personality that works best — one that’s big enough to grab the attention of the perpetually distracted but small enough to fit neatly into a thousand tiny media containers. It might best be described as a Snapchat personality. It bursts into focus at regular intervals without ever demanding steady concentration.
    • Social media favors the bitty over the meaty, the cutting over the considered. It also prizes emotionalism over reason. The more visceral the message, the more quickly it circulates and the longer it holds the darting public eye. In something of a return to the pre-radio days, the fiery populist now seems more compelling, more worthy of attention, than the cool wonk. It’s the crusty Bernie and the caustic Donald that get hearted and hash-tagged, friended and followed. Is it any wonder that “Feel the Bern” has become the rallying cry of the Sanders campaign?
    • But there’s a dark side to social media’s emotionalism. Trump’s popularity took off only after he demonized Mexican immigrants, playing to the public’s frustrations and fears. That’s the demagogue’s oldest tactic, and it worked. The Trump campaign may have qualities of farce, but it also suggests that a Snapchat candidate, passionate yet hollow, could be a perfect vessel for a cult of personality.
    • the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate
    • A similar inertia is hobbling the establishment candidates today. They continue to follow the conventions of TV elections. They assume that television will establish the campaign’s talking points, package the race as a series of tidy stories, and shape the way voters see the contestants. The candidates may have teams of digital tacticians tending to their online messaging, but most view social media as a complement to TV coverage, a means of reinforcing their messages and images, rather than as a driving force in the race.
    • Bush’s various social-media feeds come off as afterthoughts. They promote his appearances, offer kudos to his endorsers, and provide links to his merchandise store. What they rarely do is break news. Clinton’s postings are equally anodyne. Her Facebook feed is a mirror image of her Twitter feed, and both aim to give followers a warm-and-fuzzy feeling about the candidate. Clinton’s predicament is a painful one. She’s spent years filing the burrs off her personality, only to find that rough edges are in. The 2016 Hillary playlist, upbeat and bland, sounds anachronistic in a campaign that’s more punk than pop.
    • News organizations, too, tend to be slow to adapt to the arrival of a new medium. Television, with its diurnal news cycle, gave a theatrical rhythm to campaigns. Each day was an act in a broader drama that arced from conflict to crisis to resolution. Campaigns were “narratives.” They had “story lines.” Social media is different. Its fragmented messages and conversations offer little in the way of plot. Its literary style is stream-of-consciousness, more William Burroughs than William Thackeray. But reporters and pundits, stuck in the TV era, keep trying to fit the bits and pieces on Twitter and Facebook into a linear tale. As a result, today’s campaign reports often seem out of sync with the public’s reaction to events.
    • The internet, we’ve been told, is a force for “democratization,” and what we’ve seen so far with the coverage of the 2016 race seems to prove the point. It’s worth asking, though, what kind of democracy is being promoted. Early digital enthusiasts assumed that the web, by freeing the masses from TV news producers and other media gatekeepers, would engender a deeper national conversation. We the people would take control of the discussion. We’d go online to read position papers, seek out diverse viewpoints, and engage in spirited policy debates. The body politic would get fit.


      It was a pretty thought, but it reflected an idealized view both of human nature and of media. Even a decade ago, in the heady days of the blogosphere, there were signs that online media promoted a hyperactive mob mentality. People skimmed headlines and posts, seeking information that reinforced their biases and avoiding contrary perspectives. Information gathering was more tribalistic than pluralistic. As the authors of a 2009 study concluded, “blog authors tend to link to their ideological kindred and blog readers gravitate to blogs that reinforce their existing viewpoints.” The internet inspired “participation,” but the participants ended up in “cloistered cocoons of cognitive consonance.”

    • The net reinforced the polarizing effect that mass media, particularly talk radio and cable news, had been having for many years.
    • What is a surprise is that social media, for all the participation it inspires among users, is turning out to be more encompassing and controlling, more totalizing, than earlier media ever was. The social networks operated by companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google don’t just regulate the messages we receive. They regulate our responses. They shape, through the design of their apps and their information-filtering regimes, the forms of our discourse.
    • When we go on Facebook, we see a cascade of messages determined by the company’s News Feed algorithm, and we’re provided with a set of prescribed ways to react to each message. We can click a Like button; we can share the message with our friends; we can add a brief comment. With the messages we see on Twitter, we’re given buttons for replying, retweeting, and favoriting, and any thought we express has to fit the service’s tight text limits. Google News gives us a series of headlines, emphasizing the latest stories to have received a cluster of coverage, and it provides a row of buttons for sharing the headlines through the most popular commercial platforms. All social networks impose these kinds of formal constraints, both on what we see and on how we respond. The restrictions have little to do with the public interest. They reflect the commercial interests of the companies operating the networks, as well as the protocols of software programming.
    • Because it simplifies and speeds up communications, the formulaic quality of social media is well suited to the banter that takes place among friends. Clicking a heart symbol may be the perfect way to judge the worth of an Instagrammed selfie. But when applied to political speech, the same constraints can be pernicious. Political discourse rarely benefits from templates and routines. It becomes most valuable when it involves careful deliberation, an attention to detail, and subtle and open-ended critical thought — the kinds of things that social media tends to frustrate rather than promote.
  • In 2015, there is no better embodiment of California’s dizzying, orphic appeal than the singer and songwriter Lana Del Rey, herself a myth, the present-day iteration of Lizzy Grant, a girl who was born in New York City in 1985 and came of age in Lake Placid, a former Olympic boomtown deep in the Adirondack Mountains. Del Rey’s transformation is not singular, but mirrors the precise kind of aesthetic reinvention (a name change; perhaps some cosmetic surgery; the acquisition of many, many gossamer frocks) that aspiring starlets have been enacting since the advent of the studio system…Del Rey’s California—which is the California of our collective unconsciousness, a dream song—is preoccupied with glamour and love and fame and anguish and loneliness and hunger. Those forces animate her work. “She grew up on the East Coast but she is an artist of the West Coast,” James Franco wrote of Del Rey in the new issue of V Magazine. “When I watch her stuff, when I listen to her stuff, I am reminded of everything I love about Los Angeles. I am sucked into a long gallery of Los Angeles cult figurines, and cult people, up all night like vampires and bikers.” …California is, of course, where a person goes to change. The state is a haven in which to unfurl whatever latent identity has been lurking in your bones. Those impulses are reflected in—perhaps dictated by—the geography: the San Andreas Fault, the eight-hundred-and-ten-mile boundary between two tectonic plates, requires the landscape to periodically rethink itself, reconfigure. Then there’s the ocean, slapping against the cliffs of Big Sur, rolling gently toward Santa Monica—as if to say, loudly, convincingly, “Last stop! Now or never!” In his essay “Fifteen Takes on California,” the critic David L. Ulin writes of “our sense of this place as final landscape, last territory on the continent, where we face ourselves because there is nowhere to turn.” …The line implies distance—in this case, the vast and ravaging expanse that develops between estranged lovers, as each goes on to create a life unknowable to the other, and, transitively, becomes unknowable to the other—…her disaffection belies a certain kind of distance from her pain…It is perhaps a queasy comparison, but if Del Rey has a spiritual predecessor, it’s Joan Didion, who wrote frequently of California’s gauzy pull, but more often of its inherent strangeness, its finality: “California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent,” she wrote in 1965, in “Notes from a Native Daughter.”

    tags: LanaDelRay music California culture USculture JoanDidion quote reinvention identity

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