Chicken Charge | Main | Bootleg MoDo

January 27, 2006

Prints not dead!

Posted by Phil on January 27, 2006 6:43 PM

[Sic] Here now we sail forth into the next 1,000 PuddingTime entries. This one's #1,001, plus 1,250 in the LinkLog. (Give it up for the LinkLog! Where the real pudding lifting goes on, day and night!)

It seems fitting to counter any fool's-gold triumphalism (to which I'd only be about one-third entitled, anyway) with a couple excerpts from useful stories that you can't get on the Net. It is for you, our readers, that I type these in myself. (Emphases mine--why else would I have gone to the trouble?)

"The Murrow Doctrine," Nicholas Lehman, The New Yorker, Jan. 23 & 30, 2006:

During the nineteen-forties, the networks, under an agreement they'd made with the F.C.C. called the Mayflower Doctrine, were prohibited from editorializing on the air. Murrow was always an opponent of that policy. During his time as an executive, he drafted and presented [...] an alternative, in which broadcasters could express opinions and those who disagreed would be given the opportunity to respond on the air. In 1949, the F.C.C. rescinded the Mayflower Doctrine and replaced it with the Fairness Doctrine, which was similar to Murrow's suggestion. It made more explicit the requirement that broadcasters air public affairs programming, and lifted the ban on editorializing in exchange for a requirement to provide equal time to opposing views. (Just a few years earlier, the federal government had forced the breakup of NBC--that's where ABC came from--so broadcasters had reason to take Washington's wishes very seriously.) When, eventually, Murrow did take on McCarthy, it was the Fairness Doctrine that made it possible, and that mandated McCarthy's disastrous reply.


The better way to insure good results, in any realm of society, is to set up a structure that encourages them; we can't rely on heroes coming along to rescue journalism. The structure that encouraged Murrow, uncomfortable as it may be to admit, was federal regulation of broadcasting. CBS, in Murrow's heyday, felt that its prosperity, even its survival, depended on demonstrating to Washington its deep commitment to public affairs. The price of not doing so could be regulation, breakup, the loss of a part of the spectrum, or license revocation. Those dire possibilities would cause a corporation to err on the side of too much "See It Now" and "CBS Reports." In parts of the speech that aren't in [Clooney's] movie, Murrow made it clear that the main pressure on broadcasting to do what he considered the right thing came from the F.C.C. The idea that, in standing up to the government, Murrow was "standing up to the government" greatly oversimplifies the issue. He was able to stand up to a Senate committee chairman because a federal regulatory agency had pushed CBS and other broadcasters to organize themselves so that Murrow's doing so was possible.

It isn't possible anymore--not because timid people have risen to power in journalism but becasue the government, in steady increments over the past generation, has deregulated broadcasting. The Fairness Doctrine no longer exists. Regulation, license revocation, or reallocation of the spectrum are no longer meaningful possibilities. The advent of cable television brought a new round of debates over government-mandated public-affairs programming, with the result that private companies were granted valuable monopoly franchises in local markets; in return, they were required only to provide channels for public affiars, not to create programming. That's why cable is home to super-low-cost varieties of broadcast news, such as C-SPAN, local public-access channels, and national cable-news shout-fests, rather than to reincarnations of the elaborately reported Murrow shows from the fifties. The rise of public broadcasting has freed the networks to be even more commercial.


News that makes money is alive and well; the incentive to present news that doesn't, like all of Murrow's great work, is gone. It is difficult for journalists to grapple with the idea that outside pressure--from government officials!--could have been responsible for the creation of the superior and memorable journalism whose passing we all mourn. But look what has happened since it went away.

"Crap Shoot: Everyone loses when politics is a game," Garret Keizer, Harper's, February 2006:

In his 1938 classic, Homo Ludens, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga explored the primal need to play, an impetus "older than culture" and the human species itself, as the basis of the civilized arts: of poetry, jurisprudence, and chivalric war. But the denotation of player as someone with a piece of the action or a larger-than-average piece of the pie appears not to have existed for Huizinga, Holland, or in 1938. [...] Huizinga hardly uses the word at all, but he provides a parallel point of reference when he says that play is characterized by "the consciousness that it is 'different' from 'ordinary life.'" A player, as we speak of him now, is characterized by the consciousness that he is different from ordinary people. That difference is key to his self-understanding.

And from whence does it derive? Not so much from his being richer or more powerful than his neighbors, though often he is and always he would prefer to be, but rather from the sense that he moves at a faster pace, on a different plane, and according to a different set of rules than those that govern an ordinary human being. In popular American folklore, the player par excellence is the gangster, the wise guy. Speculations as to origin always border on the mythological, but if pressed to speculate, I would portray the first true player as the first person to successfully ride a horse. He or she entered a zone of being almost instantly faster, higher, and stronger than anyone on foot. The Roman plutocratic class was known as "the equestrian order." [We still call it "the horsey set." -pk] A player is not ever, if he can help it, a pedestrian. [...]

We will get our best defining antonym by reducing the word to its root: "play." Ask any kid, "What's the opposite of play?" and you will have the word you seek: "work." The opposite of the player is the worker. So said John Ruskin, who saw humanity divided into "two races, one of workers, and the other of players: one tilling the ground, manufacturing, building, and otherwise providing for the necessities of life; the other part proudly idle, and continually therefore needing recreation, in which they use the productive and laborious orders partly as their cattle, and partly as their puppets or pieces in the game of death."


For all his apparent panache, the player is not so versatile as his name suggests. He only knows how to be a player. He can exchange one game for another, but he rarely knows how to change himself. Were he ever permitted to fall that far, the corporate cheat would become a welfare cheat. Admittedly, he would not have much to learn. [...] The has-been boxer or movie star who opens a casino or night club, hoping his name can do most of the work, hoping he can still rub elbows with players and thereby remain one, is a cliche that typifies the player's basic inability to imagine himself in different terms.

The worker, on the other hand, has a second incarnation, and this is what makes him more interesting. When the opportunity to work is denied to him, or too many of the fruits of his labor are withheld from him, the worker becomes a fighter. He and she have done this many times: in 1381 and 1848 and 1917, at Matewan and the Mesabi iron mines, as followers of Spartacus, Nat Turner, Emma Goldman. You may say that players fight, too, but that is a comparatively shallow statement. What players do is use weapons for toys--and workers. Jousting, counting coup, reciting one's deeds and lineage in an epic poem--that is all player stuff, and the worker hasn't got time for it. The worker's approach to fighting is, like his approach to everything else, decidedly workmanlike. The worker's way of war is to bust heads and get back to work.


Meaningful change in America will not come from "progressive" conferences and op-ed hand-wringing and better target-marketing to the coyer identity groups. [...] Not to put too fine a point on it, change will not come from deciding which former member of Skull and Bones will get to drape the coffin of American labor with the Stars and Stripes. Change will only come when the people who work, who love work, whose conception of the world is of a work in progress, come to realize they have no choice but to fight. Fight, or accept a world in which a shrinking pool of players lords it over a multiplying pool of slaves.

No one is hastening us to that conclusion faster than the players themselves. This is as "sweet" as it gets. The player, the wise guy, prides himself on his cleverness, but he always perishes from being less clever than he thinks. [...]

[...] The Republican Party as it now exists is the most progressive of all American political parties in the sense that it is hastening the inevitable showdown that was predestined the moment workers and players first glimpsed the shores of this country and conceived their separate versions of its promise. You can see that division running like a fault line through four centuries of our politics and poetry. People who say, "America is now a deeply divided country" are either facetious or naive. It has always been a deeply divided country. Plantations and factories and every town and city that ever boasted a railroad track have always been deeply divided places. People who ask, "How can we defeat the Republicans in 2008?" are asking a secondary question. The primary question is whether we ought to try. That is the question that must be answered first, and the answer that seems the more hopeless may in fact be the answer based on the higher hope.

Visit your local newsstand. Support those who still live by ink and paper and filthy lucre. There's more to both these articles, and more worthy articles in each magazine, besides.

I've been thinking on it, and although I can be kind of a flake, a shirk, and a sharpy, I'm still pretty sure I'm a worker. I think it's got to do with knowing you're full of shit, and aren't any more deserving of the fine gold leaf than the next guy. It's like John Lennon said (paraphrasing): "I really think the Queen believes it all. I don't believe in John Lennon, Beatle, being any different from anyone else. I'm just a feller. But I'm sure the Queen must think she's different."

I'm sure George W. Bush does, too.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


this is a comment about the link to the Muslim cartoon controversy.

Oh, grow up offended Muslims. And grow some spine western leaders and editors. It's a CARTOON.

Look, Christians have been putting up with insults and lampooning since Chaucer and Voltaire. One might even make an argument that the church built in a helpful self lampooning ritual with the pre Lent marches like New Orleans' Fat Tuesday celebration where Bishops and Priests are caricatured and poked fun of... all with the church's blessing. Recent examples of truly offensive attacks on the Christian faith from its cultured despisers: Andre Serrano's "Piss Christ"; the Virgin Mary portrait made out of collage of porno vaginas, the elephant poop Jesus, the gay pornographic Jesus play...

To my Muslim co-religionists: Western intel-leck-shuls don't like us believin' type. Just smile and practice your faith. You'll be fine. We'll all be fine.

Posted by: thp at February 3, 2006 8:28 AM

This post and the comments that follow offer an interesting discussion.

I shouldn't say more myself until I've seen the cartoons, but I'd be more concerned about what Islamic fundamentalists think about Muhammad depicted with a bomb in his turban if we didn't see so many carefully posed photos of Muslim terrorists and guerillas armed with weapons and religious paraphernalia.

That said, if one of these cartoons appeared in my local paper, I'd write an angry letter to the editor. And heaven knows I've spent many an hour here criticizing our nation's policies in the Muslim world.

It's really best if we police ourselves. I wish moderate Muslims would do more of it, but I certainly sympathize with the difficulty of being a moderate in a fundamentalist world.

Posted by: pk at February 3, 2006 10:07 AM

You would write an angry letter?

Did you write angry letters to the editor when Pat Robertson was lampooned by political cartoonists? I hope not. He deserved it. His behavior in calling for the death of Chavez, and his comments about Dover PA after the ID School Board voter were incredibly offensive and stupid. He deserved all of the ridicule and condemnation that came his way. Likewise, the behavior of Muslims who: -chop the heads off of aid workers and Christian school girls in Indonesia and -the Koranic teachers who fill little Muslim children's heads with hate in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Palestine, -and the Muslims who burn churches and confiscate Christians' property in Northern Nigeria all deserve much worse than a silly and offensive cartoon.


Then again, with a world full of hate... does it really make sense to throw more hate into the mix? I think I need to spend a little more time drinking in the therapeutic waters of "love your enemies..." I have to remind myself about Church of the Brethren brothers and sisters in Nigeria who live in a part of Nigeria ruled by Sharia law and who face daily conflict and persecution and do so for the most graciously, lovingly and without fear. They are building bridges of trust and friendship with their Muslim neighbors daily.

That's the answer.

Posted by: thp at February 3, 2006 11:25 AM

I've looked at the cartoons now. The one I thought was most appropriate was the self-portrait of the artist at his drawing table, nervously looking over his shoulder as he sketched Muhammad.

Taken as a collection, I thought they legitimately represented and lampooned ways one might depict Muhammad in today's climate. Like I said, I've seen lots of pictures of Islamic radicals glowering and bristling with weapons for Allah. The bomb in the turban isn't really even very absurd satire--if they're offended that Muhammad would NEVER carry a bomb, then why do they?

I know, the issue is that Muhammad must not be depicted at all, but I'll give that superstition about as much honor as a kid's belief in the Tooth Fairy.

Heck no, I wouldn't write an angry letter over someone satirizing a specific person (Robertson) for specific buffoonery (etc)! But it's never very constructive to smear a whole group, and if our local jackass cartoonist published one of those uglier cartoons, yeah, I'd send an e-mail. It's just not helpful.

One of the most enraging things about our failure to guarantee Afghan/al Qaeda/Iraqi prisoners due process and humane treatment is that it's given the Arab world something to focus on other than the deplorable ideology and conduct of the terrorists. We can't use our enemies' despicability to excuse our abandonment of the principles of the civilized world.

The West doesn't have to tiptoe around the sensibilities of the Muslim world where they're paranoid, backward, or inhumane; but we do have to rise above our enemies' senseless violence. Violence is certainly called for, but we've engaged in far too much that has been senseless and counterproductive.

I don't know what I'm saying. People are idiots. Fundamentalists are worse.

Posted by: pk at February 3, 2006 12:02 PM