Creating a World Stupid Enough for Donald Trump to Take it Over

That is your so-called “president.”

The guy behind the couch salivating from having stuffed a handful of Alka-Seltzers in his mouth is called “The Boogeyman.”

How did we get here?

When did our country become a soap-opera-for-men story line on WWF wrassling?

Do people know wrassling is fake? Did Donnie ever get his sandwich?

Did we lose our minds all at once… or was it a slow, gradual process?

Needless to say, the media’s relationship with the audience is a monumental issue.

Let’s break it down to its elements to see how it works:

Media’s job = sell advertising –> make money

(Note: none of the above connotes anything about verity or an obligation to leave the world at least as well off as you found it, much less better)

To use businesspeak, news and information is a product we call “content.” The folks who come up with it are called “content generators.” The folks who read or watch this stuff are called “content consumers.”

Roger Ailes trained Americans to shop for the news as a commodity.  Not just on the right but across the political spectrum now, Americans have learned to view the news as a consumer product.

What most of us are buying when we tune in to this or that channel or read this or that newspaper is a reassuring take on the changes in the world that most frighten us. We buy the version of the world that pleases us and live in little bubbles where we get to nurse resentments all day long and no one ever tells us we’re wrong about anything.

Ailes invented those bubbles.

 

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John Travolta The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)
The function of content is not to educate, it is to generate: Nielsen ratings. Q score. Clicks. Shares. Likes. Comments. Re-tweets. Views.

Anything we can count is quantitative and can be used to make a sales pitch:

Trump generates X pieces of content daily, each of which generates Y views.

Tell the advertiser this guarantees their advertising will be seen by XY people each day, where X = the number of pieces of shit… er, content, multiplied by Y, the number of people viewing each piece of content.

XY views guarantees ad company optics and me Z dollars from this company to advertise their stuff.

In simple terms: to get views (Y),  Trump says controversial stupid shit (X), which makes me a boatload of loot (Z)!

Math is easy as XY=Z isn’t it? Just follow the $.

We carry the Trump, the whole Trump, and nothing but the Trump! 

Moreover, people Y (click, watch, listen, etc) because  Xs make them emotional. Angry and afraid. X also tells them what they want to hear by blaming their emotional state on someone else. That would be the scapegoat. KA-CHING! That’s Z.

Trumpets, conditioned by decades of Limbaugh, Fox, Breitbart, and Infowars. Fear. Anger. And told who to blame it on:

Ailes launched Fox in 1996. The channel was initially most famous for its overt shallowness. “More News in Less Time” was one of its early slogans.

But the main formula was always the political scare story, and Fox quickly learned to mix traditional sensationalist tropes like tabloid crime reporting with demonization of liberal villains, such as the Clintons.

Hillary Clinton in particular was a godsend for Fox. The first lady’s mocking comments about refusing to stay home and bake cookies – to say nothing of the “I’m not sitting here, some little woman, saying ‘Stand By Her Man’ like Tammy Wynette” quote – were daggers to the hearts of graying middle Americans everywhere.

What’s the matter, Ailes’ audiences wondered, with Tammy Wynette?

Invective, like drugs or tobacco or any other addictive property, is a product of diminishing returns. You have to continually up the ante to get people coming back. So over the years, Ailes and Fox graduated from simply hammering Democratic politicians to making increasingly outlandish claims about an ever-expanding list of enemies.

Soon the villains weren’t just in Washington, but under every rock, behind every corner. Immigrants were spilling over the borders. Grades were being denuded in schools by liberal teachers. Marriage was being expanded to gays today, perhaps animals tomorrow. ACORN was secretly rigging vote totals.

 

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The result of this concerted campaign of disinformation is a viewership that knows almost nothing about what’s going on in the world. According to polls, Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers.   A study by the University of Maryland reveals the ignorance of Fox viewers actually increases the longer they watch the network.

That’s because Ailes isn’t interested in providing people with information, or even a balanced range of perspectives. Ailes traffics in the emotions of victimization.

“I’m not in politics,” Ailes boasted. “I’m in ratings. We’re winning.”

The Boogeyman. Trump. Battle Royale. Steel Cage. Lumberjack Match.

Did we mention Hillary? She’s still the villain in the soap opera…

The HILLAAARRRYYY!!! Clinton character on Fox News is a product of decades of story development. The emotional content of the narrative matters much more than does its factual content.

She’s the Liberal!  Trump is the Face and Hillary is the Heel Wrassling 101:

The story writes itself…

Moreover, Ailes built a financial empire waving images of the Clintons and the Obamas in front of scared conservatives. It’s no surprise a range of media companies are now raking in fortunes waving images of Donald Trump in front of terrified Democrats.

It’s not that Trump isn’t or shouldn’t be frightening. It’s conspicuous that our media landscape is now a perfect Ailes-ian dystopia, cleaved into camps of captive audiences geeked up on terror and disgust. The more scared and hate-filled we are, the more advertising dollars come pouring in, on both sides.

“If you look at the groups that Trump has primarily targeted: CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Saturday Night Live, Stephen Colbert…every single one of those has seen a quite remarkable growth in their viewing figures, in their sales figures,” said CNN International’s Tony Maddox, speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival at a special panel discussing the issues around supposed fake news.

CBS CEO and chairman Les Moonves is cheering Donald Trump for boosting advertising and viewership for the company’s networks. Donald Trump’s candidacy “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” Moonves said at an investor and analyst conference in San Francisco.

Many execs and editors have convinced themselves the ratings and the money are a kind of cosmic reward for covering Trump responsibly. But deep down, most of us know that’s a lie.

Donald Trump gets awesome ratings for the same reason Fear Factor made money feeding people rat-hair tortilla chips: nothing sells like a freak show. If a meteor crashes into jello night at the Playboy mansion, it doesn’t matter if you send Edward R. Murrow to do the standup. Some things sell themselves. 

The Trump presidency is a diabolical combination of every schlock eyeball-grabbing formula the networks have ever deployed. It’s Battle of the Network Stars meets Wrestlemania meets Survivor.

It’s got the immediacy of a breaking news crash, with themes of impending doom, conflict, celebrity meltdown, anger, racism, gender war, everything.

Trump even sells on the level of those click-addicting photos of plastic surgery failures. With his mystery comb-over and his great rolls of restrained blubber and the infamous tales of violent fights with his ex over a failed scalp-reduction procedure, Trump on top of being Hitler and Hulk Hogan from a ratings perspective is also a physical monster, the world’s very own bearded-lady tent.

This relationship in which the media sell us what we want to hear to the exclusion of the things we need to hear has boiled our brains like cabbages.
manatee
If it weren’t Trump exploiting the cabbages, it would be some other opportunist.
This explanation is intentionally simplified, but when you grasp its implications, nothing about the odd smell of American sauerkraut should be surprising.

It’s a recipe:

CNN producer John Bonifield admits the network’s constant coverage of the Trump-Russia narrative is “mostly bullshit” and “the president is probably right to say [CNN] is witch-hunting.”

He also noted the story is “good for business. It’s a business, people are like the media has an ethical phssssss…All the nice cutesy little ethics that used to get talked about in journalism school you’re just like, that’s adorable. That’s adorable. This is a business.”

Until we learn to cook something else, nothing else matters much.

MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show was the most-watched show in all of cable TV Thursday, with a total audience of nearly 3.2 million viewers. Maddow, who has been focusing relentlessly on the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the campaign of Donald Trump.

“I used to be really good friends with Rachel Maddow,” he says. “And I’ve seen her devolution from this really interesting, really smart, independent thinker into this utterly scripted, intellectually dishonest, partisan hack.”

 

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The shear enormity of coverage on Trump puts a spotlight on how the media influenced the course of the election. Along comes Donald Trump, with an outsized brand pedigree from reality TV and entertainment tabloids. Trump received $5,000,000,000 in free media coverage during the election.

Jeff Zucker has turned CNN into a Trump reality show: It’s hard to imagine that either Trump or Zucker would be where he is today without the other. Trump’s foray into reality TV gave Zucker a prime-time hit when he badly needed one; now, Trump’s foray into politics has given Zucker a big story when he badly needed one.
It’s a symbiotic relationship that could only thrive in the world of television, where the borders between news and entertainment, and even fantasy and reality, have grown increasingly murky….

As Zucker sees it, his pro-Trump panelists are not just spokespeople for a worldview; they are “characters in a drama,”

There isn’t a news executive alive low enough to deny we use xenophobia and racism to sell ads. Black people on TV for decades were almost always shirtless and chased by cops, and the “rock-throwing Arab” photo was a staple of international news sections even before 9/11. And when all else fails in the media world, just show more cleavage somewhere, and ratings go up, every time.

Donald Trump didn’t just take advantage of these conditions. He was created in part by them. What’s left of Trump’s mind is a parody of the average American media consumer: credulous, self-centered, manic, sex-obsessed, unfocused, and glued to stories that appeal to his sense of outrage and victimhood.

We’ve created a generation of people like this: anger addicts who can’t read past the first page of a book. This is why the howls of outrage from within the ranks of the news media about Trump’s election ring a little bit false.

What the hell did we expect would happen? Who did we think would rise to prominence in our rage-filled, hyper-stimulated media environment? Sensitive geniuses?

 

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We spent years selling the lowest common denominator. Now the lowest common denominator is president. How can it be anything but self-deception to pretend this is an innocent coincidence?

Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee.

 

 

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