Tag Archives: entertainment

Monday’s Mtg: What do today’s movies and TV shows say about us and our future?

Ali’s topic idea is interesting I think, for several reasons. Obviously, a society’s fiction reflects its zeitgeist. Popular culture like TV and movies can mirror back our moral values, our gender and racial expectations, our political beliefs, and so forth. TV/movies can influence culture and public opinion. A few months ago we talked about science fiction in this context. I thought I found some cool background readings for that meeting, like this one and this one. In 2014 we did comedy’s affect ton U.S. politics, in which we focused on the Stewart/Colbert effect. Extending our sci-fi conversation to TV/movies in general sounds like fun.

There are way too many angles to the topic for us to discuss them all (much less for me to find readings on). So, depending on what you all want to do, we might want to focus on some aspects TV/movies’ influence to the exclusion of others; e.g., politics, religiosity, gender roles, racial attitudes, or effects on children. We could focus on specific genres, like reality TV or war movies; or on specific influential shows. After I do the reading I’m sure that I, like you, will think of other ways we could slice the salami.

One other thing I want us to get into.  The entertainment industry is on the leading edge of the digital technology revolution that will sooner or later transform every other industry and corner of our economy. New technology affects how media is enjoyed/consumed (on mobile devices, on demand whatever/whenever we want), and manufactured (on a global scale for a global audience). The industry is decentralizing and centralizing simultaneously as power shifts from producers to consumers, but also to a tiny handful of distributors. Can we see the future of our entire economy in what’s happening to Hollywood?

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

NEXT WEEK: Are corporate monopolies hurting America?

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Monday’s Mtg: Is technology ruining our attention spans?

I know, I know. You thought ruining attention spans was my job. Information technology’s effect on human attention spans is just one of those how-info-tech-is-changing-the-world topics we dip into occasionally.  We’ve done porn’s effect on sexuality, cyber security, and Facebook’s influence on friendship.  I remember linking to at least one article for some meeting that said the internet is changing the hardwiring of our brains.

The attention span angle is a new one for us but it is a topic of both general and academic interest.  I don’t know about you, but everybody I know complains the internet has ruined their ability to focus for any length of time on just one thing.  They’ve all but stopped reading books, can’t finish articles they start reading on-line, stop watching videos on-line after 34 minutes, etc.  Academic work on the issue got a short burst of media attention (is there any other kind of media attention?) a few years ago after a major study claimed technology has reduced average human attention span to a mere eight seconds – shorter than that of a goldfish. I don’t know if the study was any good or how it defined “attention span,” but I’ve linked to an article about it, below.

So, on Monday we can discuss the readings and anything else people have read or seen on our allegedly disappearing ability to pay attention. Also, this would be an especially good meeting, I think, to share some personal experiences. Most CivCon regulars grew up before the internet existed at all, and the full-on social media age is new to everybody, everywhere. What has happened to your attention span and those of people you know?  How do you fight it?

We also could get into related issues. For example, how has the information technology revolution affected our memories, how and how much we learn, the capacity for empathy, and openness to opposing points of view?  What about our intimate relationships and social lives?

I’ll see you Monday at 7pm.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –

NEXT WEEK: Is rural versus urban America’s worst political divide?

Monday’s Mtg: The Future of the News Media

In CivCon we deal with a lot of fast-moving topics and issues. But, I can’t think of any more in flux than the future of the news media. Nor as vital. A healthy press is one of the linchpins of our democracy, as Thomas Jefferson and countless others since have said. Yet, even before the rise of Donald Trump and the unprecedented challenges he presents to the institutions and underlying conventions of journalism, the mainstream media (MSM) was in crisis.

As is common knowledge, the century-old basic business model of journalism (especially print but also other formats) has collapsed. The Internet drained away news companies’ advertising revenue and new competitors emerged to razzle-dazzle away the public’s attention and dim its desire (and willingness to pay) for hard news. The big MSM companies reacted by massively consolidating and moving into cyberspace as best they could. But, it hasn’t been enough to halt the downward slide of the industry. Pre-Trump and depending on who you asked, the big issues that threatened the news media’s future included:

  • The basic 20 year-old failed business model problem.
  • Concentration of Media ownership (now AT&T wants to merge with Time Warner).
  • Print journalism’s dim future, especially newspapers.
  • Fragmentation of the news audience.
  • Rise of social media and personalized news feeds, which have turned passive news consumers into active distributors and producers of news.
  • Shift to and concentration of power away from traditional content providers (like TV networks & newspapers) to new “platform oligopolies” (like Facebook, Google, and Twitter).
  • Next generation issues, like those associated with the “Internet of Things,” wearable devices, and other future transformative technological change.

Now, of course, we can add at least two more problems arising from our last (so to speak) election:  President Trump and fake news. In the campaign, Trump played the MSM like a fiddle, garnering virtually 24-hour a day coverage. Nobody had ever hacked the Media like this.  And, he routinely threatened reporters and media companies.  Trump is all but sure to use govt power to bend the news media to his will. There is even talk that “Trump TV” will be created despite his victory, so we may soon have a news network that’s literally loyal only to the President! More broadly, Trump’s presidency poses unprecedented challenges to long-established MSM conventions of neutral reporting of a shared objective reality.

Second, we have the emerging problem of fake news.  Fake news is outright false propaganda disseminated by groups hiding their true identities and allegiances.  Its purpose is to undermine public confidence in any and all other news. From Breitbart and Info Wars to Russian government news trolls, this poison has always been around, but its impact might be very large in a socially networked world.

Gee, where to start? Fortunately for our discussion, I think many of these problems are related. The MSM is consolidating because even the biggest players need to control content, distribution, and users’ personal information to survive. They’re easy to manipulate because they are financially unstable. Fake news works so well because social media let anybody be their own producer and distributor of news. Etc.

Here are some readings on some of these big, crosscutting problems in journalism these days and some musings on what the future holds.  On Monday I will take the first five minutes or so to connect a few of these dots so that maybe we can focus right off on the fundamental problems. We have several journalists in the group, so I will then ask them for their thoughts to start the general discussion. I’ll see you on Monday.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

The crisis today –

The rise of fake news –

Journalism in the Age of Trump –

The Future of news –

NEXT WEEK:  Is worldwide democracy inevitable?

Monday’s Mtg: 20 Years of Fox News – What Is Its Legacy?

It all began with Fox News, 20 years ago this month.

At least that’s my view. Yes, even before FNN launched in 1996, Rush Limbaugh had been on the air for several years and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had reinvented a much harder-edged Republican Party. Still, I think that Fox made everything we are seeing today possible, from movement conservatism’s takeover of the Republican Party in the 1990s, to the conspiracy theory-driven mutation of the Obama years, straight through to the madness f 2016.

Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps there is not such a straight line to be drawn from that first Fox News broadcast on October 7, 1996, to today’s Trumpian GOP. Many other forces are at work.  Either way though, I still think the launch of the mother ship that is Fox News was a watershed event in American history.

Or, maybe Fox News will change its ways. The network is in great turmoil now, as you no doubt have heard. Roger Ailes, Fox’s founder and ideological commissar, is gone after being fired for sexual harassment. Owner Rupert Murdoch named two of his sons as replacements, and they may be more moderate politically than the ex-Nixon aid Ailes. Fox feuded with Donald Trump initially, but lately has backed him to the hilt. So, FNN will be in the crosshairs when The Great Reckoning begins in earnest starting November 9. Maybe chastised and under new management Fox can evolve into something more responsible.

Our first post-election meeting, on November 14, will be “Who is to Blame for Donald Trump?” Obviously, a single TV network watched by only 3 million people in prime time does not bear all of the blame for what we’re seeing. Nonetheless, to me Fox News is so central to the success of movement conservatism that it deserves its own meeting.

I know it is difficult to talk about anything other than Donald Trump personally these days. But, the conditions that allowed someone like him to capture control of the Republican Party were a long time building, and they will remain after the dust settles. I think we need to understand the crucial incubating and magnifying role played by FNN if we want to grasp why and how this happened. Good people who are conservative Americans – not to mention the rest of us – deserve better.

I will give some kind of brief opening remarks on Monday night to frame our discussion, then throw it open for discussion.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

[UpdateThis is your best explanation of the Fox phenomenon and right-wing media may be heading.  It was not written yet at the time of our mtg.]

Fox News’s Impact –

Donald Trump and Fox News –

The Future of Fox News –

Next Week (10/31):  Franken-future: Will/should we genetically enhance our species?

Monday’s Mtg: What Does Today’s Science Fiction Say About the USA?

Borg on the fourth of July! Yes, Monday’s topic really is based on the idea that science fiction can be very revealing of American culture and society. I thought it would make a fun summer holiday topic.  That and it let me use that pun.

I know this topic puzzled some of you. Here’s my thinking. I read once that if you want to understand a country’s history or politics or economics, you should read non-fiction. But, if you want to understand a nation’s culture then you must read its fiction, and really try to grok (the first of many Sci-Fi metaphors this week) what it is trying to say about society.

Science fiction in particular, IMO, can tell us a lot about where our cultural zeitgeist is at and where it’s heading. Why? Because sci-fi is speculation about what the future might be and should be like: How we’ll use technology, organize society, and see ourselves.  It also explores who might benefit and suffer under alternate scenarios.  Like all fiction, sci-fi reflects our cultural zeitgeist.  Perhaps more than other types of fiction sci-fi helps to frame our big choices and their consequences .

(BTW, to quote Robert Heinlein, “a handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: Realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method.”  If sci-fi is about what might be, fantasy can be thought of as being about what cannot be.)

Plus, science fiction is wildly popular these days. Sci-fi movies took in nearly one-quarter of U.S. ticket sales in 2015, triple what they did in 1995. TV is awash in sci-fi and mixed sci-fi/fantasy/horror shows, like The Walking Dead and Preacher.

Moreover, the sci-fi/fantasy genres have changed a lot recently. On the bright side, there’s more cultural and international diversity in both authorship, viewership, and plotlines.  But, modern sci-fi has also gotten pretty dark and apocalyptic and it seems more explicitly political and ideological than it used to be, at least to me.  Movie sci-fi has gotten really dumbed-down too, in my opinion, with its transformers and superheroes and digital special effects overkill.

Some of these changes reflect developments in the entertainment industry and special effects technology, not cultural evolution or devolution. I’ll explain some of those changes in a brief opening presentation on Monday. Then, we can get our sociology and cultural criticism on.  Or we can talk about Thor, World War Z, or the latest Superman atrocity.

SUGGESTED BACKGROUND READING –  

Why science fiction matters –

Sci-Fi as social/political commentary –

How Sci-Fi has changed recently and why –

Next Week: Are Californians environmentally over-regulated?