Partitioning opinion by audience not only stifles influence, curiosity, and the kinds of impulses that challenge writers and readers to grow; it also stifles exactly the kind of activism that journalism has historically accomplished in its role as a public good — in order to make your opinion count, you need to sway people who don’t agree with you —Excerpt from The Nation piece by Wei Tcho
Perhaps The Nation’s critique on identity-based journalism hit a little too close to home. So I’m going to be one of those people who don’t agree with you; and point out how it’s these very same identity politics helped lead to a rise of the alt-right and Donald Trump. It feeds them. Guess what? They won.
This is no critique on MTV News’ newly hired writers highlighted in the story. I read the link to the movie “Moonlight” by MTV News writer Ira Madison III, as I find it one of the better movies of the year. The review is personal and shaped by his own experiences, and if that’s the approach MTV News is taking, more power to them. Yet, the critique rests on The Nation not noticing one writer’s Ivy league credentials? I keep remembering this Rasmussen Reports survey that said 79% of respondents said political correctness is a serious problem in America. That can include over-sensitivity. I also wonder if we’re “bending” the lens a bit much to find “racism” and quibble with relatively uncontroversial issues. But of course, the comments here and article are full of ‘Et tu The Nation — how dare you?” scoldings. So I don’t suppose anything will change.
I do think the original Nation story by Wei Tcho was relatively benign and trying to authentically key in on a trajectory that is happening in an industry (journalism) where half the paying jobs have disappeared since 9/11: Hiring people with large Twitter followings, looking for the “star” writers, and hyping brand. Is that not happening?
We are seeing more and more journalist activists, and any attempt at objectivity be damned. A prime example is NY Daily News’ hiring of Shaun King, where I once called him out that his brand of “righteous indignation” from the left gets 10 times as many “followers” as the original non-controversial pieces — such as a WaPo about “Bernie Bros” harassing reporters that few people read. Just like the right manufactures indignation (the so-called “war on Christmas” comes to mind) so too does the left, at times. Like this Bullshit-ist piece. It’s snipe hunting for racism; and though I may not be in the place to say what is or isn’t (cis white male), the thin-skinned reaction of these newly hired writers, with their Twitter typos and hip slang (“Yung Activists”) ironically prove the point — it’s less about about defending ideas than it is about identity politics. And stoking publicity.
Just as in my critique of King’s pathetic publicity seeking — what I call the “feedback loop / echo chamber of knee-jerk horror” — I think The Nation piece (which only got 3 comments) got vastly more publicity for her “targets” by the “targets” themselves Tweeting about it. And again, if you read it honestly, it’s hardly a “hit piece” on these writers. But what works best today? Be a martyr, and you win hearts and followers — the two new writer’s pissed off Tweets hovered above 600 and 1000 “likes/hearts” respectively, certainly more than the number of people who actually read the original article.
We’re becoming a click-bait headline/Twitter nation, but that’s besides the point.
And I keep saying it: And you wonder how Trump won the presidency. A Pew poll in 2016 said 59% of Americans believe too many people are easily offended over language (too much PC). And yet saying identity politics emboldened the alt-right and Trump is “toxic victim blaming.” I call bullshit on that, to use this banner’s theme. You wonder how/why conservatives keep calling the left “racist” and are fed up with that “bullshit.” Even though many non-college educated whites don’t know the nuanced pedagogy of historical or systemic racism themselves; but they do see double-standards everywhere, such as Medium headlines that start like dozens of others I’ve seen the past few years, “White People Are A Little Too Damn Happy About Trevor Noah vs. Tomi Lahren.” One can understand power structures, and still find this movement towards “It’s OK to call out ‘white people,’ but don’t go near critiquing identity politics with a 10-foot pole” to be counterproductive and hypocritical.
This is the true merging of audience and writer (not that writers didn’t always have an audience). Or the activist and the author. The Nation non-staff author, herself Asian, has a meager 441 Twitter followers (maybe she was jealous).
I suppose many people didn’t read the original essay, so I’ll just leave her with Wei Tchou’s own words:
“ The columnists aren’t writing to audiences anymore; they are writing for audiences. They aren’t analyzing culture at large; they are staking out positions.
Moreover, as the wall between writers and audiences (and, thus, traffic numbers and advertising rates) has all but collapsed, inevitably, so has the wall between what is personal and what is commodified. As soon as a person performs his or her opinions to a mass audience, those politics are also for sale. Even if the transaction is as innocuous as a tally of stars on a tweet, how sure can a person be that he or she isn’t just exchanging opinions for validation? The problem is exacerbated, of course, when your politics are staked to your identity, and to your salary. If you have, for example, built your career as an Asian-American writer, at what point do you draw the line in a company hiring you — or not — precisely or primarily for that reason?”