Very Much Like a Newspaper

The Bitter Pill #4

I have to hand it to the Weekly: it looks just like a newspaper. They seem to have gotten a firm handle on the whole matter of arranging words according to the familiar pattern of Headline, Sub-Heading and body text. The illusion suckers me in most every time.

Even though I’ve had so much experience of the habitual disconnect between visual and ideational structure in the Weekly, still – still – when I get to a sub-heading I automatically believe that it somehow points the way to what I’m about to read. Sometimes I even miss the fact that it’s barely related at best. Such is the power of the medium. The visual structuring of information convinces us that the information is conceptually structured before we even read it.

We’re probably most familiar with this disconnect between apparent structure and conceptual structure in movies and tv, where one event is presented as following from another; and at first we take this progression at face value, until we think about it later and realize it makes no sense.

It’s near a commonplace to consider that we live in an age of universal deceit, but we tend to take this as a reference to government specifically and large institutions more generally. The reality goes much deeper. Universal doesn’t mean simply encompassing the whole, but also ubiquitous within the parts. We’re not just a Nation of Lies; we’re a culture of liars.

Marketing rules all, and the democratization of power amounts to a transformation of everyone into a marketer. You, too, can write a clickbait headline to manipulate someone into loading your ad stream into their browser. Ka-ching! Now you’re somebody.

I’ve reached a sort of emotional equilibrium relative to the endless shitshow that is the Internet. Even the Huffington Post doesn’t enrage me so much anymore, because I’ve written off the culture as a whole. It’s tragically fucked-up and no one’s going to stop the uncountably vast armies of useful idiots trying to cash in on the destruction of reason.

The Weekly, on the other hand, still pisses me off. It’s not nearly as bad as HuffPo. Maybe it would be if it could be, but I don’t think that’s true. I think they mean well. But still, their humdrum sins against understanding and explanation get under my skin. This because we live in the same town, and I want to imagine in this town at least things can be different.

It bugs me that right here, in the town where I live, the EW relentlessly lowers the standards of journalism, printing something that looks just like a newspaper but that is in fact a corrosive assault on the very nature of understanding. That sounds absurdly grave, but what else might result from consistently misleading people on the nature of rationally articulated consideration?

We see it happening all around us, in every medium from print to film. We tell stories that make no sense, and it doesn’t matter because the aim of all these stories is not something so abstract and discredited as truth, but mere virality. This process, not just universal but ubiquitous, can’t help but deprive people of their power of reason, by rendering them insensible to it. Reason is replaced by a crude simulation of reason corresponding to the lingua franca of the marketplace of ideas. Poorly structured and/or intentionally misleading information is a sort of environmental toxin, akin to physical lead, that inhibits and disfigures the capacity to reason.

Thus there is a deep irony in the EW’s latest article on Kesey Square, which the writer holds up as the last true public space in downtown Eugene. It’s classic Weekly advocacy journalism, long on will to serve the common good but short on capacity to do so. More importantly, the incoherence of the writing mirrors the incoherent public situation it means to describe and guide. It looks like an article, with a headline and sub-headings sectioning out columns of text, but there’s no coherent perspective integrating the variety of viewpoints the piece reports. In this it fails to remedy exactly the absence of vision it meanderingly complains of. Perhaps the architecturally dysfunctional Kesey Square is an analog to the Weekly itself, closed off on two sides and facing the wrong direction.

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