Media

A Narrative Is a Narrative Isn't a Narrative

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Meta-HAWT, you mean

The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz this weekend had a sharp piece rightly criticizing pundits and politicians alike for their obsession over Barack Obama's "narrative." Excerpt:

"So much of the coverage and commentary has to do with the narrative, stagecraft, the political implications of what he is doing," said David Axelrod, Obama's special adviser for narrative, stagecraft and the political implications of what the president is doing. "When you are president of the United States, the most important thing is that you cope with the disaster." Not, that is, the story line of the disaster.

Imperfect messenger though he is, Axelrod has a point. The BP oil spill has largely been treated as the latest plot twist in the Obama epic. The plume of crude rising from the seabed is not only the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, darkening the gulf and thousands of lives and pervading the nation with a sense of helplessness, it is a metaphor for Obama's loss of control, a revealing moment to study our protagonist. Will he feel the seafarer's pain? Will he shake with fury? Will he weep tears into the salty sea? Sing to me, Muse, of the wrath of Washington's Achilles. […]

In this particularly meta moment, the overarching Obama story line hovers a level above events, distracting from the disaster in the gulf, glossing over the question of whether the government's concrete actions are sufficient, removing readers and viewers and listeners from reality.

The article, which includes some thoughtful interviews and quote-spelunking and is well worth reading in full, is nonetheless too easy on the media, in my opinion. Narrative obsession is what happens when facts and public policies are too hard to sort through. Meta is an abdication of micro, and a perpetuator of lazy generalizations and outright falsehoods, for which we all suffer.

Hat tip to Raymond C. Eckhart. I wrote about Obama's "narrative" narrative in March.

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  1. Will he feel the seafarer’s pain?

    What does Ezra Pound have to say about this?

  2. The press are like kittens with a shiny new toy or a ball of yarn.

    1. They push it under the refrigerator and them look at you with eyes full of sadness?

      1. Yes. Then they gack up a hairball.

  3. How could you pass up that “IT’S EASIER THIS WAY” picture in the image search for “meta?”

    I’m canceling my subscription to Shaved Orientails.

  4. Good point, lets stop talking about Obama and push the liability cap issue.

    Oh, wait, you ran another article about Obama instead.

    You got got, bitches.

    1. During the 2008 race, that Tim Cavenaugh douche bag wrote a piece in the LA Times about the presidential election, referring to it as a horse race. I wrote to say that only reporting about the race from that perspective obscures the issues in order to focus on “the race”. He posted my remarks in his gay little blog, and then ridiculed me for not understanding english.

      1. And did you learn why it’s unproductive to call people a douche when you disagree with them?

  5. Meta is an abdication of micro,

    ???

    Or is that just too meta for me?

    1. Big picture over details. Missing the trees for the forest.

  6. The plume of crude rising from the seabed is not only the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history,

    Well, not counting others that were worse.

    Starting with the Dust Bowl.

    1. Or the Mount St. Helens eruption. I still haven’t forgiven that bastard Reagan for not holding that mountain accountable for the damage it did.

      1. Yes, but the 1981 vegetables in my grandma’s garden were phenomenal.

  7. the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history

    That would be Plymouth Rock, 1620, when a boat disgorged a load of toxic waste (including some of my predecessors) on a pristine stretch of Massachusetts beach.

    1. No Brooks. It was the ice age that caused the Baring Sea to go dry and all that toxic waste to escape from Asia.

    2. Everything bad happens to me!

  8. Most people in LA, DC, & NYC don’t give a rat’s ass about the Gulf of Mexico. So the media must re-direct the focus to something “relevant,” e.g. Obama.

  9. “When you are president of the United States, the most important thing is that you cope with the disaster.”

    I’m not sure how shifting focus from their terrible stagecraft of disaster management to their terrible execution of disaster management helps any message Axelrod wants to convey.

  10. The problem is that the press believes, with all its heart and soul, in the concept of charismatic leadership.

    Charismatic leadership is deceptive virtually by definition, and involves large amounts of “narrative and stagecraft”. So naturally the press talks about it a lot.

    The press wants people to be inspired and to feel led and that requires set-piece manufactured political events.

    Remember last week when we were talking about the press’ incessant need for Obama to “act angry” about the BP spill? They were basically demanding that they be lied to – because even if Obama legitimately is really angry, in order for the press to see and report about his anger he has to set up an opportunity to showcase his anger in advance. And that means stagecraft, mock outrage, crocodile tears, the whole nine yards.

    If a President governed without recourse to fake stagecraft and Potemkin village photo ops and appearances, the press wouldn’t celebrate his honesty – they’d bitch that he was “out of touch” and say he wasn’t “providing leadership”. Because the only sort of leadership the press believes in is the con game.

    1. “If a President governed without recourse to fake stagecraft and Potemkin village photo ops and appearances, the press wouldn’t celebrate his honesty – they’d bitch that he was “out of touch” and say he wasn’t “providing leadership”. Because the only sort of leadership the press believes in is the con game.”

      See the media reaction to Bush not immediately running to the Gulf during Katrina or flying back to Washington on 9-11 for an example of this.

    2. We need a president who is more Dr. House and less, well, Barack Obama: “What would you prefer–a doctor who holds your hand while you die or one who ignores you while you get better? I suppose it would particularly suck to have a doctor who ignores you while you die.”

    3. Very true. I think it has something to do with the way statists are emotionally involved with the idea of government. They need to see the right emotional cues from daddy.

  11. Because the only sort of leadership the press believes in is the con game.

    What the saying? You can’t con an honest man?

  12. If a President governed without recourse to fake stagecraft and Potemkin village photo ops and appearances, the press wouldn’t celebrate his honesty – they’d bitch that he was “out of touch” and say he wasn’t “providing leadership”.

    Fuck The Press; I’ll take the Calvin Coolidge approach any day.

    Of course, it is completely out of the question for the Faith-Healer-in-Chief to say, “Those guys know more about this than I do; every time I get in the middle of stuff like this, it just causes a disruption. I’m going to stay right here, and let the experts do their jobs.”

  13. Obama ran as Black Jesus and now wants to be a normal guy?

    1. Black Jesus

      You say that like there’s another sort of Jesus.

      1. Personal Jesus?

  14. Detachable Jesus.

  15. and it just so happens that the font this magazine uses for headlines is, in fact, meta!? does it get more “meta” than that!?

  16. Whether or not you like the style of music, the musicians in Meta Roos & Nippe Sylwens Band are quite good. Great guitarist, solid bassist, good singer. Thanks for the mention.

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