Blurring Boundaries


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Examination of the ever increasing distortion between "news" and "entertainment".

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Blurring Boundaries

  1. 1. 1 The Blurring Boundaries Running Head: THE BLURRING BOUNDARIES BETWEEN NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT The Blurring Boundaries By Andrew Ciccone Baruch College COM 9505 – Fall 2008 Media Analysis Professor William Boddy
  2. 2. 2 The Blurring Boundaries The Blurring Boundaries between News and Entertainment Abstract The history of every art form has critical periods when that form strives towards effects that can easily achieved if the technical norm is changed, that is to say, in a new art form (Enzenberger, 1970). This paper examines the dynamics of news presented in a satirical comedic frame and considers if this new form of fictive entertainment is shaped by our postmodern world. Network news is not the only network program to conceal its symbolic fabrications in naturalistic film. Most movies, television series, and even advertisements present themselves as an unmediated reality. Network news programs are constructed not only from shared ―referential frames‖ and their common symbiotic relationship to established power, but also from the paradigmatic and syntagmatic operations that manufacture the news as narrative discourse (Stam, 2000). The focus of this paper considers Jon Stewart‘s, The Daily Show impact on blurring the boundaries between news and entertainment shaped by societal forces. Dramatization of the News Television news promotes a narcissistic relationship with an imaginary other. It infantilizes in the sense that the young child perceives everything in relation to itself; everything is ordered to the measure of its ego. Television, if it is not received critically, fosters a kind of confusion of pronouns: between ―I‖ the spectator and ―He‖ or ―She‖ the newscaster, as engaged in a mutually flattering dialogue. This fictive ―We‖ can then speak warmly about ―Ourselves‖ and coldly about whoever is posited as ―Them‖. This misrecognition of mirror-like images has profound
  3. 3. 3 The Blurring Boundaries political consequences (Stam, 2000). News stories are stories, as well as news. Good narratives embody the root elements of a human drama. In a real sense reason disappears as actors flit across the journalistic stage, perform and hurriedly disappear (Goldberg & Elliot, 1979). News is about the actions of individuals, not corporate entities, thus individual authority rather than exertion of entrenched power is seen to the mover of events. More so than ever to keep audiences interested, the never-ending cycle of immediacy feeds upon itself. A story that lacks drama is perceived to have ‗no real news value‘. The pressure to produce sensationalist elements into news stories is a constant and ever increasing necessity. News and broadcast news in particular, is the last refuge of the great man theory of history (Stam, 2000). Mindich (2005) considers the emotional indifference that many journalists adopt in their pursuit of balanced reporting and which he believes has helped to privilege entertainment over news media in the minds of young audiences. Farai Chideya, a long-time journalist interviewed by Mindich, suggests, the objectivity of news is too often pitted against the ‗humanity‘ of other paradigms; such humanity, or passion, should also be permitted to permeate the boundaries of news (2005: 48). The Post Modern News Viewer Several studies have argued that entertainment television and films are likely contributors to political attitudes (Adams et al. 1985; Feldman and Sigelman 1985; Lenart and McGraw 1989) and socialization (Ball- Rokeach et al. 1981). Media critic Jon Katz writes (1993), ‗for the young, culture is politics, personal expression and entertainment all fused together, often the biggest and most important story in their lives‘ (1993: 130). Barnhurst (1998) offer evidence for
  4. 4. 4 The Blurring Boundaries an understanding of political life among young people that is primarily discursive. Barnhurst (1998) finds that ‗news is but one of many genres, especially entertainment media, they use to make sense of the political world. Understanding an issue comes scattershot from pop songs, TV commercials [and] documentary films‘ (1998: 216). Calavita (2004), reports that young adults appreciate the sarcasm, irony, parody, and satire pervasive in popular culture. Specifically, Calavita cited comedy-news hybrids like Politically Incorrect, Dennis Miller Live, and The Daily Show as pop culture favorites and spoke of being simultaneously amused and informed by them. Other researchers have attempted to make sense of how young people interpret and respond to traditional forms of news. Buckingham (2000) found a shared lack of enthusiasm for television news in general, which was rejected for being boring, repetitive, and lacking in entertainment value. While young people do want to be entertained, they also want to be informed. They resist the trivialization and tabloidization of news, rendering what he calls ‗add[ing] sugar to the pill‘ an inadequate solution for engaging a younger news audience (2000: 211). The basic assumption that the television audience is ‗active‘ rather than ‗passive‘; and that watching television is a ‗social‘ rather than ‗individual‘ practice is currently accepted in both perspectives . . . that texts can generate multiple meanings, and that the text/reader relationship takes the form of negotiations, is not in itself a significant condition for the declared convergence. We should not loose sight of the fact that any call for convergence itself is not an innocent gesture – it invariably involves a selection process in which certain issues and themes are highlighted and others suppressed. The aim of cultural studies is to arrive at a more
  5. 5. 5 The Blurring Boundaries historized insight into the ways in which ‗audience activity‘ is related to social and political structures and processes (Ang, 1989). Young audiences have consistently expressed disdain for the artifice and aloofness that accompany so-called objective reporting (Mindich, 2005). David Morley (1983) argues that the television audience must be seen neither as undifferentiated mass nor as autonomous individuals. Instead, it comprises ‗clusters of socially structured individual readers‘, where readings ‗will be framed by shared cultural formations and practices. These formations are in turn determined by the position of the individual reader in the class structure. The viewers decide text in different ways and sometimes even give oppositional meanings to it; this Ang (1989) argues should not be conceived as ‗audience freedom‘ but as a moment in the central struggle, an ongoing struggle over meaning and pleasure, which is central to the fabric of everyday life. New viewers of the news are pre-disposed towards a more irreverent interpretation of events as they unfold, in their ―view‖ of reality. While Letterman and Leno viewers are more likely to be watching local news than other late- night viewers, Daily Show viewers are not. Instead, after controlling for political and demographic variables, Daily Show viewers are more likely to be watching cable news and listening to National Public Radio. Whether they are watching network news, local news, cable news, news radio, and late night comedy. Stewart‘s viewers do not appear to be relying solely on their preferred late-night program for their daily dose of news. Interestingly, it may that the viewers of The Daily Show follow a pattern more akin to traditional political information consumption than to consumption of purely entertainment-oriented media.
  6. 6. 6 The Blurring Boundaries Challenging Conventional Notions of News The Daily Show airs on cable‘s Comedy Central in the late night time slot during the week for a pre-broadcast half-hour. The nightly news parody offers satiric interpretations of politics and current events, hosted by faux anchor Jon Stewart. He mocks those who both make and report the news. The program features a cast of ‗correspondents‘, who are variously introduced as the show‘s senior analysts (e.g. senior political analyst, senior environmental analyst, etc.). Each episode includes an interview with a celebrity guest culled from the entertainment, political, or media worlds. Having entertainment celebrities and serious journalists creates an implied reality to the program. To Jon Stewart, the idea that young people are tuning in to his program to actually get the news is improbable. Stewart argues that it would be impossible for viewers to learn the news from his program: The truth is I know [most kids] are not [getting their news from us] because you can‘t—because we just don‘t do it. There‘s not enough news to get. . . . If [kids] came to our show without knowledge, it wouldn‘t make any sense to them. In 2000, The Daily Show won the prestigious Peabody Award for its election coverage, and in 2003 the show garnered five Emmy Awards. All nine Democratic presidential candidates visited The Daily Show during the 2004 primary season, in fact The Daily Show was invited to cover both the 2004 Democratic and Republican National Conventions. As Stewarts‘s show is taken more and more seriously as a news source, it also increasingly blurs the distinction between news and entertainment, challenging the historical conventions between serious news and comedic entertainment.
  7. 7. 7 The Blurring Boundaries Goldberg and Elliot (1979) argue news ideology represents the ‗integrated picture of reality, ‗which it provides, is a picture, which legitimizes the interests of the powerful in society. It does this by omitting two key elements in the world it portrays. This first is social process: newsreaders invisible in the process of change, presenting the world as a succession of single events. The second ‗absent dimension‘ is social power: news offers us politics in the form of rituals of political office and omits consideration of economic power altogether. The result is a picture of the world that appears both unchanging and unchangeable. The Daily Show straddles these news and comedy genres, employing comedy and satire to mock the conventions of mainstream news and the politics it reports. The program has, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, ‗managed to tell us as much or more about the world in which we live than many of the legitimate TV news outfits it so brilliantly parodied‘ (Rosenthal, 2003b: 39). Revolutionary situations always bring with them discontinuous, spontaneous changes brought about by the masses, in the existing aggregate of the media. The enormous political and cultural energies are hidden in the enchained masses with what imagination they are able, at the moment of liberation, to realize all the opportunities offered by the new media (Enzenberger, 1970). The New Media News and entertainment, like high and low art, are cultural categories that have arisen, not from any kind of theoretical underpinning, but from a certain set of historical conditions and social processes, (Levine, 1988). What we may be witnessing is evidence for a trend that Delli Carpini and Williams (2004) described in which individuals use diverse forms of content to create
  8. 8. 8 The Blurring Boundaries political understanding, regardless of whether that content is on the NBC Nightly News or a late- night comedy program. The new news genre perhaps indicates a larger trend in information environment. The Daily Show is a form of political discourse that contrasts what ―is‖ and what ―ought to be‖ (Bergson, 1956: 27). It ―weeps, scolds, and ridicules, generally with one major end in view: to plead with man for a return to his moral senses‖ (Bloom & Bloom 1979: 38). While Levine does not reference journalism as an example of one such form of culture, he certainly could have. Indeed, Eason, in his reflection on the origins and functions of journalistic authority, explains: I do not take ‗facts‗ and ‗fictions‗ to be givens that we all recognize but rather the product of interpretive communities whose work is the making of the two categories and explaining how they interrelate. ‗Facts and fictions,‘ like other cultural categories, are the result of social and symbolic processes that publicize, authorize and legitimize the reality of a group. (1986: 431) The information model of journalism came to be associated with decency and truth, whereas the story model was relegated to a lesser, even immoral status. While Schudson argues (1978: 119) that, ‗information journalism is not necessarily more accurate than story journalism‘, its superiority has nonetheless come to seem natural. Today‘s new media environment – characterized by the accelerated concentration and globalization of ownership, the proliferation of media choice and audience fragmentation, the ubiquity of the internet – seems to now require an interrogation of the once uncontested assumption that news and entertainment be maintained as discrete paradigms. Discussions of
  9. 9. 9 The Blurring Boundaries The Daily Show and Jon Stewart can be seen as a way for journalists to negotiate this new terrain and, within it, the limitations of the profession‘s historically constructed definitions of what journalism should or needs to be. We should not be surprised by The Daily Show’s continued success upon considering the lack of trust of our government, the uncertainty of the war in the Middle East and the current financial crisis, the instant on-demand technological globalization of our lives has been distorted living in this fragmented post 911 world. Unhampered by journalistic conventions, Jon Stewart is able to engage with news content, and thus with his audience, in a way that the traditional journalist cannot. The Daily Show’s use of irony and satire does more than inject emotion and subjectivity into the news. It implies a shared understanding between communicator and receiver (Glasser & Ettema, 1993; Gring-Pemble and Watson, 2003), as the viewer can be an active participant in the news process. The Daily Show may indeed shed light on ways of developing new forms of journalism that depart from standard news models, appealing to younger audiences. Despite how Stewarts and his cohorts assail events and the reporting of news, journalists continue to attend to and discuss the show in their columns or news programs. For it is significant that journalists participate in this farce, in much in the same context of the show itself, journalists‘ voice their concerns about journalism‘s place within the current media environment. Wisely their ombudsmen have begun to re-evaluate the once consensual notions of their craft, most notably the distinctions between news and entertainment, the objectivity of their profession while acknowledging the often-satirical truths voiced by Stewart and his band of provocateurs.
  10. 10. 10 The Blurring Boundaries Conclusions Certainly there are limitations of accountability that mainstream journalists must adhere to that The Daily Show is not beholden to, and that is its attraction to viewers and guests alike. Stewart circumvents the traditional conventions through the use of comedic techniques such as parody and satire. The postmodern period of today is characterized by the end of representation – for contemporary culture is a culture of ‗simulation‘, the generation by models of a real with origin or reality: a hyper-real . . . ‗Realty‖ becomes inseparably bound up with the media and is increasingly constituted by them. ‗The situation no longer permits us to isolate realty . . . as a fundamental variable . . . we will never in the future be able to separate realty from its statistical, simulative projection in the media (Marris & Thornham, 2000). Rather than simple punch line– oriented jokes like those of Leno and Letterman, The Daily Show often employs the tool of irony to create its humor, revealing the gap ―between what is and ought to be‖ (Bergson, 1956: 127). Take, for instance, this Daily Show clip from October 7, 2004: The official CIA report has come out . . . with a definitive answer on the weapons of mass destructions project in Iraq and it turns out . . . uhh not so much. Apparently there were no weapons of mass destructions in Iraq. Both the president and vice president said that [the report] clearly justified the invasion of Iraq. So, some people look at a glass and see it half full—and others people look at a glass and say . . . it‘s a dragon. This kind of segment structure is typical of the show‘s format and provides a clear illustration of Bergson‘s (1956) notion of ironic inversion, particularly with the contrast between the
  11. 11. 11 The Blurring Boundaries ―definitive answer on weapons of mass destruction‖ and the ―not so much.‖ It seems that mainstream news media are continuing to struggle in their attempt to categorize Stewart in keeping with the strict divide between legitimate and illegitimate political information. Satire, as defined by Berger (1993: 49), is an attack on the status quo, and for young people, perhaps a welcome form of resistance against the ‗serious‘ news. Indeed, satire ‗best makes its points by attending to sources and instances of failure in human behavior or institutions‘ (Bloom & Bloom, 1979: 33). Because of the show‘s use of satire is identified by journalists for its ability to transcend journalistic conventions, particularly that of objectivity, while still delivering ‗news‘. There is nonetheless an argument to be made that the irony and sarcasm that pervade The Daily Show may only serve to alienate young people further from the political process, and some research exists to support this view (Baumgartner & Morris, 2006). There is also evidence to suggest that The Daily Show and other late-night comedy serve a socializing function, encouraging young viewers to tune into traditional forms of news so that they have the context necessary to appreciate the programs‘ topical humor (Young & Tisinger, 2006). These findings indicate that The Daily Show promotes interest in news and politics. In fact, young people who watch Stewart‘s show are also more knowledgeable about politics than non-viewers (National Annenberg Election Survey, 2004). Thus, even if Daily Show viewers are somewhat less trusting of the media and government, they do not seem to be disengaging from the political system as a result.
  12. 12. 12 The Blurring Boundaries The oppositional hero – someone who is understood by journalists as breaching norms of professional practice but is nonetheless revered because of this very ability to be unburdened by convention – is manifest throughout the modern history of journalism. Perhaps the best example of such a figure is Hunter S. Thompson, whose ‗gonzo journalism‘ – a hybridization of unbridled fantasy and fact – was ‗marked by an emphatic author-participant-protagonist . . . who speaks neither from a detached position nor as a communal voice‘ (Hames- Garcia, 2000: 467). Not unlike his fellow New Journalists (e.g. Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, etc.) who eluded the boundaries of fiction and fact. Stewart‘s satirical and provocative interpretations of our fragmented postmodern world have shaped this new form of news and have everything to do with the show‘s success.
  13. 13. 13 The Blurring Boundaries Sources – Bernhard, N. (1999). U.S. Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960. New York Cambridge University Press. Besley, J. C. (2006). The Role of Entertainment Television and Its Interactions with Individual Values in Explaining Political Participation. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 11; 41. Feldman, L. (2007). The news about comedy: Young audiences, The Daily Show, and evolving notions of journalism. Journalism, 8; 406. Kaniss, P. (1991). Making Local News. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Marris, P. & Thornham, S. (2000). Media Studies, A Reader. New York University Press. Stam, R. (2000). Film Theory: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing. Tisinger, R. M. & Young, D. G. (2006). Dispelling Late-Night Myths: News Consumption among Late-Night Shows Comedy Viewers and the Predictors of Exposure to Various Late-Night. The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 11; 113.