Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: TV

The Collapse of Artistic Criticism Under Trump

The Trump presidency has been bad for art and the way we evaluate it. Yes, there’s newfound popularity for far right art forms that speak to dark impulses. “Martial industrial” music–often set to images of Nazis marching–is spooky stuff, and in the last few years it’s quietly spread all over YouTube:

But mainstream art critics have mostly ignored the niches of material which are nakedly far right. They prefer to focus on more popular stuff. And here they have done us a number of disservices, aiding the right even as they attempt to resist it.

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The Decline of the 20th Century Political Campaign

Political campaigns started getting expensive in the 1960s, when television advertising became the next big thing in campaigning. Even before TV, reaching people was hard work. You needed to knock on doors, phone bank, and send out mailings. All of this required a lot of dedicated activists and dedicated dollars. And so politicians depended very heavily on the activists and donors who could provide these things. All of this is in the process of changing. Activists and dollars are becoming less important than they used to be. They still matter, but not as much. And as time goes on, they grow weaker.

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Millennials are the Don Quixote Generation

Harry Potter. The Avengers. Batman. Star Wars. Millennials grew up on tales of powerful heroes–transcendent individuals who overcome deep structural obstacles to change the world through sheer virtue and will. We were raised on a kind of modern chivalry. Follow your dreams with a noble heart, and you too can change the world. The two generations before us experienced unprecedented, rapid growth in their living standards. They came to believe the future would be unfathomably better than the present. In the second half of the 20th century, the older generations believed that anything was possible. They prepared us for that world. But it never came.

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A Judge Judy Think Piece

The internet is often full of aesthetic think pieces. It’s easy to write them–you identify some show or artist that’s captured the attention and the artistic sensibility of your readers, and you make some vague connection between the themes of that art and some current issue. On prestige websites, you can often find writers pumping out think pieces about prestige programs. Often it’s some big critical hit on HBO like Game of Thrones, or an edgy Netflix original series like House of Cards. These are thought to be the important shows, because they’re the shows our social, cultural, and political elite enjoy. Think pieces get lots of clicks, because they make us feel that the stuff we’re watching, reading, or listening to really matters. But do they matter? The most popular Game of Thrones episode was watched by about 8.9 million people. A new season of House of Cards gets seen by about 5 million. Meanwhile, every week, like clockwork, 10 million people watch Judge Judy.

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Why the Media Pays More Attention to Some Tragedies Than Others

On social media, the reaction to the Paris terrorist attack is steadily devolving into a compassion competition in which people try to prove that they are nicer people than their friends by parading how empathetic they are on the internet. They write sentimental statuses, they change their profile pictures to the tricolor, they send their “thoughts and prayers”, and so on. None of this does anything to make the world a better place–it’s all about using tragedy to self-promote. It’s just another way for people on the internet to say “Look at me!” But perhaps the most obnoxious form of self-promotion is when people claim they are too good to care about Paris, because they care about less mainstream tragedies, most commonly the recent Beirut bombing. These people are tragedy hipsters who engage in tragedy one-upping. They may be well-intentioned–these folks argue that the media fails to cover attacks like the one that occurred in Beirut because of systemic racism. But while systemic racism certainly is a significant problem in our society, their argument mischaracterizes the social forces that cause the media to pay more attention to some tragedies rather than others.

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