On the referendum society

"The key to the referendum society is that it turns on a mystic evocation of past grievances, gathered together into a churning, aggravated spleen, where they are magnified and isolated from reality. Everything that is not a grievance disappears. This anger is then dovetailed into a heroic solution. Simple, absolute, salvatory. An answer.The modern referendum, as Napoleon understood when he invented it, is the ideal consummation of the rational as irrational, of the anti-democratic posing as democracy. The complex issues of reality, which democracy can deal with in its own slow, indirect way, are swept aside by single, clear issues, often modeled on single human qualities – either we must have common sense, or we must have reason, or we must have memory. It is as if any combining of human qualities is impossible. Not surprisingly, both the referendum and direct democracy are a happy marriage with corporatism. The complex, real question sare dealt with behind the scenes through efficient 'interest mediation' between the different interest groups. As for the citizenry, they are occupied and distracted by the fireworks of their direct involvement on the big questions and their direct relationship with the big people. A simple 'yes' or 'no' and history, they are told, will be changed, as if by the wave of a magic wand."

– John Raulson Saul, The Unconscious Civilization

Audiences feed on information, not meaning

When former News of the World editor Paul McMullan argued with Steve Coogan on Newsnight last week, he pointed out a very important detail: there is an audience that needs to feed on information. The problem is that information has less and less meaning the more it is consumed. As the UK deals with the phone hacking scandal, Canada is also pondering the role of its mass media, thanks to a CTV bureau chief publicly expressing his disgust at the business after he quit his job. The two instances are related because at the heart of both is an audience that devours pure information.

In his blog, Kai Nagata, a former bureau chief for CTV in Quebec, took his profession to task for its superficiality, banality, and corporatization (among other things). His post went viral, thanks to it being forwarded on Twitter countless times, even by revered film critic Roger Ebert.

“When you have to balance the interests of your shareholders against the interests of the viewers you supposedly serve, the firewall between the boardroom and the newsroom becomes a very important bulwark indeed,” Nagata wrote on his site. CTV’s continued desire to focus on “growing eyeballs” left him a little cold.

Without equating the phone hacking and whatever Nagata believes CTV is guilty of, both situations imply a serious problem in the system. Since Nagata’s blog, and with it his disillusionment, has gone viral, many of the commenters on his post have congratulated his tenacity and honesty. Those who normally watch and read have simultaneously lamented what they apparently agree is the degradation of the media.

But certainly, somewhere in all of this, that audience must come into play.

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