Hoder Derakhshan: So things have a…lit­tle changed. This is a sum­ma­ry of our change now. 

I’ll give you a few min­utes to see it. It’s very sad. 

It some­times also sum­ma­rizes this shift, the wider shift that I’m talk­ing about, which is the depar­ture from the Enlightenment and its ideals to an era we can com­fort­ably call post-Enlightenment, where briefly…I think the first two lines are the sum­ma­ry of this shift. From text to images, and from rea­son to emo­tions. There’s also anoth­er way to define it that I will lat­er on discuss. 

So. This is why Neil Postman is very impor­tant. Because he talks about a dis­cur­sive shift that has hap­pened since the emer­gence of tele­vi­sion. And his obvi­ous­ly very famous book Amusing Ourselves to Death is again, after almost I think thir­ty years, very impor­tant to read and I encour­age every­body to read it again. It was pub­lished in 1985 when the tele­vi­sion was at its height of pop­u­lar­i­ty and influ­ence, and it was going to cap­ture the whole pub­lic dis­course. Which was very impor­tant and true at the time and this is why this book was cru­cial. But then the Internet sud­den­ly emerged around mid 90s, ear­ly 90s, and it dis­rupt­ed this empire of tele­vi­sion that was being formed. 

So, now that tele­vi­sion has recap­tured that area that the Internet had tak­en from it, I think it’s also impor­tant again to look at his argu­ments, which are basi­cal­ly as the sub­ti­tle sug­gests, the pub­lic dis­course in the age of show busi­ness.” He looks at tele­vi­sion as a dis­course, not just as a medi­um. And I think if you want to under­stand what that means look at Trump as a TV prod­uct who won, using tele­vi­sion with­out spend­ing that much adver­tis­ing mon­ey. He won the elec­tion in the most tele­vised soci­ety in the world, and now he’s con­duct­ing pol­i­tics through tele­vi­sion. This is the most inter­est­ing part. What he did last week, or a few days ago in North Korea, was just a TV show. It was­n’t any­thing sub­stan­tive. He had­n’t signed any agree­ment. He did­n’t reach any agree­ment. It was just a show to por­tray him­self as some­body capa­ble of reach­ing agree­ments with peo­ple whom Obama could­n’t reach an agree­ment. He does the oppo­site stuff of any­thing that Obama has obvi­ous­ly done. 

So that’s what I mean by tele­vi­sion as dis­course, where reli­gion, pol­i­tics, sports, enter­tain­ment, all aspects of our lives are becom­ing not just reflect­ed by tele­vi­sion but they also gain mean­ing from tele­vi­sion. The way many of these dis­cours­es hap­pen is very much like some­thing that tele­vi­sion dic­tates or gives mean­ing to. 

Black and white photo of various people in a subway car.

So, this starts anoth­er dis­cus­sion about the future of news, or the future of jour­nal­ism. What is weird in this pic­ture? Tell me. 

Yes, there are print newspapers—people were read­ing a lot of these print news­pa­pers. There’s also some­thing else. Exactly: hats. And they’ve both dis­ap­peared. But there is a rela­tion­ship between them. Yeah, some some peo­ple still wear them. The same way that some peo­ple still read print news­pa­pers. They’ve lost some­thing, and that’s why they don’t exist any­more. They’ve lost some of their func­tions or rel­e­vance, prob­a­bly both of them. 

Because I think this is the end of the news. Not the end of jour­nal­ism, end of news. And I think the whole dis­cus­sion about busi­ness mod­els, or qual­i­ty, or trust, or ethics are sec­ondary to what is the real prob­lem, which is a cul­tur­al prob­lem and a social problem. 

There are two argu­ments. One is that glob­al­ism is in decline. News was always a glob­al activ­i­ty. It gave the mid­dle class at that time for two cen­turies a kind of glob­al iden­ti­ty, a glob­al­ness. That is in decline as you can see the rise of iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics, the rise of every­thing local—local brew­eries, local prod­ucts, local mar­kets. Localness was not trendy for a long time in the past two cen­turies, after the emer­gence of tele­graph, I think. Which began the whole process of glob­al­iza­tion. So one of the main func­tions is gone, of news. 

The oth­er, which was dra­ma, is also gone. News used to be a very major source of dra­ma in peo­ple’s lives before. And I’m talk­ing about even before cin­e­ma. Before obvi­ous­ly tele­vi­sion. Before satel­lite tele­vi­sions. And, obvi­ous­ly before com­put­er games and Netflix. These have replaced news, to many peo­ple, as the main source of dra­ma and that’s the oth­er func­tion, the sec­ond func­tion that’s sort of gone from news. 

So, the idea of time is dis­en­tan­gled from news, in a way. Because on the one hand you have noti­fi­ca­tions and updates that can be sent to you. At any time. They don’t find any kind of time lim­it any­more. And on the oth­er hand you have very long-form pieces of jour­nal­ism which are not that much tied to time as they used to. For instance, many of these rev­e­la­tions could be pub­lished any­time. They could’ve tak­en years to pro­duce and they could have pub­lished yes­ter­day or they could be pub­lish­ing in a few years. And this is anoth­er aspect of what’s happening. 

So when you bring in the larg­er idea of the post-Enlightenment when it comes to news and jour­nal­ism, we reach anoth­er sum­ma­riza­tion of what it means. This is the era of faith, unfor­tu­nate­ly. And any­thing that’s relat­ed to facts is in decline, includ­ing jour­nal­ism, includ­ing news, includ­ing sci­ence, includ­ing even democ­ra­cy in a way. So, we should­n’t be that much sur­prised, in a way. 

Democracy’s very impor­tant here, because it’s not only a con­se­quence of this process or this depar­ture from the Enlightenment, but also it’s one of the caus­es. Because the decline of democ­ra­cy has led in to this tele­vised show which is some­times called elec­tions” in some countries. 

James Carey, an American schol­ar, is a bril­liant thinker. He was the dean of Columbia Journalism School for a few years. He comes from I think a back­ground of soci­ol­o­gy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions and he’s very smart. He, in this…this is one of the great­est books that has col­lect­ed some of his essays. [James Carey: A Critical Reader] In one of his essays, he defines jour­nal­ism as democ­ra­cy. This is amaz­ing. Because obvi­ous­ly every­body knows that democ­ra­cy and jour­nal­ism help each oth­er, but what he says takes the whole debate to anoth­er lev­el. He says democ­ra­cy is a jour­nal­ism, because they are both about one thing, which is pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. That’s the def­i­n­i­tion of democ­ra­cy and journalism—two names, he says, for the same con­cept, which is pub­lic conversation. 

So, what is going to hap­pen now with the demise of text, the rise of images, with the demise of rea­son, and the rise of emo­tions? Is there any hope that we can still do or incite pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion, which means we will keep our democ­ra­cies going on we will keep jour­nal­ism going as well? Is there any hope for that? I would say yes but it’s quite limited. 

One path is lit­er­a­ture. So, some of this long-form jour­nal­ism can be actu­al­ly pub­lished as books, as a non­fic­tion lit­er­a­ture. They don’t have to be pub­lished in mag­a­zines or news­pa­pers. And I think actu­al­ly even finan­cial­ly they would be more viable if they are pub­lished that way some­times. So that’s one possibility. 

Another pos­si­bil­i­ty’s cin­e­ma. And I’m not not talk­ing about fic­tion, nec­es­sar­i­ly. Fiction can also be jour­nal­is­tic if it’s based on real issues, if it cre­ates a pub­lic con­ver­sa­tion. And there are exam­ples of films that have man­aged to do that. But I’m more talk­ing about non-fic­tion cin­e­ma, which is doc­u­men­taries. And I don’t think it’s a coin­ci­dence now that there are so many more doc­u­men­tary mak­ers, so much mon­ey that used to be in text and print jour­nal­ism is now gone towards video jour­nal­ism and doc­u­men­taries, and Netflix is grow­ing so rapid­ly, and peo­ple are watch­ing so many doc­u­men­taries on Netflix. How many peo­ple have watched a doc­u­men­tary on Netflix or anoth­er web site in the past week? Wow. That’s impressive. 

So this is exact­ly the equiv­a­lent of you read­ing you know, prob­a­bly a whole issue of The New Yorker. I don’t think peo­ple have time to read that much any­more these days so they put that time into doc­u­men­taries and that’s one of the bright spots now for the future of journalism. 

This is the essay that I pub­lished a cou­ple of weeks ago about what the demise of news and the end of news means, on medi​um​.com if you you’re inter­est­ed to read that in more detail. 

So, some­how most of our prob­lems are con­nect­ed to the idea of the decline of the Enlightenment, which was…I mean if you look back at why the Enlightenment actu­al­ly hap­pened, and how it hap­pened, we would real­ize why we need to revive it now again. This would be the root prob­lem and this would be obvi­ous­ly the root solu­tion for all of these prob­lems. Because the Enlightenment emerged at a time after the Middle Ages where prej­u­dices and reli­gion had stopped the human brain or human mind to think beyond a very lim­it­ed area of thoughts and beliefs. It helped it reach dif­fer­ent futures, dif­fer­ent ter­rains. Obviously some of them were not very pos­i­tive, you know. Some of the stuff that start­ed to hap­pen about the envi­ron­ment at the time, for exam­ple. The idea of the human being cap­tur­ing or con­trol­ling or dom­i­nat­ing any­thing that is around it also came from the Enlightenment in a way. But then the depar­ture from prej­u­dices and reli­gious dog­ma and mytholo­gies is also a con­se­quence of the Enlightenment that we need to look into. 

So, going back to the Web and to the Internet, what we see now is only a small part of a larg­er pic­ture, which is this depar­ture towards enlight­en­ment. And it’s not just the Internet, it’s every­thing mov­ing toward some­thing that is more visu­al and that is more emo­tion­al. And you know, for instance anoth­er top­ic that every­body’s wor­ried about is fake news and dis­in­for­ma­tion. But that is also relat­ed to this idea of post-Enlightenment. And we can’t address this with­out address­ing these two things, because the rea­son this shift is hap­pen­ing, the main rea­son this shift is hap­pen­ing, is obvi­ous­ly inequal­i­ty. Inequality has led into worse edu­ca­tion, worse pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tems. It’s led to the col­lapse of the wel­fare state. And obvi­ous­ly that has affect­ed the way peo­ple see ratio­nal­i­ty and rea­son and edu­ca­tion. That’s why we are in such a mess and I don’t think there are many peo­ple who are look­ing at it deeply and rad­i­cal­ly to address these main issues of inequal­i­ty and education. 

Help Support Open Transcripts

If you found this useful or interesting, please consider supporting the project monthly at Patreon or once via Cash App, or even just sharing the link. Thanks.