Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News & Pepper Spray Class Outline

Today I decide to make use of our shortened Thanksgiving week and do the job that I'm supposed to do. That is, teach media criticism. It's late in the semester. Some things have gotten put off or lost in the shuffle. For my television criticism class, that's been discussion of the news. One reason I don't typically dwell on news in television criticism is that it's an area I know gets attention elsewhere in the curriculum. Aside from that, outside of the field of Television Studies, for many in academia, TV criticism = news criticism. There's plenty else to talk about, and I usually do.

This kind of thinking has allowed me to not dedicate too much of my time to a subject which greatly frustrates me: Fox News. And yet, it must be dealt with. What I did today was use the Occupy Davis Pepper Spray incident as an opportunity to examine how news entertainment mediates events and renders them meaningful in particular ways. I started with my typical lecture material on the history of the news going back to the Camel/Plymouth News Caravan in the 1950s. I have a DVD which includes one 15-minute broadcast. This shows the sponsored format of the news, the reliance on library film footage, and also the role of the media in defining/speaking to the nation. It concludes with a great promo for NBC bringing an atomic test in the Nevada desert to audiences...arms race as TV event. Below is a different episode, but pretty much the same deal.

I'll skip over the rest of the lecture on the rising stature of TV news, from making up for the Quiz Shows, to "loss leader" status, to the Vietnam War and the post-Watergate investigative journalism mania. Cue Network. Bottom line, 80s and 90s news is just another profit-generating entity. Thus, news must be entertaining. Here we discuss Hallin's strategies to make the news entertaining. Must students grasp right away Character, Conflict, Dramatic Structure, Images/Graphics, the News Family, and then the fun one, Populism. Actually, they tend to get that one, too, but it does require a bit more teasing. We talk about "man in the street" type interviews and the celebration of common wisdom, but today we added a bit more nefarious version to the mix. That is, the rampant anti-intellectual hypocrisy of Fox & Friends (which my colleague Jeff Jones is currently writing about as not so much "news family" as "high school clique").

We watched the following clip from the Daily Show, in which Stewart "outs" Carlson's intellectual cred in the face of her claims she doesn't understand such mind-boggling concepts as "double-dip inflation" and "czar". This is about the halfway point of the following clip.

Kitchen Cops, that ain't. Interesting conversation about populist performances by political candidates followed: for example, George W. Bush clearing brush. Then we watched this clip from O'Reilly Factor with Megyn Kelly talking about how pepper spray is one of the basic food groups. Basically. I decided to show this clip prior to the unedited YouTube footage of the Occupy Davis incident, because it really shows some aggressive meaning-making going on.

Where to start? That must be watered down pepper spray? I'm disgusted again and I can't finish this post. If it meant I could subsequently vomit on Megyn Kelly and Bill O'Reilly, I might take a hefty dousing myself. No questioning of ethics. O'Reilly pisses me off not by just saying we can't Monday morning quarterback the police, but asserting we can't tell what's going on. Yes, we can. We don't need this explained. It's self evident. Also: notice how the clip edits together Davis footage with that from Berkeley, which does show protesters physically clashing with police. This helps lend credence to the suggestion we can't "know" how the protesters were behaving or whether the police action was warranted. Bullshit. Seriously. Can't revisit.

Then there is the complete 8 1/2 minute clip. I showed this and asked how understanding of the event changes when seeing the entire thing. Thank goodness the BoingBoing article that featured this clip (or was it a Facebook post) that said to watch the whole thing. Otherwise, I might have given up. It truly is a revelation.

My students' reaction was immediate and echoed my own. While they may have started with the question in their heads of whether the actions were somehow warranted, by the end what is impressive is how they have taken power. Watch footage of protests on television, and who wants to be a part of that? Here you see a crowd of protesters in control, effectively shaming the police. It stands as an inspiring piece of television, as well as a disgraceful document of nonchalant abuse of power.

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