November 22, 2013

Gonzo Jouralism = a verbal selfie?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:29 pm

A full color digital image of a Berkeley artist, after being photoshopped, appears to distort reality more than a selfie would.

French existentialist philosophers will probably find some deeply disturbing narcissistic meaning lurking behind the current American fad of taking self-portraits with a cell phone called “selfies.”  Didn’t they heap copious amounts of adulation on American writer Henry Miller for doing with words what kids are doing with digital images?  Isn’t “Tropic of Cancer” an example of literature as a selfie?

Selfies are limited in perspective because the camera’s point of view is restricted to arm’s length.  Photos take by another person are often taken from a point of view that is much further away from the subject and thus (ostensibly) provide a much more “objective” version of reality.  Photographer Cindy Sherman was known for taking photos of herself before the word selfie came into popular usage.  She used either a cable release, a self timer, or a studio assistant to click the shutter and thus distance her subject from the camera.

When Ernest Hemingway went to cover the Spanish Civil War didn’t the fact that Hemingway was covering the conflict become “the” story?

Is there a difference between a PR (Public Relations) HO (Hand Out) story, a traditional news story, and Gonzo Journalism?

The symbolism of a personality looming large in the foreground of an interesting scene is far different from a record shot of the artist “out among them.”

There was an amusing bit on the Internet this week that featured famous news photos doctored to appear to be selfies.

That in turn causes us to wonder if the journalists in Washington are producing journalism that is the verbal equivalent of selfie photos.  Yes, you could say that “Today we asked the President . . .” is a continuation of the Sixties era Gonzo school of journalism, but isn’t a constant torrent of such material just as stultifying as a tsunami of selfie pictures?

Edward R. Murrow went, saw, and reported, but he removed himself (as well as he could) from his stories while at the same time, Ernest Hemingway was insinuating himself into as many news events as possible.  Someday we may write a column addressing the question: “Was the better journalist Murrow or Hemingway?”

Did Hemingway inspire the Beat writers and didn’t they morph into Gonzo?  So is Hemingway the grandfather of Gonzo?  Are some of Hemingway’s stories the verbal equivalent of a selfie photo?

Was Murrow really the epitome of an objective reporter?  Some biographers portray Murrow as a fellow who was convinced that the United States would have to go to war with Hitler and so he shaped his narratives of the Battle of Britain to that end.

We know of one fellow in L. A. who was writing film reviews for a second level national magazine and was proud to be invited to lunch by a director.  The Hollywood personality made a concerted effort to flatter and entertain the white belt critic.  The rookie realized he was being played for a more enthusiastic review and drew a line in the sand.  He adopted the philosophy:  “No more fraternizing with the enemy.”Aye, lad, there’s the rub.  Compromise your principles or starve.

There’s a new book out by Michael Streissguth, titled “Outlaw,” that tells how Waylon, Willie, and Kris Kristofferson fought the music establishment in Nashville and won.

“The Rebel,” by Albert Camus, intimates that if society (AKA the 1%) encounters a formidable challenge from a revolutionary, they foil the movement by granting the malcontents membership in the world’s most exclusive club, know informally as “Fame and Fortune.”  Hence the strange phenomenon of The Rolling Stones Inc.  It is much more difficult to knock The Establishment if you have become an integral part of it.

Pundits pounding the political beat face a similar dilemma.  They can either be shut out or owe favors to sources.

It’s hypocritical to inform the audience “we report objectively; we don’t compromise with expediency” when in fact they are blatantly partisan.  Don’t the people who don’t catch on deserve to be fooled?  “We deceive; you owe us gratitude!”

A good game of poker would be impossible if the dealer delivered all cards face up.  The game of diplomacy demands chicanery, duplicity, and fibs.  If the President of the United States is going to deliver a shock to the members of his own party, it is unwise for journalists to think (or boast) that they can provide their audience with “the real story.”  It would be better for the well fed (and paid) reporters in the mainstream media to adopt the “I’m a patsy” philosophy the moment they arrive in Washington D. C.

Isn’t the journalistic ideal of “the gentleman in the grandstand” more attainable for a fellow out in the boondocks with no sources in Washington?  Doesn’t he make a better critic of the emperor’s new clothes?

Liberal (for lack of a better word) pundits attacked George W. Bush incessantly for his war policies.  When he was replaced by a member of the Democratic Party who continued most of the Bush war policies (with some minor adjustments), the Liberal pundits had a dilemma on their hands.  Should they suddenly become hypocrites and start lavishing praise on futile wars or should they start to criticize “their guy”?

Columnists who epitomized the H. L. Mencken axiom that there is only one way for journalists to look at politicians and that is “down,” have no problem.  They believe in being in attack mode eternally.

As the mainstream media trends more and more towards partisan bickering, the need for commentary from a gentleman in the bleachers recedes into irrelevancy.  If the trend to “one quote for and one quote against” becomes the Journalism norm, then an impartial observer becomes irrelevant but, perhaps, it will not become completely extinct because of the increasing novelty value of such verbal selfies.

Speaking of “mug shots,” a TV series titled “You’re in the Picture” was one of the monumental program flops of all time.  The initial episode on January 20, 1961, was so bad the series was immediately canceled.  The following week host Jackie Gleason used the time slot to apologize and produced a very memorable example of great television.

Wolf pack journalism will provide Americans with a massive amount of punditry on other topics this week and so we take the existentialist’s path and offer a look at something different.  We figure it is in keeping with the philosophy of a very famous (fictional) San Francisco philosopher (AKA Dirty Harry) who said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.”

Henry Miller wrote:  “How different the new order would be if we could consult the veteran instead of the politician.”

Now the disk jockey will play Dick Dale & the Del Tones’ “Misirlou,” the Ventures’ “Perfidia,” and the Chantays’ “Pipeline.”  We have to go wax our surfboard.  Note:  The World’s Laziest Journalist’s End of the Week column will probably be posted on Wednesday of T-Day week.  Have a “kick on third down” type week.

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