Magazine article Insight on the News

Just Say No to Infotainment

Magazine article Insight on the News

Just Say No to Infotainment

Article excerpt

President Dwight D. Eisenhower felt compelled 33 years ago to warn the nation of an unprecedented and potentially perilous confluence of powers. He called it the "military-industrial complex." Today, the warning is still apt--just cross out "military-industrial" and write in "media-infotainment."

In one sense, deploring the media is not a new activity: It is coterminous with the advance of technology, as inventors from Gutenberg to Gates can testify. Still, the emergence during the last few years of the media-infotainment complex -- an intensely competitive, yet also endlessly self-interested and self-justifying set of interlocking enterprises -- is unprecedented and distressing.

Today, multimedia conglomerates are the norm. The audiovisual entertainment industry virtually has taken over book publishing -- Viacom owns Paramount which, in turn, owns Simon & Schuster. Cable and movie companies buy and sell each other with the abandon of inebriated Monopoly players. As the age of interactive media approaches, the consolidation process will intensify (a few recent court rulings notwithstanding). And while the technologies of mass-mediated communication have proliferated, the products have converged.

One trend is already apparent: the dissolution of previously distinct forms. A song doesn't succeed unless it fits the MTV format. Publishers (and their gatekeeper agents) opt for books that, whatever their literary value, translate easily into films or audiotapes. Most ominously, journalism, especially the broadcast media, abdicates serious reporting in favor of the scandalous, titillating and pathological (events that translate into quickie books and made-for-television movies).

The trend toward converging forms is irreversible. So, probably, is the consolidation of the media. But the dominance of infotainment -- the blending of trivial amusement with the address of serious issues -- is neither preordained nor inevitable. It is the product of a peculiar schizophrenia within the media-infotainment complex.

While it often seems that media-infotainment moguls would do anything to turn a buck, they also desire (as film critic Michael Medved points out brilliantly in Hollywood vs. …

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