June 2, 2010

The Empty Earth of the News Network

There are few American pastimes more cynical than watching the news cycle, that endlessly unspooling poem which moves from detail to image to joke to familiar cultural trope with such grace. The news, like a poem, is about language, the social baggage of a word, the smirk or smile of it. The news, like poetry, insists that the audience care. We must feel for China, Bangladesh, Chile, Haiti, the Sudan; we must accept the news as a long and human overture, a sewing together of innately noble strangers.

But the news, like much contemporary poetry, does not increase our sense of humanity. Instead, it inflates the unreality in the world, broadening the ghost landscapes of tragedy and misdeed. The world of the news is disingenuous, is full of primary emotions, mollifying repetition, staged reaction. And while we viewers carry around a sense of moral obligation to observe the hourly temple call of the News, and while we treasure the warmth of knowledge and humanity, we are left without focus, or confidence, or a sense that the world outside our usual dog track is substantial or, in its parts, perpetual. How quickly the earthquakes disappear from my neighborhood!

The news is a consumable that is chiefly concerned with being consumed. The news' self-awareness and self-promotion, its ostentatious morality, its comic book format and juvenile sexuality, and its trinity of emotions (outrage, despair, delight) have all been carefully combined to create an intoxicative and addictive product. The news cycle only desires continuation.

Too often contemporary poetry emulates the news, is self-promoting, supercilious, insipid, inhuman. The worst poem makes the world, its crises and glories, into a personal metaphor or gesture. The worst poem reaches into the dizzy, vast atom of humanity, and pulls out, again and again, proof of the poem, praise of the poet. Then, it is as if the world exists to decorate a verse.

What, then, is the point of a poem or the news? To articulate the world? To make it? To persist in and of itself? If we are asked to care for everything, are we able to care for anything at all? The best of poems create the very thing that the news exhausts: empathy and company. While the news alienates with information and ceremonial morality, the best poems reveal the intricacies of our tangled joints. We imagine we are isolated just as the news imagines the world. But our alienation is practiced; it is not intrinsic. We are iterations and reflections of one other. The news is not the world.

1 comment:

  1. Please forgive this most superficial of comments, but I absolutely love that picture of you. Fucking love it.