Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stuff White People Like: Journalism?

I was reading the "Critical Mass" section of this week's Chronicle of Higher Education [pay wall] today, and I came across an interesting piece chronicling (heh, heh) the rise of the blog Stuff White People Like -- which, as its name proclaims, is all about stuff that the author thinks white people like.

The blog is simultaneously humor and social criticism, and the Chronicle interviewed a panel of bloggers and talking heads to get at the value of this blog -- as social commentary, as entertainment, as whatever. But it's the words of Dean Rader, associate professor of English at the University of San Francisco, that I found most interesting:

Dean Rader, associate professor of English, University of San Francisco: One more reason SWPL has resonated is due to its very smart awareness of what I call "Overculture," which is the subject of my next book. Stuff White People Like is fantastic at mapping the icons of Overculture — those popular texts that indicate a ubiquity in American consumer and popular culture. For example, Starbucks plays music heard on The Wire, which gets written about in Slate, which has an agreement with NPR, which reviews books available in Borders, which sells coffee and expensive sandwiches. Overculture is a new kind of cultural map that circumscribes everything that has hit a tipping point, everything educated people should either consume or be aware of. (The Weekly Rader)

I think Rader's on to something with his idea of "overculture," but for the purposes of this blog, his theory is also an interesting observance of the media. Are we journalists really a part of this horrific cycle that promotes overculture?
How responsible should journalists be for over-emphasizing certain aspects of our world without apparent reason?

I feel it's a point worth considering. Journalists are simultaneously supposed to reflect the society they're in, and yet also (arguably) guide it toward certain important things, such as the realities and atrocities of government. That in and of itself is a balance that no journalist can agree on (are we objective? are we outwardly subjective for matters of government only? or are we outwardly subjective for issues we deem necessary for attention?).

In this case, Rader is indirectly pointing out that yes, we as media DO fail on that pact with our readers to reflect things in their best interest, and instead go wild on certain items or stories that we, a select group of professionals not representative at all of our readership (with a few exceptions), are interested in. This vicious cycle is then repeated across platforms.

Again, I think a journalist's role in this cycle is worth considering. We should be aware at our power to spread information rapidly -- especially in a world where blogs are prevalent -- and think about whether stories should necessarily be repeated. In other words: we might feel guilty about swaying society to interests only we hold, and that feeling would in some cases be appropriate.

More food for thought.


Anonymous said...

have you read 'mediated' by thomas de zengotita? check it out. it deals with some of the things you talk about in this post -- plus a whole lot more. i'd like to check out the book on 'overculture.' thanks.

Anonymous said...

Who's the model?