Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: media (page 1 of 1)

a friendly reminder

A year ago I wrote: “Wondering how to decide what to read? Here’s a simple but effective heuristic to cut down the choices significantly. Ask yourself one question: Does this writer make bank when we hate one another? And if the answer is yes, don’t read that writer.” The same rule applies to TV, radio, podcasts. If their clicks and ratings and ad revenues go up when we hate one another, flee them like the plague they are. 

the missing middle

Pop Culture Has Become an Oligopoly – by Adam Mastroianni:

In every corner of pop culture — movies, TV, music, books, and video games — a smaller and smaller cartel of superstars is claiming a larger and larger share of the market. What used to be winners-take-some has grown into winners-take-most and is now verging on winners-take-all. The (very silly) word for this oligopoly, like a monopoly but with a few players instead of just one. 

Remember when we were looking forward to the era of the Long Tail? Nah, that didn’t happen. At least not in the way predicted. We do, praise God, have unprecedented access to art, books, music, movies — but we often get to choose between the colorless tasteless mega-productions of the oligopoly or very small things made at the cultural and economic margins. 

This works out differently in different art forms, and I want to think more about the details. But it does seem to me that there’s a kind of squeezing-out of the middle. The midlist author is disappearing — heck, in another time and place I might well have been a midlist author, but I could never sell enough books in the current environment to make a living. Also, it seems that only a few bands — good old-fashioned guitar/keyboards/bass/drum bands — can afford to tour any more, and most of those are comprised of people over sixty. Younger musicians tend to work solo or duo, or form short-term collaborations, and thick musical textures tend to be developed (when they’re developed all) through digital instrumentation rather than through people learning how to play together. The new economics of art has been hard on all musical genres, but especially, I think, on jazz. Which was struggling anyway.  

Obviously you can’t generalize too grossly here; the situation in the visual arts is rather different. But in many art forms, it seems to me, we have the massive-in-scale and massive-in-popularity and small-in-scale and small-in-popularity — and not much in between. 

Chris Stirewalt:

There are species of bacteria that actually thrive in the toxic emissions from hydrothermal vents deep below the ocean. What would be killing sulphuric acid to most animals is food for them. We have created a similarly hostile climate in media and politics: high pressure, extreme temperature swings, and a toxic atmosphere. We should not be surprised, then, that unlovely creatures are the only ones who can thrive in this space. 

Decent people with dignity are easy marks for outrage mobs, cancel culture, and the clickbait press. But fools with no shame are impervious to such a climate. Men and women of character tend to stay away, and if they don’t, are much more subject to the extortionate pressures of the political world. If your reputation is already poor, you can chase celebrity, frolicking among the deep-sea plumes, while your more delicate competitors are floating on the surface, poisoned.

Andrey Mir:

Digital natives are fit for their new environment but not for the old one. Coaches complain that teenagers are unable to hold a hockey stick or do pull-ups. Digital natives’ peripheral vision — required for safety in physical space — is deteriorating. With these deficits come advantages in the digital realm. The eye is adjusting to tunnel vision — a digital native can see on-screen details that a digital immigrant can’t see. When playing video games, digital immigrants still instinctively dodge bullets or blows, but digital natives do not. Their bodies don’t perceive an imaginary digital threat as a real one, which is only logical. Their sensorium has readjusted to ignore fake digital threats that simulate physical ones. No need for an instinctive fear of heights or trauma: in the digital world, even death can be overcome by re-spawning. Yet what will happen when millions of young people with poor grip strength, peripheral blindness, and no instinctive fear of collision start, say, driving cars? Will media evolution be there in time to replace drivers with autopilots in self-driving vehicles?

compelling needs

In 1957 Vance Packard published The Hidden Persuaders, his famous book about advertising techniques, in which he claimed that the products advertised, taken together, promised to fulfill eight “compelling needs”:

  • Emotional Security
  • Reassurance of worth
  • Ego gratification
  • Creative outlets
  • Love objects
  • Sense of power
  • Roots
  • Immortality

How much has changed? To what degree is the world of social media the inheritor of 1950s advertising as the means by which these needs are fulfilled? 

discounting the past

People on the left will typically be amazed and gratified by any good that has been achieved recently, and will treat any goods achieved by our ancestors as matters of course for which none of us need be grateful. Likewise, they are predisposed to see new developments as goods and are therefore unlikely to criticize them. 

People on the right will typically be obsessively horrified by any new wrong, and uninterested in wrongs that have been long embedded in our social order — indeed, they will be so predisposed to see new developments as ills that they may, by way of compensation, grow inclined to see old ills as positive goods. But even if they see the ancient wrongs for what they are, they won’t feel their seriousness; it’s the new wrongs that engage their emotions. 

In both cases, the looming power of the present moment distorts our judgment. Neophilia and neophobia alike occur because the present is so BIG that we can’t see around it; or because everything not-now seems small in comparison. 

In other words, just as there are social discount rates for the future, there are also social discount rates for the past. And in both cases, our media environment encourages stronger and stronger discounts as we move away from the present moment (something that remains true even when the media try to tell us about climate catastrophe). But because the future has not occurred and could take many forms, it remains fuzzy for us, whereas the past can be seen more clearly. So I think that if we want people to have a stronger regard for future — to discount it less heavily — then, paradoxically, we need to make people more attentive to the past, its errors and its achievements alike. 


As Nikil Saval pointed out some years ago, “The arc of scientific management is long, but it bends towards self-Taylorizing.” (See further development of these ideas in this essay by Alexa Hazel, and a few comments by me, on related matters, here.)  

I might coin an analogous phrase: The arc of creative product development is long, but it bends towards self-Haysing. 

Thou Shalt Not Whitey Schafer 1940

For several decades the Motion Picture Production Code, commonly known as the Hays Code, governed what could and could not be shown in movies. I was thinking of it the other day while watching Ernst Lubitsch’s glorious Trouble in Paradise (1932), made just pre-Code and therefore full of Inappropriate Content.

A very funny moment early on comes when the two thieves-pretending-to-be-aristocrats, played by Miriam Hopkins and Herbert Marshall, are having dinner together and gradually revealing what they’ve pinched from each other. He returns her brooch; she returns his watch. They resume their meal and then after a moment he says, “I hope you don’t mind if I keep your garter.” Her eyes widen and her hand inspects her leg as he displays the garter, kisses it tenderly, and replaces it in his pocket. 

Trouble 1200 1200 675 675 crop 000000

The Hays Code did away with such immoralities. Eventually it was repealed in favor of our current movie rating system, and now we can have anything, right? Right? Well…. 

Alan Rome has a fine essay in The New Atlantis on recent developments in the Star Trek world in which he points out that earlier installments in the series were governed by a kind of liberal idealism: “In Star Trek’s future, the United Federation of Planets is a liberal-democratic regime encompassing hundreds of different alien species, all devoted to peace, freedom, and equality. The Federation is the United Nations writ galactic, led by an Americanized humanity.” But more recently it has become necessary to cast strong doubt on all that nonsense: “Government is somehow both the only possible guarantor of justice and also structurally implicated in all social evils. The current system is therefore illegitimate and needs to be dismantled in favor of some sort of utopian solution.” That no one seems to know what that Utopia might look like is another of Rome’s points, but for now I just want to focus on the fact that a series like Picard cannot do anything but portray any existing social system as hypocritical, complicit in oppression, structurally unjust, etc. etc. That’s intrinsic to the Code. 

As Foucault spent his career demonstrating: Written Codes are strong, but Codes unwritten are stronger. And I don’t think I need to list the ways in which recent movies and TV shows have exhibited a frantic determination to depict all that Must Be Shown and to refrain from depicting all that Must Not Be Shown. I also don’t think I have to list the ways in which this kind of manaical ticking of checkboxes inhibits creativity. It’s self-Haysing: disciplining yourself in order to avoid being disciplined by others, and that’s always kind of pathetic. No need to belabor this point. I just want to make a few others: 

  1. Whether written or unwritten, Codes are always present, though some periods (like our own) are more prone to code fetishizing than others;
  2. While you will surely approve of some Codes and disapprove of others, they always inhibit creativity; 
  3. But they also inspire creativity, because real artists look for ways to evade the force of Codes or, through jujitsu moves, use them to advantage; 
  4. Figuring out whether in any given case a Code is more productive than destructive is not easy, though as a general rule, the more feverishly people strive to enforce a Code the more destructive it is; 
  5. And, finally, if you don’t like what the current Code is doing to movies and TV, there’s a vast body of work out there that you’ll like better.

I don’t know why people think it’s so important that there are always new products being developed that will suit them. If there’s one thing that our current moment does well, it’s to make available to us the great cultural achievements of the past, in multiple forms and formats. If I don’t like Old Disney, there’s Woke Disney; if I don’t like Woke Disney, there’s Old Disney. Break bread with the dead, is what I say. (But also maybe stock up, just in case.) 


The most recent issue of Oliver Burkeman’s excellent newsletter The Imperfectionist focuses on “becoming news-resilient” – finding ways to stay properly informed while avoiding doomscrolling and other forms of obsessive behavior. For what it’s worth, here’s what I do: 

  1. Most important: I avoid social media altogether. 
  2. I always have plenty to read because of all the cool sites I subscribe to via RSS, but not one of those sites covers the news. 
  3. I get most of my news from The Economist, which I read when it arrives on my doorstep each week. 
  4. In times of stress, such as the current moment, I start the day by reading The Economist’s daily briefing

And that’s it. I don’t need any more news, and I don’t want anyone’s opinions about what’s happening. 

Back to RSS, which I have praised many times before: It’s so dramatically better than any other way of reading the internet I cannot understand why it has always remained a niche phenomenon. If you use Apple devices, you can get an excellent RSS experience, on Mac and iOS alike, for free with NetNewsWire — which, twenty years ago, was the app that got me into RSS. NetNewsWire got lost in the wilderness for a while, and while it was away I started using Feedbin as an all-platform RSS service and Reeder as my desktop client, so for now anyway I’m sticking with those. But NetNewsWire does all you need. 

One more little tip: both NetNewsWire and Feedbin allow you to subscribe to Twitter accounts as RSS feeds, which means I can keep up with some of my friends while never having to engage directly with the hellsite. Also, there are a few worthy sites on the web that for some unaccountable reason don’t provide an RSS feed, but those sites always have a Twitter presence, so I can still use my RSS client to read their stuff. Highly recommended. 

doing your own research

Leo Kim:

In 2016, director Dean Fleischer-Camp — known for his work on the viral hit, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On — released Fraud, a “meta-documentary” composed of a series of home videos. They follow a family with a mounting pile of debts participating in a crime spree to wipe the slate clean. Though the videos that make up the film are real, the story itself is entirely fabricated: Fleischer-Camp made the film after stumbling onto an account holding hundreds of hours of home videos. By methodically going through this vast archive, he was able to recombine these clips into a crime narrative. Suddenly, a clip of a woman spraying her carpet becomes a woman about to burn down a home.

In a Q&A following Fraud’s premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival, Fleischer-Camp was called a “con artist” and “liar” by audience members who were disturbed by his working methods. These viewers took issue not with the film’s plot, but its construction. Unlike Loose Change, which purports to discover the truth in a lie, Fraud explicitly attempts the reverse, showing that one could convincingly tell any story with materials found on a site like YouTube. Ironically, it’s Fraud that, to its critics, defies the open, truth-leaning and “collaborative” ethos that people associate with the platform. 

Fleischer-Camp’s unforgivable sin is showing people who pride themselves on “doing their own research” that they don’t have the first idea what research is or how to do it, and that, as a direct consequence, they are easy marks for crooks who know how to play to their intellectual self-assessment. As Kim says in his concluding paragraph: 

YouTube is a space where the successors of Burroughs, Gysin, and Bachman meet, where author and viewer at least appear to collapse, and the possibilities of the webpage open up. The ability to engage as a viewer has never been so substantive. But this sense of engagement is double-edged: it can allow for new innovations in narrative, but also in persuasion and propaganda. The feeling of engagement is not the same thing as actually engaging. “Do your own research” is less an imperative than a strategy of flattering one’s audience: the implication is that you have done your own research simply by watching the film. Despite controlling the playback, the user is just as passive as ever.

I stay away from almost all current kerfuffles, so maybe that’s what I was struck by a couple of things from this report by Kaitlyn Tiffany: (a) that to many Americans it now seems normal for people to devote hundreds of hours of their lives to listening to one podcast solely in order to find something, anything that can be used to shame the podcaster; and (b) that the people who behave in that way think their actions are politically meaningful

I do not criticize Josh Wardle, who deserves to get paid for his work — and I can’t even imagine what his hosting costs are — but I’m sorry to see this. When a small endeavor gets bought out by a big media company it is invariably bad news for the people who enjoy that small endeavor. How long, for instance, before every Wordle page is surrounded by ads on three or all four sides? Or before the game goes behind a paywall? Or, more likely, both? 

UPDATE: Counter-take from Kottke here, which I don’t fully agree with, but I do resonate with one person he quotes: “the reality that supporting a small scale thing of beauty at large scale is beyond one person (now) & reasonable options are compromised … is bittersweet.” More “unfortunate” than “bittersweet,” but yes. 

Musa al-Gharbi:

In the wake of the 2016 election, Trump claimed to have had higher turnout at his inauguration than Barack Obama did. Subsequent polls and surveys presented people with pictures of Obama and Trump’s inauguration crowds and asked which was bigger. Republicans consistently identified the visibly smaller (Trump) crowd as being larger than the other. A narrative quickly emerged that Trump supporters literally couldn’t identify the correct answer; they were so brainwashed that they actually believed that the obviously smaller crowd was, in fact, larger.

Of course, a far more obvious and empirically plausible explanation is that respondents knew perfectly well what the correct answer was. However, they also had a sense of how that answer would be used in the media (“Even Trump’s supporters don’t believe his nonsense!”), so they simply declined to give pollsters the response they seemed to be looking for.

As a matter of fact, respondents regularly troll researchers in polling and surveys – especially when they are asked whether or not they subscribe to absurd or fringe beliefs, such as birtherism (a conspiracy that held that Barack Obama was born outside of the US and was legally ineligible to serve as president of the United States). 

This is an absolutely vital point. 

the breaking of the inherited vessels

But the Enlightenment has for us a strange form of continuing life: everything about it seems alien, and yet everything about it seems familiar; it is simultaneously dead, undead, and full of life. The reason for this, I will suggest, is that we still live within institutions and practices created in the eighteenth century, the institutions and practices of the free market, of free speech and freedom of religion, and of the written constitution. These institutions and practices embody ideas, and the ideas they embody are those of the Enlightenment paradigm. The institutions, the practices, and the ideas are intertwined and inseparable. The Enlightenment lives on in us, even as we attack it or deny that it ever really existed, because Enlightenment forms of life (to adopt a phrase from Ludwig Wittgenstein) continue to be our forms of life. Those forms of life are certainly under strain, and it would be wrong to assume they will survive indefinitely. Indeed their life may be coming to an end. In a postindustrial, digital world, a world of artificial intelligence and of boundless supplies of energy, new categories of thought and new institutions may supplant them; and perhaps we can see more clearly now what the Enlightenment paradigm was precisely because we are beginning to emerge from it. As G. W. F. Hegel said, “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.” 

— David Wootton, from Power, Pleasure, and Profit (p. 13). This insight seems to me relevant to Christian life also. There is a kind of mismatch between the forms we have inherited and what we believe — what we believe because we are being catechized in certain beliefs by a culture of ambient propaganda. This tension between the ancient vessels of culture and what they contain is not indefinitely sustainable: in the long run, either we will adjust our thinking and feeling to match the shapes of our familiar institutions, or we will reshape those institutions so that they suit our thoughts and feelings. The latter is quite obviously what’s happening, because new institutions — the catechizing and propagandizing ones, which cunningly present themselves as non- or trans-institutional — are co-opting the old ones. “The media creates us in its image” — but the existing institutions are incompatible with the shape in which we are being remade. So they must either be transformed or destroyed. 

a new theory of propaganda

(An idea for a book I’ll never write) 

One of the most famous scenes of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four begins this way: “It was nearly eleven hundred, and in the Records Department, where Winston worked, they were dragging the chairs out of the cubicles and grouping them in the centre of the hall opposite the big telescreen, in preparation for the Two Minutes Hate.” As the office workers gather around the television, the face of Emmanuel Goldstein, the great enemy of the state, appears on the screen. “The Hate had started.” And people know what to do: “Before the Hate had proceeded for thirty seconds, uncontrollable exclamations of rage were breaking out from half the people in the room…. In its second minute the Hate rose to a frenzy…. The Hate rose to its climax.” And then it is over. It is now time to chant a hymn of praise to Big Brother.

The scene has always been noteworthy for its disturbing power, but since the rise of social media it has become a central image of our time, and the phrase “Two Minutes Hate” is widely used to describe those moments when someone (usually inadvertently, though sometimes intentionally) arouses the outrage of some Twitter cohort or Facebook faction. 

The relevance of the Two Minutes Hate to our social-media world is so obvious that we rarely pause to notice the fundamental difference between what happens in Orwell’s novel and what we do: no one organizes our sessions of loathing.

In Orwell’s novel, the Two Minutes Hate is a deliberate exercise created, scheduled, and enforced by the government for propagandistic purposes. It is a carefully designed strategy of negative reinforcement (loathing of Goldstein) followed immediately by positive reinforcement (love of Big Brother). But nothing like that happens in our world. We all know that Big Brother does not exist, and yet we feel his presence all around us. No centralized political force pulls our puppet-strings, and yet we feel pulled upon nonetheless. No one organizes a Two Minutes Hate, and yet Two Minutes (or Several Hours) of Hate we have, day after day after day. We affirm one another in key responses and exclude those who fail to exhibit those responses. (Note that what’s happening here is the performance of responses, not beliefs as such.) We monitor, we police the boundaries.

And it’s not just about Hate. It’s all the other emotions as well, experienced in some mysteriously synchronized collectivity. Some studies suggest that when people sing together in a choir their heartbeats synchronize; when they shout together on Twitter their emotions do the same. We live in a world of propaganda that succeeds beyond the imaginings of the propaganda-masters of the past, and yet no one has designed it. No one is organizing or scheduling it. It seems just to be happening, somehow. The propaganda of our world is emergent and ambient, and those two traits make it harder to understand and harder to combat. 

In the preface to his justly famous book on propaganda, Jacques Ellul wrote, “Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into a technological world.” And he continued, 

In the midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means used to prevent these things from being felt as too oppressive and to persuade man to submit with good grace. When man will be fully adapted to this technological society, when he will end by obeying with enthusiasm, convinced of the excellence of what he is forced to do, the constraint of the organization will no longer be felt by him; the truth is, it will no longer be a constraint, and the police will have nothing to do. The civic and technological good will and the enthusiasm for the right social myths — both created by propaganda — will finally have solved the problem of man. 

We have clearly not reached the point at which the police have nothing to do; but in many respects, certainly among our cultural elites, Ellul’s forecast has largely come true. Without anyone directly telling them or persuading them to do so, they have, as their “enthusiasm for the right social myths” demonstrates, come to love Big Brother. Propaganda has ceased to be the function of government and become instead a kind of collective self-soothing, with social media networks the primary instruments.

Future historians of propaganda will not be able to do without Ellul’s book but will need to reconsider its significance in light of the realization of some of the prophetic elements of the book. His definition — “Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an organization” — will need to be revised. 

And for those who wish to use rather than merely understand propaganda: Deliberate propaganda in the future will, if it wishes to be effective, need to mimic the character of emergent propaganda. Anything more direct will seem too, too crude. 


We all know — though we don’t think of it often enough — that through highlighting and repeating certain events, the media make them seem more common and therefore more characteristic than they really are. So while there’s been a lot of talk over the past week or so about the misbehavior of fans in American stadiums — the stadiums fans have only recently been allowed to reenter — I’m not sure whether this is a real phenomenon or rather just a random set of events magnified by our love of outrage and the media’s compliant provision of opportunities for us to enjoy that love.

But I do wonder whether something is going on here. One of the most common debates about social media centers on this question: Do social media exacerbate tensions among Americans and make us more likely to act badly towards one another in person, or, conversely, do social media give us a useful outlet for our frustrations, opportunities to purge our negative emotions in such a way that we can better maintain courtesy towards our neighbors? One possibility is that we are seeing now what happens when people simply get out of the habit of being in the physical presence of other human beings and instead spend a year and a half stoking their own fears and hatreds. Maybe some people have just forgotten, literally forgotten, how to act in public. If so, let’s hope that when they get little more practice they’ll do better.


An update on this post:

I occasionally read NYT news stories now, for a very particular reason: the newspaper’s two chief religion reporters, Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham, are former students of mine, and I am so proud of the careers they have made for themselves — they are both outstanding at what they do.

So I read whatever they write, but not much else, from the news side anyway. (Sometimes friends send me links and I will usually read those stories.) In general, I simply can’t rely on the NYT, any more than I can rely on Fox News, to tell the truth about anything that I really care about — and my suspicion has increased, if that’s possible, in the year since I wrote that post, thanks to the gradual conquest of the NYT newsroom by “insurrectionists” who openly disdain fair-minded reporting in favor of whatever stories and angles they think will serve their political agenda, AKA Justice.

Recently Elizabeth and Ruth were interviewed in the Times itself about “the challenges of covering religion during a pandemic in a campaign season,” and one thread that ran through the whole interview was reporting under conditions of mistrust. Elizabeth: “I’ve found conservatives are increasingly wary of talking with us no matter what the story is.” Ruth: “The rising distrust of the media among a lot of conservative religious people is a major challenge, and one that is not going away.”

Now, I’m not one of the conservatives they’re talking about — QAnon true believers, MAGA-hat wearers — at least I don’t think I am; maybe Elizabeth and Ruth would disagree. But in any case, if in the highly unlikely event that either Elizabeth or Ruth wanted to interview me about religion, I would be really hesitant. I trust them — I trust them both implicitly — but I don’t trust their editors or the newsroom in which they do their work. I don’t feel I could reasonably expect the final published version of any such story to be … well, to be anything but driven by an ideological urgency in which any white male small-o orthodox Christian such as myself is an Enemy of the People.

This is I think the inevitable outcome in a journalistic world increasingly shaped by Manichaean binaries of the kind that the Right used to specialize in (remember RINOs?) but that the Left now owns the rights to. Consider for instance an idea that I’m sure is highly popular in the NYT newsroom, Ibram X. Kendi’s claim that everyone is either a racist or an antiracist — with the implicit but necessary corollary that he and people who agree with him wholly get to (a) establish the categories, (b) define the categories, and (c) put any given person definitively in the category they choose. What category do you think I am going to be in, regardless of what I have written or said?

In such an environment it’s hard for me to see what good would come of my being interviewed in the New York Times, at least about matters Christian — even if I were being interviewed by people with the honesty and integrity that Elizabeth and Ruth possess. I just think that’s where we are right now.

the blame game 

In June, racist Dylann Roof massacred nine black Christians meeting for a mid-week Bible study. He hoped to launch a race war, as he explained in a manifesto you can read over at Mother Jones. The second paragraph of the manifesto begins, “The event that truly awakened me was the Trayvon Martin case.” He talks about all the media coverage of the case and how it radicalized him. Some in the media immediately linked the shooting in Colorado Springs to videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing human organ harvesting and trade as part of their abortion business. The implication — if not outright claim — is that people shouldn’t talk about what Planned Parenthood does, much less speak against the injustice of abortion, because some people might take such discussions the wrong way. But you may remember that nobody in the media suggested that they shouldn’t have highlighted the killing of Trayvon Martin for fear that some racist might be set off of by the discussions. And that’s a good thing, because the idea that the media shouldn’t cover news because someone might be so bothered by it that he goes on a rampage would be very stupid.

Mollie Hemingway

What classic voyeurism is is espial, i.e. watching people who don’t know you’re there as those people go about the mundane but erotically charged little businesses of private life. It’s interesting that so much classic voyeurism involves media of framed glass—windows, telescopes, etc. Maybe the framed glass is why the analogy to television is so tempting. But TV-watching is different from genuine Peeping-Tomism. Because the people we’re watching through TV’s framed-glass screen are not really ignorant of the fact that somebody is watching them. In fact a whole lot of somebodies. In fact the people on television know that it is by virtue of this truly huge crowd of ogling somebodies that they are on the screen engaging in broad non-mundane gestures at all. Television does not afford true espial because television is performance, spectacle, which by definition requires watchers. We’re not voyeurs here at all. We’re just viewers. We are the Audience, megametrically many, though most often we watch alone: E Unibus Pluram….

For Emerson, only a certain very rare species of person is fit to stand this gaze of millions. It is not your normal, hardworking, quietly desperate species of American. The man who can stand the megagaze is a walking imago, a certain type of transcendent semihuman who, in Emerson’s phrase, “carries the holiday in his eye.” The Emersonian holiday that television actors’ eyes carry is the promise of a vacation from human self-consciousness. Not worrying about how you come across. A total unallergy to gazes. It is contemporarily heroic. It is frightening and strong. It is also, of course, an act, for you have to be just abnormally self-conscious and self-controlled to appear unwatched before cameras and lenses and men with clipboards. This self-conscious appearance of unself-consciousness is the real door to TV’s whole mirror-hall of illusions, and for us, the Audience, it is both medicine and poison.

David Foster Wallace