Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Edit: ack, wrong source. This wasn't IP, it was Tim Blair.

Tim Blair linked to one doozy of a Camille Paglia article that, in attempting to address the problems of the left, simply resurrects conservatarian shibboleths and sends them shambling towards the strawman legions of Camille's fantasy "Left".

I mean, how else to interpret arguments like this?

Leftists consistently misinterpret mass media and new technology, which they treat with paranoid theories of manipulation and "commodification" coined by writers schooled before the Second World War (before the birth of television). The communications revolution has blurred traditional class lines. But the Left still doggedly invokes paradigms from early industrialization, applicable today only to the Third World. The left finds "oppression" under every rock and reduces contemporary society to rote battles of the "powerful" and the "powerless".

It should be obvious to honest readers of any ideology that painting the left with such a wide brush is a dangerous endeavour at best, but is Camille honestly saying that the left hasn't developed coherent theories about television, of all things? And is she so naive that she actually thinks that questions of power are somehow irrelevant nowadays because of "mass media and technology", when critics of all political affiliations have consistently criticized the mass media for being one of the best vehicles of inculcation of ideas and values that mankind has ever seen? How could a device whose ability to distract and transfix the masses is the staple of both endless fiction and nonfiction possibly "blur class lines"? Was she asleep when people were lauding the Internet for actually getting away from the very power inbalances generated by the mass media in the first place? Who cheerleads a levelling power of television in this day and age?

(What does she think that Manufacturing Consent is about?)

Sadly, not much in the article raises itself above this sort of dubious chicanery. Perhaps it's because she's on Frontpage and has to toss red meat to the readers or get canned, or perhaps she's so desperate to attack the left that she doesn't need coherent arguments to do it. It's sad, though, because I do think that the radical left (as opposed to mainstream liberalism, which is somewhat different) deserves some honest criticism and renewal, but I've seen less and less reason to think that the right of either the quasi-libertarian or social conservative bent has the ability and objectivity to do so effectively. Nor, for that matter, does Camille Paglia.

One other thing before I leave this... Tim Blair complains that this series of complaints "will resonate particularly with Australian readers." Not being a long-time reader of Blair's blog, what's so objectionable about Australian academe?

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