Riot Porn: Cable News Is the Wind Beneath Fanatics' Wings
Perhaps it’s time for a new awards show for political theatre. David Duke getting best adaptation of a very old script. Mark Ruffalo copping best agitator in a supporting role. Maxine Watters receiving a lifetime achievement award.
Not since its halcyon days in the 60s when Jerry Rubin raged and fawn-like girls put flowers into rifle barrels have we had such a bumper crop of staged political drama. You’d almost think people were doing this for the benefit of TV and social media.
Which is precisely what they’re doing, of course. Groups on the fringes that can’t get elected dog catcher have figured out that cable news loves a violent spectacle the way a martini loves an olive. If you're legitimate, you don't need to prove it. Add social media as an ignitor and you’ve got a bonfire.
Let’s call it Riot Porn. Let the cameras run for hours as balaclava-wearing anarchists bust up a neo-Nazi parade. Throw a reporter into a spray of tear gas for Emmy moments. Have a breathless anchor adopt the Edward R. Murrow voice as the thugs of the left take on thugs of the right.
It works. CNN, which was dead in the water a year ago, has been buoyed by nights of civil discord for its eight-person talking shops to riff upon. It posted +47 percent total viewer growth in prime time, and +12 percent total viewer growth in total day from last year.
With police charging protesters as wallpaper, MSNBC (posting +72 percent year-over-year growth) can ruminate on the perceived damage done by Donald Trump to the delight of its devotees.
FOX (despite significant internal strife and turnover) remains a titan of ratings-- No. 1 in total day for 32 consecutive weeks, and No. 1 in prime time for 12 consecutive weeks. (http://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/cable-network-ranker-week-of-august-7/337994)
But that’s how Riot Porn works. It attracts eyeballs and snap judgments on the body politic. The left has understood this media synergy going back to the days in Grant Park in Chicago during the 1968 riots. The right wing—at least its most repulsive element— is now making the connection, too. The lens magnifies your importance. Massively.
And talking heads will lose theirs trying to explain the phenomenon.
While North Korea backed down on its Guam attack plans this weekend, cable news was instead obsessed by the swastikas and Confederate flags on display in Charlottesville, and how it can all be blamed on Trump. While one person killed by a car in Virginia consumed the news cycle, avoiding the death of millions courtesy of North Korea’s nukes was a yawner. No video. “Get back to how Trump coddles Nazis!”
This past weekend’s alt-right conflagration staged by pantomime Nazis is just one of the sure nominees for a Riot Porn award when it comes to agitprop. But it will have stiff competition from the many alt-left offerings in 2017. Between free-speech shutdowns and anti-Trump petulance there were fiery performances in Washington D.C., Berkeley, Anaheim, Berkeley (again), Berkeley (again again), Olympia, and Portland. (Thank you, Federalist)
If Trump is to ever change the prevailing culture, he must remaster cable-news reality the way he did as a GOP candidate last fall. He controlled the media cycle with his bombast and private potty talk. Now he’s being put through his paces by the Hollywood hysterics who are dictating his agenda via their commedia del’arte of class resentment and feigned indignation.
Each day he rises to their bait and ends up hooked on their line. As happened in Tuesday’s impromptu conference when he doubled back on his Charlottesville comments for no appreciable benefit.
Maybe he needs to consult his young pal Justin Trudeau. Another political novice, Trudeau has mastered the news cycle. Despite gaffes and missteps that would’ve had Canada’s left wing calling Stephen Harper a Hitler, Happy Ways skates along, getting his message delivered on his own terms by his own people.
Granted, he’s at the tender mercies of Canada’s progressive media machine. While his invitation to undocumented refugees to set their compass north has resulted in a stampede for our border, Trudeau changes topics to trade or baby kittens as a diversion. And Rolling Stone jumps in to polish the road apple.
By keeping the media in his backswing, Trudeau emerges largely unscathed. His tweets are cherished. His boyish GQ look causes anchors to swoon. He controls his culture.
For those despairing this Riot Porn nonsense will never disappear, we can only hope for a reprise of the ‘60s madness. The hippie/ anti-war left produced people like Charles Manson and the Symbionese Liberation Army. The right wing was guys like Gordon Liddy. People got tired of the noise, said enough is enough.
We can dream.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)