Destruction by Thomas Cole
The new variability is overwhelming the old political elite. As the World Wars and the Black Death demonstrated upheaval can produce wild mood swings in a populace. “The tremendous emotional shock [of the Black Death] … created a state of … depression and sometimes even panic” which turned people to fanaticism as others sought scapegoats for their troubles or lost themselves in a debauchery made famous by Poe’s Masque of the Red Death and the wild abandon of Weimar.
The underlying disruption is creating a similar volatility today. Currently we are obsessed with 71 genders but a nuclear or biological disaster can can flip decades of political correctness and deference to technology into their opposite. Considering all the freedoms and privacy the West has already given up to preserve the status quo the mantra “we can’t let it change us” is mockingly ironic. It is change, not changelessness which is characteristic of the present.
Perhaps the world is living through history’s first information epidemic and like the medievals who fell to unseen pathogens we can scarcely understand the catastrophe befalling us. Many are at a loss to explain entropy and anomie on a scale never seen before. But we cannot respond effectively to chaos without realizing the threat is not merely physical but an information corruption challenge.
Human sanity was long anchored in reality. Religions might have been flawed but they usually tried to explain things in the light of contemporary knowledge. Common people spent the greater part of their day in contact with society and family in a smartphone-free world that seems to be lost forever. They were innoculated against much craziness. That world had a self-centering property that is now missing.
Today we have live in an environment where whole populations are immersed in an ocean of deliberate lies. People can believe anything — and often do. The Narrative is malware corroding our sense of humanity and reality. Instead of increasing privacy so data miners cannot engage in the targeted lying which makes “fake news” so effective we decrease it the better to help the manipulators. We’ve reached the point where having real human networks instead of social ones is slightly suspicious. “Fear the man,” we are told when pondering Steven Paddock, “with no digital footprint.”
A friend reminds me that there was a period when Miramax bought the rights to every big story published in magazines throughout the city. Why mess with Weinstein when that big new female star you’re trying to wrangle for the June cover is headlining a Miramax release? Do you think that glossy magazine editor who threw the swankiest Oscar party in Hollywood was trying to “nail down” the Weinstein story? Right, just like the hundreds of journalists who were ferried across the river for the big party at the Statue of Liberty to celebrate the premiere of Talk—they were all there sipping champagne and sniffing coke with models in order to “nail down” the story about how their host was a rapist.
That’s why the story about Harvey Weinstein finally broke now. It’s because the media industry that once protected him has collapsed. The magazines that used to publish the stories Miramax optioned can’t afford to pay for the kind of reporting and storytelling that translates into screenplays. They’re broke because Facebook and Google have swallowed all the digital advertising money that was supposed to save the press as print advertising continued to tank.
Look at Vanity Fair, basically the in-house Miramax organ that Tina failed to make Talk: Condé Nast demanded massive staff cuts from Graydon Carter and he quit. He knows they’re going to turn his aspirational bible into a blog, a fate likely shared by most (if not all) of the Condé Nast books.
Si Newhouse, magazine publishing’s last Medici, died last week, and who knows what will happen to Condé now. There are no more journalists; there are just bloggers scrounging for the crumbs Silicon Valley leaves them. Who’s going to make a movie out of a Vox column? So what does anyone in today’s media ecosystem owe Harvey Weinstein? And besides, it’s good story, right? “Downfall of a media Mogul.” Maybe there’s even a movie in it.
Read both of these men, two of the most perceptive and bright thinkers in America. Though the subjects appear unrelated, they are fundamentally homologous in describing collapsing foundations in the informational age.