The end of history (and not in the Hegelian “good” way)

Christian Patterson
2018-09-22
Underground Mall

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People who have followed International news, and U.S. news especially, knows that news has changed since Trump ran for president, and it has accelerated since he became president. I’m sure you have heard people comment on this. Most commonly, it takes the form of pointing out how short the news cycle is now, and how controversies that would last months in the past now last a couple days.

Basically, the news process has synthesized with arts and politics. The press has become increasingly integrated with the political sphere, as opposed to the more conventional understanding of the press being somewhat “outside” politics, in some sense. But in doing so, it also takes on a performative ritualism where the news is no longer what is actually news, but what will continue selling the news. The American press isn’t reporting, they are, like the producers of a reality show like Big Brother, producing narratives from an effective montage of semi-connected footage. Again, none of this is new, especially to the American press, but it has clearly shifted and accelerated into a different mode.

Again, I don’t want to dwell on this shift too much, because, yes, it is a problem, and worth examining. It ties very neatly into Walter Benjamin’s idea of “aestheticizing the political,” which Benjamin considers a necessary characteristic of fascism. I will definitely write about this idea in the future, but I’m more interested in something else for this post:

The biggest problem about the current news cycle is not how short the cycle is per se, but rather once something is no longer in the news cycle, it essentially evaporates. News isn’t part of the dialectic, it’s not really informing anything. It’s just a stream, and once the stream passes, it’s gone. The quick news cycle wouldn’t be an issue if the news bites were field away into the collective conscious, to be recalled later when it’s pertinent for the zeitgeist. Without a doubt, there are events from the past that can tell us more about the present than some elements of the present.

Or, at the very least, the present needs to be more contextualized in the past. For example, I think the Tiananmen Square Incident informs the present moment more than most of the things in the news, and most of the things in the news aren’t even the most important things currently happening. Another thing is the whole Malaysian plane incident… that says something about the current conflicts in the South China Sea. That’s not to say any of those things are related in the conventional sense, but they’re connected by zeitgeist.

Another example, and I plan to write more about this later, is the hipster movement of the 2000s. We can date this movement as starting its rumblings post-9/11, hitting its peak “hipsterdom” in the mid-2000s (when it was “still cool”), hitting its peak popularity around 2010-2012, all while slowly morphing into a self-parody of itself, and slowly dissolving into the collective consciousness around 2014 or 2015. Think about how many times you’d hear “hipster” in 2012, after it already gained mainstream exposure to your average suburban American, compared to how infrequently you hear it after Donald Trump was elected.

The reason I bring up hipsters is because in that cultural moment, everyone had something to say about hipsters. They signified the full realization of post-modernism, the decline of the American city, and many other fearmongering blights on our society. And yet, as soon as the “movement” slowly dissolved, no one had anything else to say about the impact. Even though (as I will argue in a future post), hipsterism never went away, it just disseminated elements into many aspects of our current cultural moment. And this is the flaw with news: no one wants to analyze or reflect on anything. The news is a constant stream that we only step in once. News has no history.

Also, we can look even earlier than recent history to draw parallels, and better understand the present. For example, if we are entering a fascist era, not just in the U.S., but internationally, then we really should be looking at European history leading up to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It’s not a clean comparison, but maybe the 2000s in the U.S., with its cultural and financial excesses, was like the Weimar Republic. Or, since the Weimar Republic had increasing political polarization, the Donald Trump era is more closely paralleled to the Weimar Republic. We are frankly ripe for many types of analysis comparing the present and recent past to Weimar Germany.

And yet, we can never expect the news to even acknowledge history. Nazi Germany exists in history books, not in news reports. The news sure as hell isn’t going to write about Weimar Germany. The present clearly isn’t offering mechanisms to analyze itself, so we really have no choice but to look to the past. And yet, the media doesn’t have any interest in acknowledging the past.

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