Corner-Clipping

The best thinking about media and media literacy this week comes from Linda Holmes, a journalist who generally writes about television. Maybe that gives her a special insight, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s just she’s wicked smart.

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She goes on:

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Corner-clipping is exhausting to both the people who read it and the people who make it.  Sometimes pushback is necessary — when things are headed the wrong way. I have sympathy for folks who looked at the recent Heineken commercial and were worried that the underlying message was that marginalized groups must expend effort to defend their basic humanity. That seems a big point. Those are not corners, that’s the center of the sheet.

But for every bona-fide take that contains big points, there’s a hundred small ball takes reacting to the Hot Take Magnet of the day, breaking all the Updike Rules with abandon. And usually they come down to “The Three Things That Medium Piece Gets Wrong About X”. Which would be great, if those were the three main points of the original piece, but they are usually not. It’s usually more a case of “This piece talks about X and is wrong because it does not talk about Y.”

I do it too. I see your take on the cultural problems around media literacy and say “The thing this gets wrong is it doesn’t talk about web literacy skills!”. Someone else sees my “skills” take and says “The thing this gets wrong is it doesn’t talk about the systemic corruption of neoliberal knowledge production!” But maybe we aren’t getting things wrong. Maybe we’re just writing about the piece of the story we know and not every intellectual argument is zero-sum. Maybe not everything everyone writes or says has to be an encyclopedia on the subject, and if you find some pieces missing in what someone else says you could just supply them in a separate piece without waging a war of attrition.

If we don’t do that — if we don’t see our parts in these debates as additive rather than subtractive — we end up with a society where a man cries about the near death of his child on TV and begs his non-political audience for the first time in his life to take a very political position —  and is met with a lecture about partisan control of the legislature. It’s unclear what purpose this serves, except to exhaust the emotional capacity of everyone, and make all involved feel the best route is simply stay silent, uninvolved, cynical, and standoff-ish.

There are times when ideas as expressed are horribly wrong, and you should certainly fight bad ideas. Stand up to stuff that is 180 degrees wrong, or even 140 degrees wrong.  Maybe even 90 degrees. (I am not the sole adjudicator of degrees of wrongness, you make the call).

But if people make a contribution that is correct but imperfect, take what you get from people, thank them, and build off it. Stop waging wars that don’t exist. Write your own post, plot your own path, add your own story.

That is all. Thank you.

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