Excerpts from Ellen Hume’s essay in Harvard’s “Nieman Reports,” reviewing Todd Gitlin’s new book, Media Unlimited.

“…To Gitlin, ‘media’ aren’t really about journalism at all, or anything real. They are an alternative universe, a parade of surrogate experiences and disposable feelings, delivered through films, television, music, radio, advertising, print publishing, cell phones and computer games…Everything is made to be taken lightly, and to pass by quickly. We are zombies, strapped into roller coasters. Part of the thrill is the speed of the media ride…

“…Gitlin’s discovery of hedonism is as old as time, but so is every generation’s search for meaning. People keep stepping in front of the Tiananmen tank, challenging the abuses of power. If the media content providers aren’t part of that alternative, something else—like the Taliban—will be. “Unless we are prepared to make demands on one another, we can enjoy only the most rudimentary kind of common life,” the late Christopher Lasch warned….

“…Journalism remains important around the world, even if its commercial values isn’t amortized properly by most media companies. It has been the tortoise to Gitlin’s speeding hare. Some of the best and worst journalists in the world are inciting action every day, in more desperate corners of the globe and even here at home…Reporters are getting killed in record numbers, not just by terrorists in Pakistan, but by their own governments and by people who fear their power. ..

“…Bad content does have an impact…Gitlin emphasizes that the media are not driven by some megalomaniac American supercorporation, trying to impose its ideology, but by the drive for audience numbers, the need to be popular. They “have no cultural commitment whatsoever,” Gitlin says. The problem is, he thinks that’s reassuring. Unfortunately, collateral damage can be just as destructive as a deliberate assault.”

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