Published June 19, 2014
There is one passage from Schiller that sticks out in my memory again and again when considering this phenomenon:
Only impotence and perversity have recourse to false and necessitous appearance, and individual men as well as entire peoples who either ‘help forward reality by means of appearance’ or ‘(aesthetic) appearance by means of reality’ — the tendency is to do both things together — reveal at the same time their moral worthlessness and their aesthetic incapacity.
There’s this persistent factoid sometimes floated about political entertainment like The Daily Show, where viewers of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are said to be somehow “better informed” regarding politics than viewers of say, Fox News. I see no reason to dispute that, just look at Stewart’s audience, it’s all pop culture obsessed millennials, people who consume the news as a sort of melodrama.
The knowledge that Stewart’s audience possesses of current events is about as substantial as the knowledge they have of the fantastical world in which the Game of Thrones television series takes place. The 24-hour news cycle is really just a television show, nothing more, it’s aesthetic, not factual in nature.
In this television show is represented the trials and tribulations of our collective cultural identity, as if that shared identity wasn’t merely an idea, but a person. The news cycle is a comic book style narrative in which this collective identity battles for the sake of good against socially regressive forces like opposition to gay marriage. The news cycle is “false and necessitous appearance” according to Schiller, we’re essentially trying to narrate an equal, ‘progressive’ society into actuality by deceitfully insisting that this narrative take the place of reality and become universal and objective as judgment of experience.
Only insofar as there’s some story to tell, some opponent to fight, is it possible to continue narrating the misadventures of that lovable rogue “Society,” and only insofar as we continue to narrate its existence does it achieve and measure of objective actuality. Only by means of the narrative itself does the progressive society exist.
This necessitates a neverending, perpetual struggle be acted out by the protagonist of the 24-hour news cycle narrative, and for that to happen some further obstacle or opposition must be contrived for our hero to triumph over. This is why gay marriage is the fastest formed political orthodoxy ever, not because gay marriage is simply unambiguously correct, but because there needed to be some villain or heel for the story to continue.