This will be a drive-by post because, well, graduate school.
But, I was struck today by an interesting article at The Atlantic. I’ve talked here before about the organizational logic of manufacturing controversy. Trading in racism (and sexism, ableism, any-ism) is a cheap form of currency as media struggles to figure out how to peacefully co-exist with the Wild, Wild Web.
However, I’ve never seen a case where the tension between cheap page-views and controversy was so cynically obvious as it is in this case.
Apparently, The Atlantic published a fairly horrible story about the decline of marriage. It’s the kind of Sexist Chicken Little fodder that happens. It plays on the fear that women will die with dried up ovaries as the end of men, facebook, and porn destroys the institution of marriage. This kind of thing is published something fairly regularly.
Yet, ever since the Anne Marie Slaughter article The Atlantic has had a vested interest in being a place where we talk about sex and sex roles and gender and sexism. So, they have a companion blog platform with all associated social media tools. It’s branded Atlantic Sexes.
This week, by the time the fairly horrible (I repeat myself because it is both mildly boring AND horrible) story about men not needing to marry because online dating has made sexual conquest so easy ran in the print edition, there was already a counter view point going up on Atlantic Sexes.
It’s a good take-down, too.
It’s full of all that data and logic I tend to like.
But the whole time I was reading it I could see the Atlantic banner and the time stamps of the stories and it all felt…cheap and dirty.
I felt like I’d been duped into a faux controversy where The Atlantic is the only clear winner. First, they publish a non-story about a horndog who uses the Internet to score chicks and a major media outlet platform to proclaim that he’s the future of marriage. It’s got sex, fear, and the Internet in one nifty article. It’s a melange of media tropes about gender and partnerships.
Next, The Atlantic has web content ready to go with a complete data-driven take-down of its own article. The magazine is literally arguing with itself.
What about credit for airing both sides of a debate, you say? I say that’s a great virtue to have in the Fourth Estate. But there is no evidence here of any debate that was not manufactured by the magazine. There was no public outcry about the stupid article that prompted the editors to revisit its position. There wasn’t even enough time!
The result is that instead of feeling like The Atlantic was an ally in the losing war against sensationalism, faux punditry and tabloid journalism, it feels like The Atlantic is manipulating my emotions for attention. And in this climate where page views are currency, attention is about crass capitalism. If it is logical for organizations in a shifting institutional field to manufacture controversy to stay solvent then double-dipping in the controversy as a normal course of business flies past protectionism and head-long into rationalized cynicism. The double-dip of organizational cynicism? Yes, I’m going with that.
Anyway, read them both. They worked hard enough to make sure you’d have to.
But you may want to shower a little after.