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Friday, July 16, 2010

The Prognosticators, or How I Wish I Coul Give Up The News

So it only took me 23 years, but I finally saw James L. Brooks' romantic comedy/satire/frightening gaze into the tea leaves, Broadcast News (1987). Having seen this masterful, nearly perfect movie, the only real fault I can find within its 133 minute running time is that it wasn't pessimistic enough about the future of news broadcasting.

I feel woefully undereducated in Brooks' filmography, having only seen As Good as it Gets (which had to grow on me) and Spanglish (which I have a bit of sympathy for, even as I can't quite bring myself to like the damn movie). 

I'm not interested in reviewing the movie here - it's developed a well-earned reputation on its own, thank you very much. there's just a cool bit of parity here given that I just interviewed a young documentary filmmaker as part of the New York Asian Film Festival. During my conversation with Tetsuaki Matsue, he talked a bit about objectivity/subjectivity and reporting - the idea that with both documentaries and the news one can't escape from creating a story.

What I got to thinking about after seeing Broadcast News and reflecting on this interview is that with documentaries, one can be forgiven for entertaining a little, playing to the crowd as you try to lay down some kind of position piece or narrative with actors, stakes, and consequences. Where it get downright diabolical is with news reporting (this is all Media Studies, 101, forgive me, but I'm just riffing on my recent experience) where the need to create a narrative has intruded on the so-called objective attempt to present the facts.

Events now become binary, with opposing forces and equal weight given to each side of the conversation, which is kind of a false premise when sometimes the other side is actually just full of it. Worse, reporting has become the "fake tears" scene from Brooks' script writ large: news personalities have so thoroughly injected themselves into the narrative, we're now asked to care about how they feel about the news (and to in turn interpret current events through that prism).   

It was just something that sort of bummed me out after watching the movie - seeing how far we've moved into what was just 25 years ago satire.

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