Part 2—Joining a decades-old culture: For us, the dumbnification of Salon was the most striking media event of the past year.
Salon was created in the 1990s as a magazine which was politically left-of-center and intellectually brighter than average.
In the dumbnification we honor today, Salon has joined a deepening, decades-old culture—a culture in which liberals and progressives have played active and passive roles.
Our political discourse has been very dumb for a good long many years. As a sampler, let’s consider a few of the themes we have explored at this site over the past fifteen years:
Starting in the fall of 1999, the mainstream press corps staged a long jihad about the wardrobe of the Democratic front-runner for president. For several months, mainstream journalists discussed his boots and his suits—the number of buttons he wore on his suits, the fact that one suit was brown.
The discussed his troubling polo shirts and the reasons he wore them. They discussed how high he was hemming his pants; they offered theories concerning his motives for the height of his hems.
In a undisguised month-long misogynist stew, they declared—absent any actual evidence—that Naomi Wolf had told him that he should wear earth tones. (Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man!)
This ugly nonsense concerning Wolf went on for a month. Even as mainstream journalists pounded this nonsense, we liberals refused to speak.
No one engaged in this strain of dumbnification more aggressively than Chris Matthews. Today, he hosts a nightly show on The One True Liberal Channel, where he directs his beetle-browed skills at a new, different set of targets. Pseudo-liberal god Rachel Maddow declares his greatness, along with her undying love for this great brilliant man.
In that same campaign, the Democratic nominee was mockingly misparaphrased and misquoted, in a wide assortment of ways, over a twenty-month period. (Al Gore said he invented the Internet!) The liberal world sat around and stared—except to the extent that the liberal world took part in this horribly dumbnified process.
In the fall of 2012, Susan Rice was mockingly misparaphrased and misquoted in a very similar way. The dumbness was there for all to see—and our great liberal leaders kept quiet again.
Our great “intellectual” leaders! More on that silence tomorrow.
By the time the 2000 campaign began, the discourse had been buried under decades of manifest bullshit about federal spending, federal debt, the nature of federal taxation and the Social Security program. (“The money isn’t there! We’ve already spent it!”)
Even by 1994, this onslaught of dumbnification had produced a wide array of pathetic results. One especially sad example: In September of 1994, the Associated Press reported a new survey in which “young Americans [ages 18-34] find it easier to believe in UFOs than the likelihood Social Security will be around when they retire.”
This apparent survey was bruited for years, encouraging even more voters to believe the manifest nonsense at its base.
The dumbnification about Social Security rolled on unchallenged, uncorrected. Go ahead! Name the liberal journalist or liberal org which tackled this manifest nonsense, preferably in a way the public could understand.
In December 2001, a new piece of dumbnification got its start. Based on international test scores which our “educational experts” forgot to examine or analyze, miraculous Finland began to be hailed for its miraculous educational achievements.
As we noted last week, white students in this country matched miraculous Finland on those scores from the 2000 PISA. This strongly suggests that miraculous Finland was not engaged in a miracle.
Despite this fact, a highly dumbnified script took wing, as did a generation of journalists. With furrowed brows and open palms, they accepted the free trip to Finland, preferably in the spring or summer months.
As a result, a ridiculous script dominated the educational discourse for the next dozen years, even among liberal leaders. In her new book, Reign of Error, even Diane Ravitch promotes this ridiculous script.
This script about Finland represents only one way in which the educational discourse was dumbnified:
During this same period, “educational experts” and education “journalists” routinely praised the National Assessment of Educational Progress as the gold standard of domestic educational testing. As they did, they kept forgetting to explain what the NAEP data seemed to show—large score gains among all demographic groups in math, with score gains in reading which were almost as impressive.
(Ravitch explains these facts in some detail in Reign of Error.)
The data had always been there for all to see. But in a dumbnified culture, data are either ignored or invented. The script said things were getting much worse, and everyone knew the script must be bruited. This process of dumbnification produced the highlighted statement by a major American journalist, a person who manifestly isn’t stupid, venal or evil:
KELLER (8/19/13): [T]here is plenty of room for debate about precisely how these [Common Core] standards are translated into classrooms. But the Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.Bill Keller isn’t stupid or evil. But in a thoroughly dumbnified culture, people who are perfectly bright end up making statements like that from the nation’s highest platforms.
The dumbnification of our culture exists in various forms:
We talk about moronic topics. Having accepted such topics, we make moronic statements about them.
Moronic scripts are accepted by all. Actual data are widely ignored, or data are simply invented.
Misquotation and inane paraphrase come to define an age. Things fall apart. Journalistic anarchy is loosed upon the world.
The best lack all conviction; the worst are full of intensity. In this especially pitiful year, Salon has helped us see that some rough beasts move their slow thighs in our own tribal slice of the world.
Good grief! The dumbnification which has obtained at that once-lofty site! Sadly enough, as Salon has dumbed itself down, it has chosen to focus on important issues of gender and race, issues which deserve non-dumbnified treatment.
That said, nothing will stop the dumbnification which has made a rolling joke of the site. Yesterday, these presentations appeared in the order presented in Salon’s table of contents:
The New York Post hits a new lowIn theory, those topics could perhaps have been explored in intelligent ways. But go ahead—read the way Salon explored them!
A cover story on a murder victim draws well-deserved outrage
MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS
MONDAY, JAN 6, 2014 10:45 AM EST
10 ways porn perpetuates myths about men and sex
Intense manscaping and injections of Caverject are just a few of the ways porn stars are far from your average dude
ANNA PULLEY, ALTERNET
SUNDAY, JAN 5, 2014 08:00 PM EST
Tiger Mom is back with despicable new theory about racial superiority
"The Triple Package" posits that eight cultural groups in America are better than everyone else
SUNDAY, JAN 5, 2014 04:09 PM EST
How baby boomers screwed their kids—and created millennial impatience
Ambitious but easily distracted, Gen Y wants to be good but can't stick to anything. It's their parents' fault
SATURDAY, JAN 4, 2014 09:45 AM EST
For one example, do you find any sign that Gupta has actually read the book she discusses or pretends to discuss? She makes no such claim in her post. (In a nice Salonistic touch, Salon misidentifies Tiger Mom in its photo, mistaking her for one of her daughters.)
Consider that three millionth piece in which Salon tells its “millennial” targets that they share an experience and a place within society, all thanks to those baby boomers. Semi-comically, Salon was also offering this in its table of contents, just six posts below it:
You can now remove the word “millennial” from everything you read on the Internet“From everything you read on the Internet?” What about the three million millennial-themed posts you have now read at Salon? Meanwhile, concerning the thoughtful report about porn stars’ extremely large wieners, the piece appeared in Salon’s MOST READ line-up directly above a companion:
And replace it with "Pesky young whipper-snapper"
MONDAY, JAN 6, 2014 12:15 PM EST
10 ways porn perpetuates myths about men and sexIn theory, Clark-Flory’s topic is or could be serious. At this point, how serious is any work at Salon?
ANNA PULLEY, ALTERNET
10 Hollywood movies that dared to go down
Dumbnification will always be in the eye of the beholder. In our eye, we thought we saw a lot of dumbnification at Salon this year.
The work at the site has become so dumb that it has created a new literary form—the reader comment denouncing Salon for its cosmic dumbness. Many such comments come from “the right;” quite a few of those comments add to the air of dumbnification.
Some of these comments come from “the left.” They bemoan the arrival of The Big Dumb at Salon.
Dumbnification is in the eye of the beholder! Having said that, we will also say this:
For decades, liberals and progressives failed to challenge the dumbnification which has come to define our public discourse. To our eye, various liberal orgs have now begun playing active roles in the spread of this unhelpful culture.
Where does MSNBC fit in? Tomorrow, a look at the channel’s latest flap, and at the general trends.
Tomorrow: Is dumbnification us?