When journalists were the sole gate-keepers of information, they could shade the information any way they wished. They could build up people to become Titans and Great Men. They could turn anyone they disliked into a Jabberwocky. They could keep back information just as they could enhance or downplay critical information. They could use narrative and sophistry any way they wished.
Their critics could do very little to stop it.
Then the Internet came roaring and giggling along, broke down the gates, and then journalism lost its clout.
The biggest blessing social media gave was to lift a veil on many untested truisms that were mistaken for reality, the biggest one being that journalism was all about narrative, and not actual facts.
But there are narratives inside stories, but there are also meta-narratives about how citizens view a person, event, or issue. We make assumptions based on press coverage, believing we are working from facts, when, in fact, we are basing our knowledge on journalistic narrative.
Because journalism could suppress opinion by ignoring it, there was a lot of things we didn’t actually know, but should have.
Twitter was the biggest liberator of public opinion, and showed us something that seems to disappear from all the chatter:
That opinion doesn’t actually matter on one level, but is absolutely essential on another.
In a world of 7.4 billion people, every permutation of a opinion is out there. You will never get 7.4 billion people to agree on any subject, no matter how big or how small.
For instance, the press loves to pick on the band Nickelback. It is supposed to be a given that the band is just awful…
And yet, they sell songs, tour, meaning people pay money to see them, and have a fan base.
So the consensus is an illusion. You have people who like them, people who love them, people who hate them, people who don’t care about them…and people who have no idea who they are.
But if consensus is an illusion, then so is controversy because no matter what the issue, there will be people violently against it.
Twitter has proven this fact beyond a doubt. People will knock all things…
And you would think that since this fact has been exposed to the world since March 21, 2006, the day Twitter made its debut, that we wouldn’t be talking about something being controversial as something newsworthy, but mundane.
And yet journalism still uses the notion of controversy to manipulate stories. We talk about “controversial” figures, even when, technically, even the most benign and mundane of things are seen as such to groups of people.
The term is imprecise. A figure may be polarizing, but they will have supporters along with detractors. People may be controversial to the Establishment, but not to those far away from power. The term is used to designate an “outsider” who doesn’t play by the Establishment’s made-up rules for the most part.
We can often see old school strategists still invoke the ploy. Jordan Peterson, who has been labelled a “controversial” figure, tried to pass on the same label to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in a recent interview. This is a mere game of optics and taking the lines you draw in the sand to be real, rather than a mere hypothetical construct of personal convenience.
Peterson reaped benefits from the controversial narrative, but then tried to use it to force others to see it as a dark filter toward someone who does not share the same life theories as he has. It is a patriarchal structure, explaining why journalists still cling on to that illusion as well.
It is to build up a false narrative to rig opinions to align with the speaker of the message’s desires.
We are all controversial to someone — many someones. That is not a big deal, especially in an Age of Twitter.
We have no shortage of opinions, explaining why they aren’t important. We have people trying to take something mundane and build it up to cause fear, acceptance, adoration, or even derision.
But what we lack are facts. Controversy is relative, but facts are absolute. What is happening? How is it impacting people? What are the consequences?
That matters, but somehow, we still look for controversy when it is not as important or telling as it first seems…