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Downton Abbey and the Media

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The Weekly Standard, ardently #NeverTrump in a Trumpian age, had become an anachronism and consequently was shuttered last week.  It should have been a quiet and dignified death worthy of a great statesman that had simply aged out.  But Twitter was not going to let that happen.  Its demise was lauded and mourned, met with wailing and gnashing of teeth and jubilant celebration – all of it in short, pithy proclamations made in the strongest, broadest, harshest possible terms.  In short, Twitter was Twitter.

Which has me, as pretty much everybody else paying attention, wondering about our nation, our politics and our media.  Is the current age an aberration, created by new technology to which we will soon adjust, or has the new tech ushered in a permanent change?  Has the new tech generated a soul sickness or exposed one that has been here for a very long time?

A couple of weeks ago I got in a discussion with a couple of good friends about all things Trump.  One was quite upset that despite his over-the-top rhetorical and stylistic approach, “President Trump has accomplished very little.”  So we started discussing what has and has not been done.  I will not repeat it here, it is a good exercise for the reader to undertake on his or her own.  The point is this, when we were done President Trump came out pretty doggone typical – enormous accomplishment is some areas and falling pretty flat in others.  Despite being something quite apart in style and rhetoric, President Trump is quite ordinary as an office holder.  I dare you to honestly undertake the exercise.  If you call-balls-and-strikes (to borrow from the host), I think you’ll arrive at the same conclusions we did.

There are two conclusions obvious from this exercise.  The first is that our government, with its checks and balances, is extraordinarily resilient.  A seemingly massive seismic event in media has moved it very little.  Which leads one to the second conclusion – what is happening is happening in media, and purely in media – not in the “real world.”  (To support that conclusion, check out this recent post from Powerline.)  Apparently “virtual reality” is more than something that happens in some sort of heavy goggled tech suit when playing a game or watching professional wrestling.

That observation changes the questions a bit.  Now the question is simply, “Whither media?”  Well, genuine reality has a way of never letting go.  Someone will have to write the software, make the hardware, feed, cloth and house all those living out there in virtual reality.

Perhaps this will work best by analogy.  Think about “Downton Abbey.”  That manor simply could not function without the endless stream of so-called “servants’ that operated it on a daily basis.  Oh sure, it was the blue bloods upstairs that seemed to be in charge but theirs was, in many ways, a virtual reality.  All those manners and pomp depended on all the productive people that cooked the meals and dressed them and drove the cars and everything else.  In many ways, the blue bloods, despite their wealth, were the dependent class.  The great story arc of the series was the slow encroachment of genuine reality on their pampered and dependent lives.  Their virtual reality crumbled as war and economic change exposed their dependency and forced them, slowly and painfully, into genuine reality.

Just as a variety of fates awaited the various characters of Downton Abbey, so a variety of fates await the media and media consumers in our future as the current virtual reality crumbles in the face of an onslaught of genuine reality.  Somehow I cannot help but think the best outcome awaits those that hold to genuine reality as tightly as possible.


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