Thursday, August 06, 2009

Mouthpiece Theater: A Cautionary Tale for the Mainstream Media

Yesterday, citizen activists and citizen journalists like you and me were amused and relieved to discover that the frequently reviled Washington Post online video series Mouthpiece Theater featuring Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza had been killed by the company. Apparently criticizing the Huffington Post as gutter journalism is okay, but as reported today by Politico, referring to the Secretary of State as a "mad bitch" crosses the line.

Denigrating amateurism by mocking it only works if the delivery is infused with wit and grace, and this series had none of that. When misogyny enters the picture, even if justified as a tongue-and-cheek shot at lunkhead ignorance, it's time to hang it up.

To be fair, Mouthpiece Theater was, more often than not, woefully inept satire rather than derogatory and offensive invective, but the premise upon which it was predicated grew out of a desire to lob grenades of sour grapes and derision upon the blogsophere and the changing climate of New Media. A word of caution to the so-called professionals: if you're going to mock New Media citizen journalists, then take care not to imply that everyone of them are uncouth, ridiculously misinformed yahoos. If you do, then you'd better back that unsubstantiated generalization up with lots of laughs. Otherwise, the end result will be so woefully unfunny that you'll be tempted to aim for the lowest common denominator. The intent might have been to wink at bloggers in on the joke who find it frequently exasperating how many kooks, trolls, and pretenders grace our ranks, but it was always difficult for me not to read between the lines and view the true motives behind the bad punchlines.

In many ways, Mouthpiece Theory reminded me of the movie Wayne's World, in which Wayne and Garth have just signed a contract that would allow their show to reach a larger television audience. When walking onto the set at which each of their forthcoming shows will be taped and performed, they are astonished to find how commercialized and ersatz the program has become now that major advertisers have been employed and big money is at state. "Does anyone else find this weird?", Garth puzzles, "I mean, we're looking down on Wayne's basement..only that's not Wayne's basement...isn't that weird?" Or, in other words, one must understand New Media to emulate it and probably not be a rank-and-file member of conventional outlets, otherwise the effect produced looks much like a fifty-year-old dressing in fashionable, trendy clothes while at the same time deliberately using youthful slang, both of which he or she is thirty years too old to credibly pull off.

Andy Cobb and Josh Funk, two comedians who perform as part of The Public Service Administration have recorded a video parody of the late Mouthpiece Theater which is included below. Their efforts, in no small part directly contributed to the Post's cancellation of the aforementioned video series. And when I ponder this, I think about our role as citizen activists. New Media is such a nascent concept that we are even now shaping its scope and even its definition, but I am proud to be part of a new paradigm of modernity. It is tempting to fear that which is a largely unknown quantity but I believe firmly that many of us were designed for these times and destined to take their roles and their places to build something for this age.

And in saying this, I recognize my limitations and everyone's limitation. As for me, I know single payer coverage is off the table. Maybe I can't convince my neighbors to stop fearing the government. Maybe I can't stop the latest genocide. Maybe I can't bring every American soldier home from combat in a distant land. When I feel powerless against the system, in all of its multifaceted ways, even modest triumphs like these give me renewed hope. If we can continue to be a means by which the Mainstream Media is kept honest and in so doing forced to realize that fighting us will never work as well as embracing the overwhelmingly good things which we have to offer, then I know we can accomplish much and could accomplish even more if we could put aide our petty grievances and in-fighting for the sake of the collective good. We are the only people holding us back. We are here to stay and we serve an important role in shaping the debate.

h/t Blue Gal

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