Monday, March 16, 2009

Great Expectations for Media

An incredible thing happened last Thursday night on Comedy Central. The Daily Show with John Stewart aired an episode-length conversation between Daily Show's John Stewart and CNBC's "Fast Money" host, Jim Cramer. The discussion focused on the economic crisis.

What excites me about the Stewart-Cramer economic debate is that, unlike all others I've seen, this debate asks questions about the very medium through which this disaster was presented and, as Stewart alludes, even composed.

In response to the dangerous lending practices of banks like Bear Sterns and Merril Lynch, Jim Cramer says "we all should have seen it more" and "I want indictments for these guys." After Cramer makes one of these remarks, Stewart rolls a clip of Cramer speaking with a young guy about how he (Cramer) managed his hedge fund, (all of this was before his gig on "Fast Money"). The amazing thing about these clips, and their careful placement beside Cramer's response on JS, is how easily Cramer's knowledge about how one can "manipulate" the market (legally and illegally) is showcased.

Market manipulation, one element of the economic crumble, means creating a fiction, composing an elaborate game in which men like Cramer watch from the outside in, aware of the secret codes, while everyday investors--workers contributing to their 401K's--are helplessly caught inside.

Toward the close of the show, Stewart remarks "CNBC could be a tool of illumination." Stewart is right, it could be. But it isn't and was not. It is the emblem of disaster. Stewart comments better than I ever could in saying "you all know, you all know." Not only did men like Cramer know about the risk and fiction, but they propelled the game on until the disease paralysed the entire operating body.

What is left for us other than the imagination? What kind of world would one live in without the stock market? What would it take to imagine a media (a true "news" genre) that does not "sell snake oil as vitamin tonic?"

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