blogenlust
12.02.2004

Red: It's the New Black


Frank Rich has a great piece on the Nascarization of the nightly news in today's New York Times. By Nascarization, Rich means the emergence of the red state cool (red is the new black!) that is sweeping the nation, and is now rearing its (ugly) head on basic cable:
There's a war on. TV remains by far the most prevalent source of news for Americans. We need honest information to help us navigate, not bunkum skewed to flatter one segment of the country, whatever that segment might be. Yet here's how Jeff Zucker, the NBC president, summed up the attributes of Brian Williams, Tom Brokaw's successor, to Peter Johnson of USA Today: "No one understands this Nascar nation more than Brian." Mr. Zucker was in sync with his boss, Bob Wright, the NBC Universal chairman, who described America as a "red state world" on the eve of Mr. Brokaw's retirement. Though it may come as news to those running NBC, we actually live in a red-and-blue-state country, in a world that increasingly hates all our states without regard to our provincial obsession with their hues. Nonetheless, Mr. Williams, who officially took over as anchor on Dec. 2, is seeking a very specific mandate. "The New York-Washington axis can be a journalist's worst enemy," he told Mr. Johnson, promising to spend his nights in the field in "Dayton and Toledo and Cincinnati and Denver and the middle of Kansas." (So much for San Francisco - or Baghdad.) I don't mean to single out Mr. Williams, who is prone to making such statements while wearing suits that reek of "New York-Washington axis" money and affectation. But when he talks in a promotional interview of how he found the pulse of the nation in Cabela's, a popular hunting-and-fishing outfitter in Dundee, Mich., and boasts of owning both an air rifle and part interest in a dirt-track stock-car team, he is declaring himself the poster boy for a larger shift in our news culture. He is eager to hunt down an audience, not a story.
I agree. Like any fad, red state cool is more about opportunism than a signal of a real cultural shift. In this case, it's the networks running with a narrative they've helped to create, and are now trying to reinforce, not for the sake of news, but for the sake of their own financial gain. The real shift is not occurring in American culture, it's occurring in the news culture. It's the Foxification of news: an appeal to patriotic emotion whose top priority is the comfort of its audience in spite of what the actual news may be. Fox invented it, CNN and the rest of cable news aspire to it, and now the Big Three want it, too.