The News about the News about the NewsPosted: September 11, 2010
While observing anniversaries of doubtful utility (9-11) and meditating on Koran burnings, mosque building and other examples of over-the-top battles of rhetoric, hyperbole and people getting carried away with their own self righteous indignation, I also found myself wondering how much ‘news’ is created by the act of reporting itself, especially in the age of the 24 hour access news cycle.
A pastor from Florida with a moustache that would make the Village People say “Wow” announces that he will burn some Muslim holy books on the 9th 9-11 anniversary. Years ago, this might have been a local news item at best — but today it’s picked up everywhere and suddenly everyone is giving this schmuck his 15 minutes of fame. Suddenly Mayor Bloomberg of NYC and President Obama and General Petraeus are weighing in and angry Muslims are burning American flags in the middle east as the American taxpayer forks over more money for heightened security around the globe. People are scrambling to get the story out and Pastor Jones (who I suspect is a publicity whore who finds the attention intoxicating) suddenly manages to expand the reach of his “ministry” from Gainesville, Florida to anywhere with internet.
I certainly support the right of Pastor Terry Jones to say what he wants (even though I don’t respect the content of his free speech and suspect the motives behind it). But there does not seem to be a ‘perspective control’ on the media. Suddenly this self serving bigot in Florida gets a microphone that reaches the far corners of the globe and seemingly everyone is interested in what he is doing and why. Even more annoying, Pastor Jones can keep himself in the limelight by making numerous announcements about the proposed burning. Initially he said he was going to burn the Koran, then he said the Koran burning was off, then he said he would not burn the Koran if Imam Rauf and his Manhattan congregation agreed to relocate their ‘Park Place’ Muslim center, then he said the burning was back on, etc. I can’t keep track of whether he intends to go forward with this stunt or not… but, then again, I find myself resentful that the story seems to have as big a news ‘footprint’ as it does.
My own opinion is that book burning a) no longer works and b) is stupid. If your intent in burning a book is to deny others access to the work itself, book burning was probably much more effective in the Middle Ages and earlier, when few copies of any book existed. When Bishop Theophilis burned the Library of Alexandria in 391 (if he was the one who burned it; Historians disagree), many of the books that were destroyed may have been one of a kind. But Pastor Terry Jones can’t possibly believe that burning a pile of Korans in Florida is going to prevent others from reading the book (especially since you can read the Koran (or ‘Quran’) online). In the age of mechanical reproduction (perhaps we have moved beyond Bejamin’s “Mechanical Reproduction’ and into “post-analog duplication” with the internet), burning a book becomes simply a symbolic exercise. The people who are “anti-book” can gather around their bonfires and toss the books they object to into the flames and the people who are “pro-book” can cluck their tongues in disgust and fire off screeds into the ether (as I am doing). But nothing changes, other than shallow opinions get more deeply intrenched.
Some older people may remember Patricia Pulling of “Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons” (B.A.D.D.) fame. As an anti-occult activist, she latched onto the Dungeons & Dragons game as the cause of her son’s suicide and launched a nationwide campaign that encouraged people to burn D&D books. I suppose a few cranks still believe her line of twaddle, but other than giving Patricia Pulling (and some other anti-Satan God-botherers) a certain measure of authority in the occult scare movement, they failed to accomplish anything of substance and the movement has largely been discredited.
Now that September 11 is here, hopefully Pastor Terry Jones and the other Koran burners will move quickly out of the news cycle and be forgotten; as they deserve to be.
(Getting ready to burn some books: Picture at right, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center being followed by a Hootchie mama with a Nine on her hip — Given the nature of the rhetoric the Pastor employs, I suspect the “Dove” in “Dove World Outreach Center” is not a dove of peace — perhaps it is a reference to “Dove” soap (as in, “We shall Cleanse the World!”))