In early May 2009 Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News International, made a conference call in which he described newspapers as being in the midst of an “epochal debate”. He was addressing the business model of the media in the past few years, years which have seen sales figures decline, share prices slump to new lows, and some newspapers being forced to stop printing altogether and go online only.
His exact words were, “(Newspapers) are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear that for many newspapers the current model is malfunctioning.”
That the current media is malfunctioning is evident from many things. Profits seems to be dipping year on year, although not from a lack of media consumption amongst the general public. There was a rumour circulating a couple of years ago that the then editor of the Daily Telegraph was finding out what to put in his newspaper the next day by watching BBC News 24 in the evenings, suggesting some kind of structural fault in the media. The media, in theory, is a gestalt, an emergent property of the model that is greater than the sum of its parts and influences all its component unit’s behaviour. Everyone switched on person who consumes media would be forgiven for thinking that this gestalt is now dead. In his book An Introduction to the Theories of Modern Culture, Dominic Striantii says:
The mass media, for example, was once thought to hold a mirror up to, and thereby reflect, a wider social reality. Now reality can only be defined in terms of this mirror. Society had become subsumed within the mass media. It is no longer even a question of distortion, since the term implies that there is a reality outside the surface simulations of the media, which can be distorted, and that is precisely what is at issue according to postmodern theory
One wonders if the media gestalt has been eaten alive, just as it ate wider social reality, by some hyperreal actuality that divested it of its meaning altogether, presumably on some completely conceptual plane. The media is like a stone that casts a shadow, but when the shadow becomes more important than the stone itself, the stone itself stops existing in any legal reality, and only the shadow remains. In this way, the media are a phantasm, something that only exists because some individual believes it should, rather than something that exists in objective reality. If this is true then the media cannot be said to exist at all any more, and if it does produce radio shows and print newspapers, in doing so it serves only to produce information for benighted solipsists.
In utterances like this by Rupert Murdoch I see evidence that other people believe what I already firmly believe myself. I think in images, and process reality using them. Personally speaking, I believe there is a thread of causation that links media morbidity to the credit crunch. I believe both are elements of the same system, a system affected by some contemporary paradox or other.
There are many theories about how the credit crunch started. In theory, banks, countries and multinationals should have been able to use future earnings as collateral for borrowing ad infinitum, and borrow money to repay loans ad infinitum too, so long as they could prove that they were going concerns. Most stable countries, such as Britain, can easily argue that they will still exist as legal entities in 300 years time, and so regularly borrow money to pay off earier borrowed money – in fact it is standard practice amonngst nations, although of course we would be appalled if anyone ran their personal finances like this.
There is a system that links world finance together, a medium that links legal realities together like beads on a necklace, which is then presented as an emergent whole. This world network is where our confidence in our fudiciary paper currency and the permeability of world affairs lives, and it would be here that someone, somewhere, sowed the seeds of doubt that resulted in the collapse of confidence which started the subprime mortgage crisis in the United States. What motivation this presumably greatly influential individual might have had is unclear.
The world as it stands, and the system that runs it, is haeorrhaging money and is being shored up, one stroke of the American Presidential pen at a time, by cash injections in the hundreds of billions.
If there is a structural fault in the world economy no amount of money being thrown to shore up the system will have any long term effect. It would be important instead to address the structural faults in the system with a view to building robust economies upon that investment. Perhaps the giants of world capitalism, such as Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, will agree with me.