Scandal Sheet a 1952 black-and-white film noir directed by Phil Karlson was based on the novel The Dark Page by Samuel Fuller, who himself was a newspaper reporter before his career in film. In it the main anti-hero, a newspaper man, Mark Chapman – played by actor Broderick Crawford, takes over an ailing New York daily newspaper, the fictional New York Express, and revives it as a scandal sheet by staging a number of publicity stunts. The movie itself turns toward the fatalistic world of murder and mayhem in which the con man Chapman enters the scandal of his own corrupt life.
Yet, the scandal of our time is not so much particular stars our of politics, Hollywood, or the Wall-Street, etc., no today the scandal is News as such. In our time the legitimacy of news itself is coming into question. Most of our media-systems have themselves become nothing but thriving systems for social and political scandal sheets that gain ratings on the construction of ever more hyper-scandalized propaganda and corruption. Truth is no longer of issue, only the lie that will gain us a rating. Shaving a story to suit a specific ideological theme whether on sex, race, gender or some other favorite event of moment, the media has turned away from reporting neutral news and has turned into a pure scandal sheet of corruption breeding more corruption. Such newspapers and dailies that habitually prints gossip or scandalous stories still live amongst us, but of late a new trend has taken over in that most of our supposed legitimate public newspapers (Guardian, NY Times, Washington Post, etc.), TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, CNN, etc.), Radio, and even Twitter, Facebook, etc. have all become scandal sheets thriving on the corruption and decadence of stars within Sports, Hollywood, and Political worlds. So that the old separation between the scandal sheets and the legitimate press has broken down. Now one gets nothing but the yellow journalism of corruption and judgment in the court of public opinion.
We’ve lost the critical distance we once had between ideology and truth, now everything is ideologically spun in the mediscapes of the global press. Whether on the Left or Right the media pundits no longer hide their affiliations to politics or ideological stances on sex, gender, race, religion, or politics. It’s as if the global circus of the new press carries out the programmatic destruction of democracy in real time. People are no longer convicted in actual courts of appeals, but are rather convicted in the public scandal sheets of postmodern media like so many action toys to be lambasted, pilfered, and shook down without ever a questioning glance at truth. One is convicted before all the facts are in. The blip-screen feeds allow every fanatic of the Left or Right to latch onto their favorite scandal and run with it; reproduce it, add their own embellished and imaginative spin to it, rebroadcast it in even more sensational terms to the point that the original point or source is lost beyond all recognition. Instead one sees only the spectacular cultures construction of a new image taking on a life of its own. The image is more real that the human. Sadly we trust the images more than the humans, too.
As Debord would remind us the “primary cause of the decadence of contemporary thought evidently lies in the fact that the spectacular discourse leaves no room for reply… the spectators tend to want to be just as illogical as the spectacle”.1 Problem is Debord didn’t live to see Twitter and Facebook or any of a dozen other blip-reply systems that can at the flick of a sentence begin the process that can destroy almost anyone with rumor: the rumor-mills spin the rope that ties our world together not in truth and justice, but in the corruption and lies of the spectacle. Anymore people follow twitter or facebook or some other media blip world for the sheer fantasy of cultural spectacle. They hang on each new message from some particular cultural star, or politico of the moment; and, if someone makes an off-color remark – or, one that is against the new fascism of PC (Political Correctness) on either the Right or Left they are immediately brought before the court of tyrannical norms where they will be summarily taken to the local guillotine of cultural death. Suicide is assured for those who do not submit to the PC dictates of acceptable codes.
One of the hard lessons that Guy Debord offered in his Comments on Society of the Spectacle a follow up to his original work is that individuals who allow this spectacular world of idiocy into their lives become not only impoverished by it, but allow it to become their experience of the world even if they “had quite the opposite intention” (p. 31). As he says they will essentially follow the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one they are familiar with; the one in which they have learned to see and speak. “This is one of the most important aspects of spectacular domination’s success” (p. 31).
With the delegitimation of news comes the end of democracy which is based on the critical appraisal of the public forum where news must speak bare truth. We are no longer in a democracy. We’ve allowed the spectacle to corrupt our minds and lives to the point that sadly we’ve lost any ability to think for ourselves and see either ourselves or the issues of the day clearly. Instead the propaganda and ideological spectacle has become our only world.
1. Guy Debord. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. (Verso 1998)