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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why It Feels Like Entropy is Everywhere

View from the Leopold Museum, Vienna
A few days away from Toronto did some good.

Instead of the relentless bad news about ISIS, Ebola and the Ford brothers, I spent the time visiting friends, seeing some art in London.

In Vienna, more "Wiener Werkst├Ątte" art plus an evening hearing some Mozart in Mozart's house. A little sachertorte didn't hurt either.

But it was impossible to escape reality entirely.

While I was in London, The Guardian published an amazingly sharp critique by a young Indian essayist and novelist, Pankaj Mishra. In a long article, Mishra explains why his confluence of disasters is the logical outcome of economic and political missteps by western countries and western culture. Entitled "Once Upon a Time In the West" it is well worth reading.

Mishra claims that the West has lost the power to shape events in its own image, "as recent events from Ukraine to Iraq make all too clear." He asks why does the West still preach the pernicious myth that every society must evolve along western lines?

Ebola is both a disease and a metaphor. It continues to horrify and fascinate the Europeans as much as it does for North Americans.

While the epidemic is serious and still remains a danger (mostly to West Africans), the anxiety especially in America seems disproportionate and a good example of the media sowing moral panic.
  • CNN's Brian Stelter tweeted that his on his show, Reliable Sources, the ratings went up 50% when they talk about Ebola.
  • Even the CBC has been infected. On Tuesday, October 21st, the CBC is having an day of programming about the disease which, according to one manager is a chance for the CBC to show "there is great value in creating a brand around our Ebola coverage and reinforcing for our audiences that we are THE destination for Canadians to go to for the Facts behind the Virus."
The mind reels at the heartless cynicism of this.

I was encouraged to watch the BBC's World Service television in my hotel in Vienna. An interview with a Canadian doctor pointed out that 1) the epidemic is slowly getting under control and 2) countries such as Ghana and Nigeria have excellent methods of containing the outbreak, thus demonstrating that Africa is still capable of handling this issue without the help of the West.

Media organizations in the West seem to need Ebola to reframe the question about the hapless and hopeless Africans. And if the ratings get a bounce while they are at it, even better.

Pankaj Mishra may be more prescient than he knew.


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