535. The arousing (V)
Yesterday, I noted that Schopenhauer said that genius lies in concision. Very well, so journalism must be genius—it is concise, after all. Not quite. Schopenhauer said that popular song contains genius due to its conciseness, yet there was another element—its frankness and unaffectedness. Almost all pop music is about sex, especially today: it is about the search for a partner or about heartbreak—and it is played in those venues where humans acquire their mates.
In Schopenhauer’s day it was a little more varied: there were shanties at sea and songs to build rhythm as you took in the harvest—technology has done for those songs. So pop songs are mostly about sex, although a few are also about teenage anomie or the overt competition found in sports. What makes pop’s concise statements profound is their frankness, about sex or competition or adolescent doldrums. Journalism rarely achieves frankness about anything—so even its conciseness rarely helps it.
This is because journalism is related to advertisement, journalism tries to sell you a “product” in a more objective way; so today it sells you Zelensky or Putin—and it will doubtless be revealed that there are journalists who run two Twitter accounts, one for Zelensky and one for Putin; it is all meretricious, all about money or attention. Pop music is equally commercial, yet it is usually candid. When Amy Winehouse drawled “I don’t wanna go to rehab” or “You go back to her, and I go back to black” she might have been an attention-seeker after money, but she basically meant it. Journalists rarely, if ever, mean it; for them it is all a game, a “gotcha” game to play with other people—especially with people like Winehouse.
So despite its brevity, journalism rarely achieves what Schopenhauer sees as pop music’s redemptive style. Indeed, since Schopenhauer saw a “Will-to-life” in all things, he would have seen pop’s fascination with sex as being indicative that it was in touch with what really impels the species forwards: seek food, seek shelter, seek mate. By contrast, a bun fight over whether Putin or Zelensky is “evil” is totally unreal and only tangentially concerned with der Wille.
Only tabloid journalism comes close to pop music’s stylistic distinction, and this is because it is both concise and deals with more primal issues—indeed, pop stars are staple tabloid fodder. Daily Mail issues: gruesome crimes; sex scandals; house prices. These are what we really want to know about: violence, sex, and property. I knew an ambitious female lawyer who had, naturally, qualified as a barrister and a solicitor—the female is always indecisive, always on a new track. She admitted that “everyone” secretly reads the Daily Mail—and that is because, as with pop music, the Mail is real. It was her guilty pleasure, she knew that an educated person should read earnest Guardian articles about Ukrainian orphans—she preferred sex, violence, and property prices; just the essentials, in other words.
All journalism is bad, but the worst journalism is middlebrow “concerned” journalism—as exemplified by The Guardian or the NYT—where nothing frank is said; it is all polite appearance and pseudo-intellectualism. The best journalism used to come from The National Enquirer or the e-mail newsletter Popbitch. Muckrakers they might be, but muck is real—and, as they say, “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.” The same is true for trashy movies matched against Oscar winners: Total Recall remains more profound than Brokeback Mountain—it will last. Against Taleb, the interest is not really at the extremes: only short pieces are profound—it is not War and Peace and Heraclitus against the middlebrow; it is just Heraclitus, just war. Schopenhauer also said to think before you start to write, to build like an architect with a plan; of course, I failed to do so—otherwise I would have said all this yesterday in a sentence, and not patched the journalism issue with an article that doubled the length of my expression.