Starting over in a Post-Journalism World, Part Forty-Nine.

I

When I was researching the mechanisms of journalism by becoming a journalist myself, I deliberately went to a lot of job interviews in order to see the workings of it. I used the Matthews’ Media Directory as my guide to mark the change in players, but also the dirty gossip rag Frank magazine as my baseline. I had other ways of finding out things, but I found using both together gave me a crude roadmap that I could refine once got going.

I didn’t just go to interviews at media outlets. I also went to ones at public relations firms to get a feel for what they were looking for and their thought patterns when hiring; however, I often found out more than what I could have anticipated.

There was one international firm that had an office in Toronto, and I have discovered through different channels — including Frank — that they had an obsession with the dress code. Women could never show their midriff, which is reasonable, but they couldn’t skip pantyhose, not even if they wore pants.

When I didn’t want a job somewhere, I would make sure to be the right candidate in every way but one. You’d never get hired if you broke one ridiculous rule that had nothing to do with the job and wasn’t obvious to outsiders because that fake rule was the bane of the organization’s existence. You could be otherwise qualified, but if you Broke the Silly Rule, it was their Shibboleth, and that was that.

So, when I got the interview here, I wore flatter pants and dress-up sandals, but no pantyhose. If the rumours were true, that would be good enough not to hear from them again — and it was. The interviewer made a point of me not wearing pantyhose, and that if worked there, I would always have to wear them.

So my intel was spot on, and the interview went precisely as my outside research predicted it would.

But there was something that didn’t conform to my expectations that made this interview a motherlode of information for me.

Behind the interviewer was her computer with the screen on with several windows open. She was in the middle of “monitoring” BBS boards as this was the mid-1990s, and she was doing it for one of their bigger clients.

I took a good look at the screen and saw she was doing much more than just monitoring — she was actively participating — but as if she were just a regular citizen with no vested interest in promoting the client. To others on the forums, she was just another user.

Yet she wasn’t. She was an operative.

And that was the first time in my young career that I realized just how easy it was for PR firms to take advantage of a guileless public who never learned how to reflect to question, but merely react to opine about something they knew nothing about.

II

We talk about “social media influencers”, we know people are paid to shill handbags and shoes, yet when a celebrity tells people to vote for a certain party or candidate, we naively believe they aren’t being paid shills.

And yet they are.

They fight over swag bags at low-rent awards shows. They are paid to appear at birthday parties of dictators (and then try to pretend it was an “accident”). They have ghostwriters churn out their tweets. They pay for fake followers.

If there was any one group whose political beliefs are available to the highest bidder and not to be trusted on any account, it is Hollywood’s A-list.

It is a very Machiavellian business. Two threads stick out in modern political discourse: paying for agitators to cause trouble by having them pretend to be on the other side before encouraging the rivals to make damage to discredit them, and encouraging people to be repulsed by comfort and luxury.

We can see that the American Left have been co-opted for a long time now. The sudden taste for socialism points to it. In order to get people adjusted to getting screwed over by the rich and powerful, you have to first sell them that having a good life is a very bad thing.

But this is nothing new. Art Nouveau was a fin de siècle art movement that made luxury and idealism something even regular people could afford. The idea that everything was art — buildings, furniture, jewelry — was a novel idea and it caught traction in Europe.

It was heavily used in advertising with the likes of Alphonse Mucha defining the women depicted with have whiplash curves and doing things that were hinting at a fashionable feminist — feminista — preface.

Then suddenly, all of those frills were spun as being primitive and minimalism abruptly took over — it was harsh and masculine as it shunned luxury and espoused bare bone pragmatism.

And then World War One broke out.

People were primed to feel aggressive, and they fell in.

Then after power was consolidated, the more flamboyant Art Deco took over. It was the roaring 20s, but when the Dirty Thirties took over, Art Deco was still in play, but soon fell out of favour as the Second World War broke out.

In each case, popular culture had abrupt shifts, and it is a shift we are experiencing now.

But unlike previous eras, there are ways to expose the manipulation by the very vehicle that makes it too easy to prime a thoughtless middle class.

III

Much of the lure of social media is the idea of hiding your identity in order to push an agenda, but when it exposed, it breaks a spell. Amazon in Canada had such a scandal when anonymous glowing book reviews were accidentally exposed the identities to show it was the authors, their friends, and family who were telling people how great the books were.

But paid operatives are nothing new. American literature was also corrupted by having writers be secretly funded to shill political viewpoints.

Which can be disheartening — but also a starting point to get rid of the weasels who pretend to be opinionated, but merely prostitute their words and meme posters to the highest bidder.

The New York Post recently fretted about the illusion of a political divide in the US, wondering if anything can be done to stop, and the answer is yes.

Show which PR firms are being paid to push a political side.

Show how they are manipulating the public.

Ask the public why they are so eager to believe without verification. Yes, put it on the middle class and put them in the hot seat where they fear to sit.

Show which celebrities are being paid, and how much. Show who is paying for their limo rides and writing their political speeches.

Corner those celebrities and ask them hard questions about policy and statistics, and then start asking them to answer basic questions about how is it that they can afford their cars and mansions when they have been out of work for the last five years, and their cable or streamed shows don’t pay them very well to justify their lifestyle.

The alternative to journalism is a spell-breaker: it slays middle class fantasies as it exposes the games of the wealthy. It makes no narrative a safe fortress. It terrorizes propaganda by showing reality, and comparing and contrasting them both.

The American house is not “divided”. It is merely ignorant. Both sides need a good shaming, but not as much as their followers who think chest-thumping can be mistaken for knowledge, confidence, or passion. It is a mere misdirection to hide the fact people have hedged their bets and think that the They chosen will give them some freebies and a lollipop for picking the “correct” side.

Children, this isn’t grade school. This isn’t story time, either.

This is reality. This is life. Take off the blinders. Stop looking for crib notes.

The alternative to journalism is the anti-crib notes: it is the manual for navigating through reality, and actively using your own critical thinking skills as you are responsible for your own fate and future…