News for the NASDAQ-obsessed Elite
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In a thousand years, when the alien anthropologists want to understand fin de siècle human civilization before the war or the flooding or whatever it is that mercifully wiped us out, they will find no better site to dig than the satellite signals squiggling through space of CNN International, the omnipotent atlas-straddling face of Ted Turner's Atlanta based dream child, now a Time-Warner product.
Nothing else so effectively squeegees the cultural plasma of the Brave New Global Economy. Nothing else so mirrors the inch deep psuedo-occupations of the airport waiting, stock owning global elite. The programming and the advertising, to the extent that they can be separated on CNNi, constitute the Ur-text of post-fixed line NASDAQ-obsessed humanity, a text produced on the assumption that the world preforma kneels before the gilded calves of instant stock quotes and telecom tech dish. The network initiate who does not understand this is soon consumed by an overwhelming urge to spit blood and inhale deeply the rich, liberating fumes of crack cocaine.
CNNi was conceived as a shared news source for the English-speaking international consuming class, the Walter Cronkite of the middle-brow stateless modern. But the trappings that allow the network to pose as merely a more sophisticated version of the domestic US station are deceptive. Standard news updates are sandwiched tight between business shows and regular updates from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The straight news is routinely filtered through the lens of its effect on 'investor confidence'. Indeed, one begins to pity the event untouched by comment from those newly knighted wonks of the privatized planet: the specialized 'industry analyst'. Whereas business news once fit into the larger puzzle of world events, it is now sum total of those events. CNNi is the unwatchable triumph of this fact. Bloomberg for stock-option generalists. Time Magazine for post-Westphalian silicon citizens. What the fuck happened to the news?
Of course this uniquely 90s trend has influenced the whole of Anglo news, including dents in the once venerable pillar of Second Wave journalistic integrity, the BBC. But somehow I feel especially revulsed by the way in which the values of business and their pin-striped shock troops are strained through the trademarked looking glass mincer of CNN International. Here the worst tropes of American news -- the idiotic banter, the stern yet moronic presenters, the predictable establishment spin -- are amplified into the global arena with a happy pro-business multinational cast, as if the white and black and brown and (sometimes) yellow men and women of CNNi had declared an island television nation at the End of History called Dipshitopia-dot.com.
Dipshitopia-dot.com always has a pleasant climate. Even while global warming induced storms wreak havoc upon most corners of the world, the CNNi weather update -- presented by an attractive yuppified West African -- manages to create all of the comfort and piped-in calm of the VIP elevator at Rockefeller Plaza. You know the one: an out of focus waterfall bubbles in the background as a soothing dimestore native pan-flute soundtrack eases the upward flow of every capital in which one could possibly need to do business. From Addis Ababa to Zurich, we're together in first class. Wink.
After the weather report, the viewer is ready for one of the many advertorials posing half-heartedly as informational news programming. Perhaps it is the travel show, in which upscale resorts and exclusive islands are displayed for the jaded National Geographic subscriber. Or maybe "Business Unusual", generously underwritten by Sir Arthur Anderson, will treat us to in-depth interviews and fascinating human interest stories about "different kinds of" companies "making a difference" who just happened to be preparing a IPO. If the viewer has a particularly large number of buckets in the room, he or she may want to enjoy "Inside Africa", which at times bears an uncanny resemblance to a real estate report. HIV bad; mineral rights good.
True, CNNi hasn't completely morphed into CNBC, the all-business channel that causes seizures in epileptic viewers by scrolling stock quotes from several simultaneous angles. CNNi even on occasion recognizes the existence of a world beyond Wall Street, and will run a good program on some non-tech stock related issue, such as nuclear war or the disappearing ozone layer or Art. But these are trimmings. Serious coverage of world events are bite-sized appendages to business-oriented 'news you can use,' to use an expression that captures in four words why you should not have children.
CNN can no longer convincingly hold up the front. It should follow Reuters and simply declare itself to be a "business information provider," not a traditional news source.
Alex Zaitchik is an editor at Freezerbox, where this column first appeared.