Over the past few weeks the space above the newspaper fold has been overloaded by news. The rebels in Syria are rebranding themselves (with a new logo and all that) to appeal to backers either in the West or Saudi Arabia. The IRS scandals continue to simmer. Israel is preparing for war with Syria. Parts of Stockholm are burning after a week of “immigrant” riots. A serving British soldier was decapitated by misguided individuals on a greater London street, right in front of a military base. A passenger jet was diverted and escorted down by fighter aircraft in Britain after two more misguided individuals attempted to enter the cockpit as it neared the UK. And perhaps most frightening, but completely smothered in the news blizzard is the Japanese bond meltdown, one which according to financial guru Kyle Bass, is only the prelude to China’s own troubles and will lead to someone fighting someone. “If I were put in charge of Japan, I’d quit”.
But in today’s globalized world there’s no place for man to go after quitting. We are stuck on the planet. So it’s only understandable that President Obama’s speech for today focuses on sexual assaults in the military while David Cameron is concentrating on the issue of gay marriage. The headline news in France, which is now in recession, is focused on the role that Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, may have played in the embezzlement of 270 million pounds.
When things are tough it’s time to deal with the really important things. Count on it. From here on we’ll hear more about the troubles of reality show contestants and the wardrobe malfunctions of buxom celebrities. What else can our dear leaders do? Face the facts?
Trivia is most appealing when the substantial is least. But it’s not all escapism; excessive amounts of unspinnable tidings create a genuine saturation. Back in the days of the Cold War, naval analysts used to count the number of fire control radars on a ship to calculate the number of missiles you had to fire to sink it. If a warship had four radars the ‘price of admission’ was five missiles. The fifth it was presumed, would be one more than the defensive systems could handle. This is analogous to the situation the news is currently in. The narrative machine is overloaded.
The way the system appears to be dealing with this is the “thunk”. Oldsters will remember the way in which 16-bit machines used to deal with 32-bit code. The 32-bit memory space was too big to fit inside 16-bit. So the programmers chopped up the 32 bit space into segments. When a reference to the big space came in, the thunk first found the relative segment and moved to it; taking it a segment at a time. It was like watching stadium action by dividing it into rooms; like Mr. Magoo taking in a vista of the Rockies by traveling to each part of the view and glancing at each portion given the limits of his vision.
Find the portion of the vista, move to it and view.
Whereas all the important news in the world could once be fitted above the fold today’s narratives have to be split up. One has to dive into the sections (or editions of Google news) to find even the biggest stories, so crowded have events become. But the problem with the thunk is it is just a stopgap. The fact is we really can’t see the Rockies in one fell swoop. We can only see the entire scene if we are willing to view things a frame a time and stitch together the scenes.
This means that some big emerging memes will essentially sneak through unengaged by the strategic communications crowd. For example, a Middle Eastern crisis or a breakup of the Eurozone can appear to burst on the narrative scene by surprise. It isn’t really like no one was watching — the specialists and beat journalists will be watching them all along — but because the national leaders simply won’t have the talking points to deal with them. Ben Rhodes just cannot write speeches fast enough to cope. Something will slip through at the Olympian level and this will have the effect of shattering the low-information voter’s world. They live in a simplified mythical universe; the one in which Lena Dunham always votes for the first time. Now all of a sudden 32-bit reality will come crashing down on their 8-bit world.
This has been happening for some time, although it may not have been immediately obvious. The reason why the Benghazi misdirection ultimately failed was because the story of the Los Angeles video was crushed by uncontrollable follow-on events. The same process doomed the IRS coverup. No sooner did the jornolist crowd get their marching orders from the West Wing when reality changed on them.
This is obvious in other ways. Any hope that the Woolwich attack could be portrayed as a “lone-wolf” event was crashed by the diversion of the airliner from Pakistan and the riots in Stockholm. Reality is burning through the shields. More power Scotty — “she canna’ hold!”
We may be entering a period where nothing has closure any more. Issa’s hearings on the IRS may be overtaken by even greater scandals. Who even remembers Fast and Furious? The laser printer in the oversight committee’s offices may not be able to churn out subpoenas fast enough to cope. We have reached the ‘price of admission’. The only question is: what’s showing?