Whereas I believe that the real – and undeclared – ideology of American journalism is savviness, and this is what has made the press so vulnerable to the likes of Karl Rove… Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in – their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including operators like Rove). In politics, they believe it is better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts… Savviness, the quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, ‘with-it’, and unsentimental in all things political – is in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Rove understood and exploited for political gain. – Jay Rosen
Cynicism is toxic. I know this because I’ve been poisoning myself for the last several years, in a way that David Foster Wallace seems to understand spookily well. So what I’ve done this afternoon is put on some very sincere neo-folk (Joanna Newsom, Sondre Lerche, and the Tallest Man on Earth make up the soundtrack to this post), irony-free music. I’m in that squishy disclosure phase that comes annually, where I feel the need to parse out what “my problem” is in front of the whole internet. See prior examples here and here.
What brought this on, out of the blue? Elizabeth Edwards died yesterday and here’s why that makes me extra sad: I am so cynical that I thought she didn’t even have cancer. I thought it was a PR stunt, a political strategy, a ploy for sympathy, a battle plan, etc etc.
Does this make me a bad person? Maybe. I imagine DFW, a writer I greatly admire, would be disappointed (ignoring the fact that if DFW were still alive, he would have more important things to be disappointed in, but I digress). He heartily and eloquently fought against cynicism in a lot of his essays and in his fiction. He wrote a brilliant article while on the campaign trail with McCain in 2000:
But if you, like poor old Rolling Stone, have come to a point on the Trail where you’ve started fearing your own cynicism almost as much as you fear your own credulity and the salesmen who feed on it, you may find your thoughts returning again and again, to a certain dark and box-sized cell in a certain Hilton half a world and three careers away, to the torture and fear and offer of release and a certain Young Voter named McCain’s refusal to violate a code. There were no tech’s cameras in that box, no aides or consultants, no paradoxes or grey areas, nothing to sell. There was just one guy and whatever in his character sustained him.
But DFW didn’t have to watch McCain do this:
There has been a turn away from cynicism and a fairly widespread critique of the “savviness”-obsessed press of late, mostly coming from Jon Stewart and the Rally to Restore Sanity crowd, which I can appreciate, but it really seemed lackluster and well, dare I say, insincere. I haven’t been blogging much and linking the usual examples of craziness/sanity lately because I’ve been so disheartened and cynical about every news story I come across, I can’t really see the point in it. I’m not throwing in the towel (there’s still TNC, Sullivan and Maddow, after all), but I’m not sure how to proceed from here. I’m working on a statement of interest for a master’s application, in journalism, and it’s no wonder I’ve been dwelling on this stuff.
Elizabeth Edwards really did have cancer, and she died of it. Now, maybe she was a saint, as some in the press are making her out to be, Hillary Clinton – but even better and even smarter – or maybe she was an abusive, controlling harpie as the authors of Game Change would have you believe. I don’t know, I’ve never met the women. I saw her on Oprah once. I can’t say.
But where should I go from here?