Got myself in trouble yesterday.
So all right, I admit it, I didn't actually talk to the actual Devil. I was just being a "little devil" myself (it's what my dear mother, now sadly wrestling with dementia, used to call me when I was a small boy). Sorry if I offended anyone. Just trying to be entertaining, as usual.
But the thing is, for better or for worse, "back in the day," to use that horribly hackneyed expression—back when Kodak was the Big Yellow Father and SLRs had ten controls instead of five hundred—National Geographic magazine used to be a prominent and important showcase for photography in the United States and the world.
It wasn't that big a deal—even at its peak, the magazine was not universally revered. "National Geographic" style was a subject of condescension where I went to art school in the '80s, for instance. If someone said of one of your photographs, "It looks like something from National Geographic," it wasn't necessarily a compliment. It might mean the photo was too conventional, and slick and anonymous. Of course that attitude in itself was conventional in a way.
But at least if you said "National Geographic style," most people—not just photographers—knew what you were talking about. The magazine in its heyday was important as shared experience, important for generating original photo essays long after the other photographic newsmagazines had departed. And in some ways it still enjoys the afterglow of that hard-earned and long-deserved reputation.
I'll give the floor on the subject of National Geographic's sale to a media monopoly to Doug Thacker, whose comment was waiting for me when I got up this morning:
National Geographic has been in bed with Murdoch for a long time now. I think it was back in the early '80s (when it was Morning in America) that 'non-profit' got a bad rap (implying as it did that there might be something wrong with profit)—and thus non-profits started calling themselves 'not-for-profit.' In the bargain, attendant to it, boors of the business world said, hey, why aren't you running these things like a business? Here, we'll do it for you. Let's form a partnership. We'll set up profit-making businesses in your name. You'll get additional revenue from the follow-on—and we'll keep the profits.
For at least the last thirty years, National Geographic properties have been mostly indistinguishable, in their appearance and their content, from a for-profit business. I had occasion recently, while traveling, to watch a lot of the National Geographic cable channel, and I was shocked at how frankly insipid most of the programming was. The cable channel, it turns out, is owned and operated by, you guessed it, Rupert Murdoch's company, 21st Century Fox.
This new deal puts not just the magazine but all the NG properties in Murdoch's hands—websites, maps, merchandise, licensing rights, etc. I was a little bit shocked that he got it all (or 70-some percent, anyway) for only $725 million. Seems it ought to be worth quite a bit more. So, good deal for him, I guess.
In any event this deal is a logical conclusion of the non-profit bad, corporate profit good refrain. High noon in America.
Now you might think that rampaging corporatism and the attendant oligarchy it engenders is good, or you might think it's bad. I think it's bad. Media monopolies, especially, are a bad idea, in my opinion. That just isn't how society ought to be arranged. They don't accord with the fundamental principles of American democracy, which traditionally included equality as a foundational aspiration, even though that word has quietly been expunged from patriotic jingoism over the past several decades. I think the rules should be changed, that's all. In a democracy, many voices should be heard. The rules should be changed so that if one "individual" (person or corporation) owns a few newspapers or magazines or TV stations or movie studios or radio stations, we say, collectively, in effect, okay, that's enough, that's all you get—leave the rest to others.
It's just my opinion, and you aren't obligated to agree. And I know you might not. That doesn't mean we can't be friends.
Now back to regular programming. I'll be back tomorrow with an "Open Mike"—unless you think this is one, in which case I'll be back tomorrow with another one. On a completely different subject. Hope you have a nice Saturday.
(Thanks to Doug)
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Featured Comments from:
Gary: "There are some people who are widely revered by those who have never actually met them, however those close to them often have a far less flattering opinion. Here in the UK Richard Branson and Boris Johnson would fall into that category. On the other hand some people are widely reviled by those who never met them, and this is where Rupert Murdoch resides.
"I however have met him, I worked for him for many years and met him regularly. And just to complete the symmetry of this story, I actually found him polite, reasonable, approachable, grounded, intelligent, honest, loyal, fair, and even on occasions exceptionally considerate and understanding! But we're all happier with well compartmentalised heroes and villains, so I guess poor old Rupert will just have to remain reviled."
Mike Fewster: "I'm an Australian and I loathe Rupert Murdoch. He has consistently blighted journalistic ethics in his newspapers. If one looks at the 'job' his media has done on climate change and the potential cost to the planet, he is arguably the most evil man of the last 100 years. It fill me with horror that an institution as well regarded scientifically as National Geographic should now be in his clutches.
"If you have any doubts on this, do some Googling for the writings of his star hatchet man, Andrew Bolt. You may not have had the pleasure in the States of coming across this extension of Murdoch (yet)."