The Yellow Journalism of the Culture War

Andrew Donaldson

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home.

Related Post Roulette

16 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Ross Douthat once remarked that there are useful and unuseful culture wars. Useful culture wars are ones where there are real policy issues at stake, things like abortion rights, LGBT rights, etc. Unuseful culture wars are the culture wars where there isn’t a real policy issue at stake because nothing can be really done. What unuseful culture wars do is rally the troops and get people’s blood boiling. Cultural appropriation debates are an example of an unuseful culture war. The NYT posted an article on how a young white teenager in the United States decided to wear a Cheongsam dress to her prom. The usual suspects were outraged at cultural appropriation. The Chinese in China were mainly mystified because the modern cheongsam was supposed to be a Chinese equivalent of a one piece dress from the West.Report

  2. Avatar Pinky says:

    Do you consider this site to be run by powerful people? Do you think they produce this site solely for the big money it brings in? Do you think it’s impossible for anyone to be persuaded here? If “no” to any of those, where do you draw the line between good, passionate people and the Culture War Industrial Complex? Isn’t the unique trait of modern media that such a line can’t be drawn?Report

    • Andrew Donaldson Andrew Donaldson in reply to Pinky says:

      Cultural War Industrial Complex is a good turn of phrase.
      I agree that line is very difficult to draw, but if you wish to persuade people, or at least honestly and respectfully engage them like the vast majority of folks here do, you must at least try. My argument is for discernment more than one of definition. And then once you divine who is trying to advance and advocate positions and those that just rage for attention, using some restraint in dealing with them.


  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Economics has this thing called “Scarcity Value“. Let’s go to the Wikipedia for the definition:

    Scarcity value is the economic factor that increases an item’s relative price based more upon its relatively low supply.

    This definition talks about items but, I’ll tell you what, it also applies to labor. My go-to example is usually the “Scribes” of the ancient world (see, for example, Jesus talking all the time about the “Scribes and Pharisees”). Again, from Wikipedia (I took the liberty of adding emphasis):

    A scribe is a person who serves as a professional copyist, especially one who made copies of manuscripts before the invention of automatic printing.

    The profession, previously widespread across cultures, lost most of its prominence and status with the advent of the printing press.

    In societies with low literacy rates, street-corner letter-writers (and readers) may still be found providing scribe service.

    What does this have to do with Hearst? Well, he was like one of the scribes in the ancient world. In a society with low literacy rates, you could wield power by being able to write a letter for someone else or read a letter to someone else.

    Hearst was a guy who had a printing press back when damn near nobody else had one. He benefited mightily from the scarcity premium.

    In today’s world? He might like the idea, but he’d quickly find himself to be yet another voice among multitudes in a place where everybody, freaking *EVERYBODY*, has a printing press. And he’d sink or swim on the quality of the memes he could produce and get other people to reproduce.Report

    • Reading up on him, Hearst was a strange one. After this episode by the time WW1 rolled around he had transformed into a dogged isolationist.
      I like the angle of your point about scarcity. Maybe the issue isn’t that every has access, but that there’s a laziness of thought to actually utilize that access. The herd mentality is made stronger by the technology when I could be used to lessen it if only the desire and effort was there.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Siegel says:

    I was tinkering with a post similar to this. Now I don’t have to actually write it! 🙂 I think the Culture War has been made worse by our current Age of Rage. This week saw two tempests in teapots: the prom dress and the white house correspondent’s dinner, which gave people what they so desperately need: something to be offended about. We have gotten to the point where being offended — for both Left and Right — is the ultimate badge of honor. And where do these offenses take place? Usually on the bloody field of the Culture War, where issues are less about facts and data and more about morals and customs.Report

    • You should write it none the less, the idea deserved better than the final product I gave it. This is a narrative that will keep happening, why I called it perpetual; each fresh outrage just keeps it going.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        Do we know if it’s perpetual, though? The aspect of human nature that it appeals to is always going to be there, sure. But it’ll only be sustainable if the amount of outrage each story yields is consistent. It seems more like to me that each story yields more outrage or less outrage. The first will lead to something like civil war or anarchy. The second will lead to this kind of internet outrage going the way of pop-up ads. I’d also note that a decline in actual outrage per event wouldn’t necessarily show up in metrics like retweets or likes.Report

        • Andrew Donaldson Andrew Donaldson in reply to Pinky says:

          Like most social trends it will be cyclical. At some point there will be pushback to the constant outrage. But that was the point of harkening back to that era; you are right the nature will always be there, the peak like we are having now will come and, hopefully soon, go.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    I was very young, but remember the way the arguments played out during the Vietnam War. In particular, I remember my older hippy brother arguing with my parents, and hearing and seeing it play out among families all around my social circle.

    It was ugly, worse than today, a true civil war pitting families against themselves.

    There were books like None Dare Call It Treason, the equivalent of InfoWars, and whispered disdain among my friends parents about What Those Hippies Do at Pot Parties. And yeah, I heard the “Hippies Spitting on Returning GIs” stories recited with the solemn assurance of gospel.
    And yes, my brother’s longhaired friends really did say things like “Off The Pigs”, and he smirked as he told me how he marked a peace sign in the jello at the buffet he worked at, to piss off the Establishment types.

    We like to imagine that political disputes were settled like Firing Line debates, but forget that it was in that time when Buckley who threatened to punch Gore Vidal live on air. Or that students at Ivy League schools actually spoke seriously of revolution and the Weathermen actually died constructing a bomb.

    I’m not sure it can be much different. I do appreciate the idea of a Culture War Industrial Complex that sells newspapers and pagehits, but it isn’t just ginned up.

    Like the 1890s, or the 1930s or 1960s, America is undergoing serious cultural change with some groups ascending and other groups fading and we shouldn’t expect the primal potency of it to be any less than it ever was.Report

    • I appreciate you thoughts, and I agree with most of what you point out. It is a cultural change, such grinding of tectonic plates is going to cause ripples. You are correct it isn’t ginned up, which is the analogy I was reaching for here; there was actual fighting and actual casualties then. The culture issues are very real, but I do think the ability to monetize them makes them worse, or at least appear worse, than they need be or are. Your point on the 60s/70s is well taken in that the perspective of outrage and “badness” of current issues needs context. We have, thankfully, not had a Kent state-type culture war moment but have careened close with Charlottesville, certain shootings, and others. Perhaps it a matter of time till we do (God forbid), but all the more reason to speak out for some restraint.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:


      There were books like None Dare Call It Treason, the equivalent of InfoWars, and whispered disdain among my friends parents about What Those Hippies Do at Pot Parties. And yeah, I heard the “Hippies Spitting on Returning GIs” stories recited with the solemn assurance of gospel.

      And of course it’s older than that. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was very much in the same vein. When you get right down to it, so was the Malleus Maleficarum.Report

  6. Avatar Kolohe says:

    The monetization possibilities are legion.

    This is what vexes me. The monetization of the Hearst era is fairly straightforward – sell more papers, get more money (and eventually pass it down to your good for nothing heirs)

    But who is actually making money these days? Kayne is already rich from ‘traditional’ entertainment business operations. The right wing outrageospehere may be profitable in some parts, (but then they wouldn’t be purging) the rest is being backed by sugar daddies (and mommies) just looking to immanentize the eschaton such as they see it. The left wing equivalents are all mostly hobbyists as far as I can tell. The ‘mainstream’ press is just hanging on, and some of the biggest names (e.g. Washington Post) are, again, effectively just some rich guy’s non outer space hobby.

    I imagine Facebook and Google earn some coin on all this, but again, as far as I can tell, that’s from not so benign neglect, vice conscious decisions to stir the pot.Report

    • Good questions, lets go through them…
      Kayne is a perfect example of this actually. Yes he is already wealthy but look at who is promoting him-Candace Owens and Charlie Kirk. They were all three posing together at TMZ’s studio among other things. For Kanye, the attention and press is more important than the money, but for Kirk and Owens organization, Turning Point USA, as a 501c3 they live and die on fundraising, and Kirk and company have made it fundraising juggernaut. Something like Kanye is a walking goldmine. Last year mandatory filings arent available yet but previous years are and they pull in millions of dollars; and all that travel by Kirk, Owens, and others is of course vouchered by the org. Every tweet, event, media, all of it will be geared towards hitting the outrage notes then sliding in the sales pitch to get involved with TPUSA, which leads eventually to costs and earning revenue.
      Less well known bloggers and commenters make ad revenue on their Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages if they get enough audience going. You can google the howling that’s involved when YouTube “demonetizes” someones account for the effect this stream has on some folks.
      Then their are the “pro-am hybrids”. Think Diamond and Silk as this category, they present naturally as if they just fell out of the sky but they are coordinated, planned, and a business model based on the persona’s. Their mailing address on their official forms goes to pre-paid mailbox in a quick pack store 5 minutes from my house. It’s an act for revenue, thus their outrage that Facebook was “freezing” them out, that is their business model.
      There are lots of examples but you get the idea. And “mainstream press” is actually doing quite well, newspapers what you say is true but the news networks have year over year increases in revenue.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    It’s a bit ironic that Yellow Journalism ignored yellow fever.Report

    • Didn’t fit the narrative, as they would say today. Its a great story on its own, they could not solve the yellow fever riddle. Prevailing thought was quarantines and sanitation would cure it, but when it didn’t Walter Read and Carlos Findlay figured out it was the mosquitos causing it. They did this by deliberately infecting some service men. So once they figured that out, they knew to eradicate the conditions for the mosquitos and within a year problem solved, which was used to great effect building the panama canal also.Report