Sunday, May 20, 2012

Diagrammatic Hegemony

David Foster Wallace in "The Host" describes the following scene:
"Ms. B. [Ms. Bertolucci, Program Director] gently chides the new host for not hitting the Greg Haidl trial harder, and for usually discussing the case in his show's second hour instead of the first. Her thrust: 'It's a big story for us. It's got sex, it's got police, class issues, kids running amok, video, the courts, and who gets away with what. And it's in Orange County.'  When Mr. Ziegler [the Program Host] … protests that both Bill Handel and John & Ken have already covered the story six ways from Sunday every day and there is no way for him to do anything fresh or stimulating with it, Ms. B. nods slowly and responds:  'If we were KIIS-FM, and we had a new Christina Aguilera song, and they played it heavy on the morning show and the afternoon show, wouldn't you still play it on the evening show?'" ["The Host," p. 10]
The Program Director is looking at this from the point of view of the business, an impersonal logical construct indifferent to either one of them as well as to all those humans that make up its audience except as the figure into its calculations. What does this diagram for making money, or perhaps more generally, being a successful radio-business require?  The Program Host has what amounts to a personal objection — be it moral, aesthetic, thoughtful — to doing this particular thing.  But this  objection carries no weight with the Program Director.  What she wants done fits the firm's formula for success, and there is no such personal objection for her for the simple reason she does not have to do it. Her argument, of course, wins.
"[O]n tonight's (i.e., May 19's) program he does lead with and spend much of the first hour on the latest Haidl developments." [Ibid.]
The subtle imbalance in this ubiquitous kind of transaction has reduced the fullness of two human beings to the status of indices in an abstract and impersonal diagram that is dictating their actions.  We like to think we can dip into these diagrammatic mechanizations of our existence without drowning our humanity in the process. Are we just kidding ourselves?


  1. Love David Foster Wallace! Good to see you've discovered him too, Tom. Having said that, I could not get through 'Infinite Jest'. Too druggy for me. But I *adored* the book of essays which starts with the long one on tennis...

    1. I liked "String Theory" too, having a grand-daughter who plays. Haven't looked at 'Infinite Jest' yet, but a lot his essays are available online.