Post-Postmodernism

Most interesting functions that describe the complexity of the world are too hard for even the smartest human to derive. I think it’s an interesting twist of reality that the nonlinear equations required to classify a cat are impossible for a human to derive, but every once in a while a guy like Dirac can conjure the equations that describe very fundamental features of reality. Weird.

Only very recently do neural networks classify pictures of cats better than humans (it’s still mostly a draw). And they are only now coming up to driving cars. The models themselves are black boxes, we can’t meaningfully look into the functions they are approximating. We do know though that they are approximating functions that are used to predict where the cat is in a video, or where the car should turn.

Scientists are still far off from stuff like literary or media criticism or analysis. It follows that if neural networks are approximations for our brain, and our brain uses classifications to understand the world, we are trying to filter out nonlinear and complex functions when we study the world.

Classification without scientific verification risks simply overfitting the fast and giving us bunk conclusions of the state of the world. On the other hand, scientific verification of things like analysis of the media is nearly impossible outside of really simple and contrived experiments.

Everyone seems to agree the way the media interacts and evolves with Americans and politics is clearly relevant to our lives.

This sucks. Only our brains can filter out equations. We have no way to tell if they are overfit. There is no experiment we can run to verify anything; other than casually using our brains to try and pseudo-test experiments by observing the future and doing our best to ‘control’ for the cacophony of the world.

If anyone were to get it right though, I would count on David Foster Wallace. In his essay E Unibus Pluram he wrote about the ‘post-postmodernism’ of media. His interest was in the dynamic interaction between the viewer and the media itself. He noted how we all agreed T.V. was an instrument of cultural decay and we all viewed it as though we were in on the joke, which then fed back into the creation of the media itself.

From the essay:

What explains the pointlessness of most published TV criticism is that television has become immune to charges that it lacks any meaningful connection to the world outside it. It’s not that charges of nonconnection have become untrue. It’s that any such connection has become otiose. Television used to point beyond itself. Those of us born in like the sixties were trained to look where it pointed, usually at versions of “real life” made prettier, sweeter, better by succumbing to a product or temptation. Today’s Audience is way better trained, and TV has discarded what’s not needed. A dog, if you point at something, will look only at your finger.

Metawatching

But TV is not low because it is vulgar or prurient or stupid. It is often all these things, but this is a logical function of its need to please Audience. And I’m not saying that television is vulgar and dumb because the people who compose Audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be really similar in their vulgar and prurient and stupid interests and wildly different in their refined and moral and intelligent interests. It’s all about syncretic diversity: neither medium nor viewers are responsible for quality.

Are we all metawatching the current election? Everyone hates the mainstream media. The left hate-watches it, then uses John Oliver, Rachel Maddow, the NYtimes, The Huffington Post and whoever else to dive into them for their unbalanced reporting. There are numerous articles accusing them (you know, them? CNN, MSNBC, whatever) of giving rise to Trump.

Meanwhile Trump, right-wing talk shows and blogger types accuse the mainstream media of launching an unprecedented assault on their campaign.

Even now, the mainstream media channels realize they are accused of misleading no matter what they do. Still, everyone metawatches them, using the reporting they hear to generate their own partisan commentary.

I wonder if, without purposefully doing this, the equilibrium is for mainstream media to be purposefully bad. This way we all metawatch it so that we can stomp on their broken toy arguments.