From In­sta­gram to Baby Yoda, the 2010s en­ter­tained peo­ple

But are they us­ing the Force wisely?

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIV­E - Clarence Page Clarence Page, a mem­ber of the Tri­bune Ed­i­to­rial Board, blogs at www.chicago tri­bune.com/pages­page. cpage@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @cp­time

As the 2010s come to a close, so does the mo­ment I dread, try­ing to make sense of the past decade.

It’s not easy to tell what dis­tin­guishes this decade from those that came be­fore it.

This isn’t the Roar­ing ’20s with their jazz clubs and flap­pers. It’s not the 1930s with that De­pres­sion. It’s cer­tainly not the 1960s, OK, boomer?

I ex­pect the 2010s to be re­mem­bered as a po­lit­i­cal decade that spanned the gulf be­tween Pres­i­dent Barack “No Drama” Obama and Pres­i­dent Don­ald “Mo’ Drama” Trump.

It was a me­dia decade that be­gan with the birth of In­sta­gram and ended with me still try­ing to fig­ure out what In­sta­gram is good for. (“Twit­ter for il­lit­er­ates” sounds about right to me, al­though it does do a good job of distribut­ing your neigh­bors’ va­ca­tion pho­tos in a for­mat you can con­ve­niently ig­nore.)

Its defin­ing mo­ment may well have come in Novem­ber when Baby Yoda, the lit­tle green scene-steal­ing pup­pet in Dis­ney Plus’ “Star Wars” se­ries “The Man­dalo­rian,” made news about it­self. He — or she, we’re never re­ally told — drove al­most twice as many av­er­age so­cial me­dia in­ter­ac­tions, ac­cord­ing to NewsWhip and Ax­ios, as any of the 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

W.C. Fields fa­mously ad­vised that ac­tors refuse to work with chil­dren or an­i­mal acts. Baby Yoda seems to of­fer a bit of both. May the Force be with him. Or her.

I’ll re­mem­ber the 2010s as a me­dia decade, a time when more peo­ple than ever be­fore used the in­ter­net to do what for­mer Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sioner Ni­cholas John­son ad­vised in the ti­tle of his 1970 book, “How to Talk Back to Your Tele­vi­sion Set.”

Today we grap­ple with the new chal­lenges of sep­a­rat­ing real news from fake news on the in­ter­net, where po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda has been em­pow­ered by tar­geted mar­ket­ing aimed at steer­ing around the least per­suad­able to reach the most gullible au­di­ences.

It is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that Pres­i­dent Trump, a real-es­tate de­vel­oper and re­al­ity-TV host, came to power in this new me­dia age. He long ago per­fected the art of re­lent­less self-pro­mo­tion across mul­ti­ple me­dia plat­forms — as var­ied as tabloid gos­sip pages and get-rich-now ad­vice books.

That prob­a­bly ex­plains why he waited un­til 2016 to run for pres­i­dent, when the Demo­cratic field would be cleared of the charis­matic Obama.

Af­ter rolling through his Repub­li­can com­peti­tors, who failed to take him se­ri­ously enough un­til it was too late, he beat Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, who re­ceived more to­tal votes but not in the right states to win the Elec­toral Col­lege.

Now a new crop of Demo­cratic can­di­dates is be­ing judged, not the least on how well they come across on tele­vi­sion. For­mer New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is go­ing full-me­dia-blitz. In­stead of go­ing on the road to run in the early pri­maries, he’s us­ing his for­tune to buy millions of dol­lars in TV ads na­tion­wide.

By Christ­mas, he reached 5% ap­proval in the polls, which put him in fifth place, be­hind South Bend Mayor Pete But­tigieg, who had 9%, Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren, 15%, Sen. Bernie San­ders, 17%, and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, 29%. He led Trump by six points in a head-to-head matchup in a Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity poll, 48% to 42%.

It’s too early to make too much of that, but if the charisma-chal­lenged founder of Bloomberg News per­forms well enough when ac­tual votes are cast, he could achieve yet another mar­riage of me­dia and politics.

I wish I could feel hap­pier about that. Un­for­tu­nately, the slow but steady takeover of politics and gov­ern­ment by me­dia and the big money it takes to pur­chase big ad­ver­tis­ing re­mind me of another me­dia stud­ies book from a past era: the late Neil Post­man’s “Amus­ing Our­selves to Death: Public Dis­course in the Age of Show Busi­ness.”

In that 1985 book about how me­dia are re­shap­ing our cul­ture, he feared that we were wrong to con­grat­u­late our­selves for avoid­ing the au­thor­i­tar­ian “Big Brother” hor­rors of Ge­orge Or­well’s “1984.”

We should also re­mem­ber, he re­minded us, of Al­dous Hux­ley’s equally chill­ing “Brave New World.”

Whereas Or­well feared those who would ban books, Post­man wrote, Hux­ley feared “that there would be no rea­son to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”

His con­cern, like mine, is to have the sort of well-in­formed elec­torate on which democ­racy de­pends. Un­for­tu­nately, there also is the re­al­ity that the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes says in the Show­time minis­eries based on Gabriel Sher­man’s best­seller “The Loud­est Voice in the Room.”

“Peo­ple don’t want to be in­formed,” he says, “they want to feel in­formed.”

Maybe so. But some­times our feel­ings can fool us.

DIS­NEY PLUS

Baby Yoda drove al­most twice as many av­er­age so­cial me­dia in­ter­ac­tions as any of the 2020 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

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