News and reviews, in hindsight.

The Malice Faces In

Doom on Repeat, version 1, reviewed.

by Christopher Shen — February 2015

The question I have feared the most for over a year has been, “Whatever happened to Doom on Repeat?”, in reference to the blog I started in 2011 to satirize the news. I wrote would become its last post in 2013, and since then, the site and its name have been synonymous with many of the disappointments and frustrations associated with uncompleted projects: stress, embarrassment, unrealized ambitions, and the lack of closure. When answering the question about the fate of my site, those feelings would come to the fore, even if I didn’t say them out loud. Yet as difficult as those emotions were, they were not what I was afraid of. Rather, it was the fear of remembering the person I met at the end of the project. He was a writer, who wrote like me, who shared my name, and who had my face. But he was being swayed by cruelty.

I started Doom on Repeat because I was drawn to the idea of punditry and news commentary. I wanted to join the growing ranks of people who get to make their names and voice their particular perspectives and advocacies simply by responding to newsworthy events with wit and intelligence. It seemed liked fun, and it was in the beginning. But at that point, I had yet to fully appreciate the concept of “newsworthiness,” and I had yet to understand the massive and rapidly expanding infrastructure engineered solely to manipulate the worth of the news.

The news media is, as it’s always been, a business, and it doesn’t care if its business comes from news that seems important or the kind that is seemingly trivial. Provided that there is an interested audience, any event is newsworthy if there is financial worth in reporting it. But that means there’s a corollary: there is financial worth in increasing the newsworthiness of an event, even if there is no productive value in doing so.

Today, news commentary is now the dedicated organ through which media companies put that corollary into effect. Commentary no longer resembles the informative point-counterpoint of newspaper op-ed sections that I grew up with. It is now purposefully designed to redirect that point-counterpoint to the task of summoning an audience’s basest emotions: rage, indignation, and vindictiveness. The conversation is kept intentionally incendiary, divisive, and often outright misleading because it keeps people watching, clicking, and buying books. It spurs ticket sales to a virtual Colosseum of sensationalized combat where people—most of whom are already convinced of their positions—can watch their favorite personalities delivering ever-bigger hits to an ever more vilified opposition. It is a revenue stream without precedent in the industry, allowing media companies to artificially multiply the worth of a news event many times over its original coverage value. America is shouldering an industry that is fabricating wealth by inciting the public it purports to inform, and some day, that fact is going to cost us an awful lot.

But I wonder how many commentators have seen in themselves what I tasted during my very brief flirtation with the industry: that if you resort to the tactics above to increase the worth of the news, worth must first be taken out of yourself. I started the blog with a commitment to positivity, but perhaps it’s simply the nature of satire and punditry to delight in the negative, to demean and to degrade, to mock others’ efforts and to delight in their failures. I stopped writing because I realized that I had taken up those things as my tools, and that I had primed myself for antagonism and confrontation. And for what? To start fireworks? Because that’s what news commentary has become: selling fireworks. It’s peddling the kind of flame that is all light, yet keeps us in a sharpening dark.

Over the holidays last year, I was asked the question again: “What happened to your blog?” By then, I had already decided that I was going to rework the site into a monthly retrospective that was quite deliberately out-of-place and out-of-pace from the hour-to-hour malice of the news cycle, and the temptation was to announce this plan. But I reminded myself that talk is cheap, and yet, so expensive. So I instead replied with what I had finally concluded about the whole endeavor: that Doom on Repeat was a mistake, though one I am so grateful that I made. In its writing, I discovered the writer I feared. And now, I can say it’s the writer I no longer fear of becoming.

Then came the usual followup: “So you’re not bringing it back?”

I grinned at the question; I thought about making a comment about those who don’t learn from their mistakes, but I decided to let it pass. “No. Never.”

“Too bad. I liked the name.”

“Well, I never said anything about getting rid of the name.”