It arose when people came to know about the mechanism of the neuroses, which threaten to undermine the modicum of happiness enjoyed by civilized men. It was discovered that a person becomes neurotic because he cannot tolerate the amount of frustration which society imposes on him in the service of its cultural ideals, and it was inferred from this that the abolition or reduction of those demands would result in a return to possibilities of happiness.

–Sigmund Freud 

One last, very theoretical thought on :Vocalo, which is causing such a stir over in the comments to this week’s Hot Type (I was surprised to find it’s flown under the radar otherwise).

If fiction tells a lie to get to the truth, traditional journalism/non-fiction/etc is supposed to be truths that tell the truth. But it’s more complicated than that. Journalism is a very thin veneer of a very particular concept of civilization sitting uncomfortably atop a boundlessly strange world.

Broadly speaking, journalists–and, increasingly, bloggers–sift through everything in the world to present a small, clear slice of it that people are traditionally presumed to be interested in. Metaphorically speaking, when a beat writer goes to a Sox game, he or she ignores the trivial (Carlos Quentin grounds out in the 3rd, dude spills beer on  the ground), highlights what’s important or unusual within the frame of reference (Quentin hits game winning home run, dude beats up umpire), and passes on information that you may need, if you are interested in the subject generally, to act on (the game was rained out and so there’ll be a doubleheader tomorrow). And so it is for politics, technology, transit, food, and so forth.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s a very important service to the world. People, including me, want or need to know the baseball-relevant facts of what happened at each game, and if Mark Gonzalez went off on a tangent about how a guy got drunk and punched an usher, he’d subvert the expectations of the reader, or maybe miss an important detail about how Scott Linebrink is pitching right now. Which is something I care about, at least a bit.

But if you consider a baseball game as an event, as a gathering of souls (see DeLillo’s Pafko at the Wall, one of the greatest pieces of American literature, for how a lie tells the truth), that’s an almost incomprehensibly small portrait of the game as a whole. Anyone who’s ever been to a baseball game knows that frequently the events on the field are inconsequential at a given moment, or to a given percentage of the crowd (especially at Wrigley). Consider what you relay to your friends after a game–something quite meaningless to anyone else, such as catching a foul ball, usually takes precedence over something more generally meaningful to the audience, such as Scott Linebrink getting lit up.

In short: for all the vital use of professional journalism and its related activities, it’s not necessarily true. It’s like that moment in the R. Kelly trial where the defense claimed that a recording of the sex tape was exact, when in fact it had been converted from one medium to another, resulting in an inevitable loss of information. Did it look the same? We have no way of knowing, but to the human eye there’s a good chance it did. Was it exact? No.

So I understand the impulse behind :Vocalo, I really do, for the same reasons I have very mixed feelings about online comment sections. On one hand, the comment sections in your typical generalist publication are a fetid backwater of banality and insanity, and who cares? On the other hand… maybe that’s good? Maybe it’s a necessary corrective to news and editorial, with their assumption that a non-trivial number of people care more about Obama’s long-term energy policy than whether he’s a secret Muslim radical?

I don’t know. But it’s worth considering. The idea that actual training in traditional journalism and its related fields enforces a limited view of the world is not without merit, or at least not insane. If you can’t or are unwilling to listen to :Vocalo, imagine a newspaper turned upside down, where the comments and letters to the editor are on the front page. Uncharitably, imagine the inmates running the asylum.

:Vocalo might be a profound deconstruction of radio. It might be a failure that inadvertently raises profound questions for some about the medium, like the Shaggs vis a vis pop music (see also). Or it might just be a waste of money. I don’t know that the verdict is in yet.