Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Does Journalism Create News? (Ace in the Hole, 1951)

#92-- Ace In the Hole (1951)

Chuck Tatum is a New York reporter, stuck in New Mexico, and he’s desperate.   He’s looking for an opportunity to get back on top, to achieve his ambitions of being a top journalist again.  When he hears about a miner trapped in a cave, he knows he has his opportunity.  If the story can last long enough, he can break it as a national story, get exclusive rights and force his way back to a job in New York.

It seems that every job is at least partly built upon ambition and competition.   The form of capitalism that is ruling the world is that of competition, where one must lose for another to win.  Where the creativity required of making a mountain out of a molehill is essential for any kind of professional success.   Even occupations for the public service, such as journalism, social work or teaching ultimately becomes about personal ambition and clawing to the top. 

The problem with including ambition in public service, is that the goals of the worker are that which encourages personal promotion, not the benefit of the public.  Chuck got his story, but only at the cost of individuals, not only exploiting a tragedy, but creating one.  When personal benefit and promotion comes first, the innocent, the hard working, and the simply talented get left behind.  Only if everyone is ambitious does this system even pretend to work.  But this system also discourages people from simply having integrity, from trusting, from supporting others without getting anything back.   One achieves success like this only by leaving destruction in his wake. 

If journalism is a public service, it can only remain so without ratings, without competition, without fighting for position.  In a competition climate, journalism must create stories, must make more of events than they really are.  They must create contexts of fear, of tragedy, of horror.

Fun Fact: Billy Wilder, the director of Ace in the Hole, made many classic films over the years, including Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot.  Ace in the Hole was his first big failure, both financially and critically.  He was born in Austria-Hungary. 

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