"The Agony and the Ecstasy" Movie Review - Jesus …
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965) - Carol Reed - AllMovie
The implicit or explicit use of reason as a key motif of counter-reaction raises a final set of problems. The play upon and with rationality takes two main forms. It is most evident in the appeal to rational statistics as well as the writing style and tone that is adopted. The statistics of deaththe much smaller probability of death linked to ecstasy against the known deaths caused by less publicised activitiesare used to highlight the media's emphasis on the former at the expense of the latter to reinforce the view that media coverage is ideologically loaded. The argument that the media constructs particular cases and deaths as exceptional and newsworthy while ignoring many others is plausible. It is certainly possible to find other cases that have not received as much coverage as that of Leah Betts. But, in the appeal to rational statistics the unstated implication in counter-reaction is that a moral calculus governs news coverage, or should do so. Yet the extent or amount of media reaction to death probably rarely corresponds simply to the numbers involved. As Kettle indicates, news coverage of a disaster is likely to emphasise 'six Brits' over '60 Frogs, and 600 more remote aliens' (cited in Walter 1995, p. 587). Pointing out the far greater number of deaths due to tobacco, alcohol, car accidents, etc., achieves the rhetorical effect of exposing media partiality. But it also glosses over the unexamined assumption that the ordinary and commonplace are the stuff of everyday news. While the question of how 'the news' is constructed is an important one, it is still the case that:
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Hence it is at least understandable why there was a lot of coverage given to the case of Leah Betts. The revelation that other deaths did not generate as much coverage does not go beyond what is already known: that news values shape and construct what becomes the news. It does not amount to a case against the media, particularly since counter-reaction is also part of the media circle. To put the case another way, I am arguing that it is not sufficient to uncover that the media is partial, since it is difficult to know what an 'impartial' media would like.
The second aspect of the use of reason is evident in the style adopted by the counter-reactors. Michael Keith (1992) has written about the ways in which academic writing masks its own rhetoric chiefly through the use of a dispassionate tone and style. These conventions, Keith argues, account for why writings that convey anger and emotion can be dismissed as not serious and disqualified from consideration. Though the writings I have been considering are journalistic it seems to me that they employ the same strategy and, I would contend, a close examination of other debunking texts would reveal much the same conventions commonly in play. Hysteria and emotion are taken as the hall marks of that which is to be debunked and this is best done with a 'cool', dispassionate and logical tone. Reason is, self-evidently, rational while emotion is irrational and therefore not to be trusted. Hence reasonableness marks another boundary between 'us' and the I others'. But as Sparks pointed out, reason is not the opposite of emotion: 'Rather the opposites of emotion are the 'detachment and equanimity' of a spurious objectivism and the 'sentimentality' of inauthentic responses' (Sparks 1992, p. 75).
Rationality performs a key rhetorical role in counter reaction because it makes it possible to depict media reaction as moralistically pushing a particular agenda using emotional, even hysterical, language and images. It enables the creation of a dichotomy in which only one side is seen as engaged in rhetoric, as Sharkey (1996, p. 2) demonstrates: 'When drugs cannot be considered outside this simplistic rhetorical context, meaningful debate is impossible.' Reasonableness thus creates a space for counter-reaction to 'cloak' or suppress its own moral enterprise and rhetoric. But opposing views about drugs can not be seen in terms of morality versus non-or a-morality. Paradigms of morality imbue debates about drugs, whether those views come from the most ardent 'warriors' or the most ardent libertarians (see Rouse & Johnson, 1991, Husak, 1992). Both perspectives contain moral positions in the struggle over definitions, lifestyles, etc., rather than morality being the preserve of one side only. This criticism of counter-reaction for its use of rationality is not intended to be read as a collapse into the post-modernist rejection of reason. Rather I am arguing that we need to pay more attention, as Garland (1990) has observed about punishment, to the 'sentiments and passions' that the subject of drugs can and does arouse. The use of reason, I have sought to argue, seeks to artificially disqualify emotion, even though there clearly are sentiments and passions that underlie counter-reaction too.