IT’S NOT NEWS, IT’S FARK: HOW MASS MEDIA TRIES TO PASS OFF CRAP AS NEWS
By Drew Curtis
The word “fark,” this book tells us, “doesn’t mean anything.” Which makes it a suitable shorthand for nothing, or junk news, or “news that is really Not News.” Or, as its originator Drew Curtis likes to put it, “crap.”
Fark is also the name of Drew Curtis’s website, so called because all the good four-letter words were taken. Fark.com is a “news aggregator,” which basically means an edited survey of daily news headlines, selected for their farkiness. So fark’s biggest critic makes his living off of fark. Or, to put it another way, this book is less a timely bit of media analysis than it is an example of fark in action: the commercial in disguise, or unpaid product placement masquerading as actual news article. The come on is, even if you know it’s fark and not news you’ll still want to read more. Because fark is the news you love to hate.
Fark is a response to two forces. In the first place there is the great sucking vortex of the news hole. In an environment where cable networks and internet sites need constant infusions of fresh content, fark “is what fills the space when mass media run out of news.” Then there is the genuine demand for “not news,” the mass-media audience’s sweet tooth for the weird, the diverting, and the sensational. If people didn’t like this crap, news outlets would fill the space with something else. Unfortunately, people do like it. In fact, they like it more than the real thing. “Everyone claims to want real news, but no one really does.”
There is nothing particularly new in complaining about junk news, and Curtis’s book is anything but a rigorous scholarly study of the subject. Though he claims to have read “practically every news story that saw print since 1999” there is no attempt at quantitative analysis. Just how much of today’s news is fark? And while the writing is meant to be flip and humorous (including dozens of anonymous comments posted on the website that aren’t funny at all), it is sometimes hard to tell when Curtis wants to be taken seriously and when he is just being rhetorical or making a joke. In a discussion of “nutjob” stories, for example, he begins with this: “You’ve probably noticed . . . that just about any time the media runs an article on the moon landings, they have to give at least a paragraph to the people who think Neil Armstrong was a paid actor who moon-walked on a Hollywood back-lot sound stage.”
Actually, I hadn’t noticed that. I also missed all the stories Curtis has flagged on the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. But perhaps I haven’t been reading the same newspapers he has.
Given the casual nature of this book, which should only take as much time to read as it took Curtis to write, the Epilogue, which addresses the question of “What should mass media be doing instead?”, is entirely disposable. In short, Curtis believes the mass media “needs to further separate the fluff news from the real” by separating their hard news divisions from the “not news” sections.
The problem with this is that Curtis’s examples of quality news sources – like the BBC and PBS — are publicly funded. If any strictly for-profit news agency were to spin off its farky money-makers, why would they bother to keep their unprofitable news divisions going? Such a move would only be a prelude to their eventual euthanasia. The mass media are not charities or public services; they exist to make money. How long can any news organization hope to last without a healthy ballast of crap, especially at a time when more and more advertisers are looking to move online and demanding substantially more bang for their buck?
If the future of news is on the internet, then the future belongs to fark.
Review first published August 4, 2007.