Centaurs, Ligers, Doctor-Poets, and Other Hybrid Breeds
Guest Post by Jenna Le. Jenna Le has worked as a physician in Queens and the Bronx, New York City. Her first full-length collection of poetry, Six Rivers, was published by New York Quarterly Books in August 2011.
I am a poet by night; by day, I am gainfully employed as a physician. By no means does this confluence of traits make me unique. Though you may never have met one, doctor-poets are actually nowhere near as scarce as centaurs, ligers, or other hybrid breeds. William Carlos Williams is perhaps the best-known of our tribe, but our ranks have included many others, dispersed across continents and centuries. Dannie Abse, an aging Welshman with a gloriously musician-like ear, is one celebrated example. And Poetry magazine recently profiled Gottfried Benn, a mid-century German doctor-poet who in his simultaneously gorgeous and repulsive writings reminisced on various cadavers he had autopsied. Benn approaches this difficult subject with the same feelings of disorientation, alienation, and faint disgust that he applies elsewhere to unrelated topics such as modern courtship and European nightlife.
Convention has it that all true poets are La Bohème types, living in dignified poverty, unwilling or unable to hold down a “respectable” job. It is this firsthand knowledge of poverty, you could argue, that gives poets the worldliness that makes them wise. Even more important than firsthand knowledge of poverty, though, is lack of respectability. It is the stereotypical poet’s lack of respectability that puts him at liberty to attack societal institutions with absolute honesty, without fear of reprisals at the workplace or elsewhere.
According to time-honored stereotypes, then, doctor-poets are an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. When I first embarked on my current career path, thoughts like these often kept me awake at night, and it was only mildly comforting to read William Carlos Williams’s thoughts on the matter, as spelled out in Chapter 2 of his Autobiography:
“It was money that finally decided me. I would [be a doctor], for I was determined to be a poet; only medicine, a job I enjoyed, would make it possible for me to live and write as I wanted to. I would marry, have children, and still write, therefore, to write. I would not court disease, live in the slums for the sake of art, give lice a holiday. I would not ‘die for art,’ but live for it! [I would] beat the game and be free…”
When I first read this passage, I wondered, “What kind of freedom does he mean?” In pursuing a medical career at the same time that I am pursuing a literary career, am I purchasing economic freedom at the price of creative freedom? Even now, as I’m on the brink of publishing my first collection of poems, I don’t have a clear answer to this question.
Being a doctor-poet, I think, requires a special brand of recklessless, since the risk of incurring reprisals at the workplace is very real. In interviews, the contemporary doctor-poet Rafael Campo frequently talks about how he has been persecuted at his workplace for writing poems that deal frankly with such taboo topics as homosexuality. And yet, despite the risks involved, Campo courageously persists at what he does, approaching both of his chosen professions with truthfulness, integrity, and even optimism: “I’m hopeful in the end that we’ll have room for all the storytellers in medicine—not just the Nuland’s and Sacks’s and Remen’s, but also those who speak honestly and openly from outside the mainstream.” Time will tell whether Campo’s rosy outlook is prophecy or just wishful thinking.
[Image: Liger at Novosibirsk Zoo, Novosibirsk, Russia. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]
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Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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