I’ve been thinking for a while now of the moral function of Fox News. Its critics are right when they observe that it does something other than journalism. In reality it serves as the cultural organ of a much larger project, namely the transformation of society along neoliberal lines. The way that power operates in that kind of society is through discipline. We learn from Fox how to impose that discipline on ourselves, that is, how to become self-disciplined.
In a simple and straightforward way, this is why we have “investigative reports” like this one.
It’s too simple to look at Jason Greenslate as a mere free-rider. He is a symbol of something more spiritually insidious, namely what we might call “moral enabling.” That is, he provides a visual focus for decline that allegedly happens when social programs are established. He symbolizes the encouragement over time to grow accustomed to comfort, to a life of leisure. He calls into question the virtues and cultural values that are supposed to underpin capitalism.
This leads to the second function of the story: if freeloaders like Jason Greenslate are to be the embodiment of cultural decline at the hands of what our friends at the Acton Institute call “microsocialism,” there has to be a prior discrimination, a social function that mobilizes the guilt response. His negative example not only has to stiffen our own resolve to be more virtuous, it has to do so by breaking the link of social solidarity. He has to be seen as other, as someone who takes part in what Fox here calls the “Great Food Stamp Binge.” This is strong language indeed. The implication is that those who are being actively “subsidized” by the rest of us have an even more powerful imperative to lead especially ascetic lives. In a weird inversion, they even have to be better than us; they have to deserve our assistance as exemplary moral agents. Thus we are left with a paradox: as the world of capital becomes even more brutally amoral, we are forced to become paragons of self-discipline.