Sunday at Our Society

Death of a Major Media Brand (cont’d):

Facebook Inside the American Mob

  • Jan Adkins

    There comes a time in every crisis or disaster when the simple, obvious insanity of the issue becomes hilarious, beyond understanding, within reach only of a bewildered laugh.

    They’re programming WHAT? Oh, they can’t be! They are? This is too rich, beyond the pale. Alexander Graham Bell, we’re not in Kansas any more.

    So the National Geographic Society is featuring the “greatest mob hits,” an uplifting and educational series on how the dark side of America deals with differing opinions. It’s a celebration of sleaze and unrestricted violence, just what a sabbath needs. The explorers of Machu Picchu, the Antarctic, Everest, the Empty Quarter and the Brazilian Rainforest are no longer parts of our history core curriculum, but who can forget the corpse of Albert Anastasia in a pool of Sicilian blood on the floor of his barber’s shop? The lesson is clear. Right? Well, maybe.

    Who cares? Education be damned! Give them what they want. And who knows better what the educated viewers of National Geographic Channel want than Rupert Murdoch? What’s important isn’t the dissemination of knowledge. It is to larf. The object is to get a bigger market share.

    Funny, this is too funny. Sure, sure, it might be easier and just as cheap to create reality-reality rather than scripted-reality, and to recount significant histories of discovery and invention. But who would watch? Ask Rupert. Murdoch the Master Comedian is cozening all of us into trivial dross.

    I give up, Alan. The great satirist Tom Lehrer stopped working after Ronald Reagan was elected. He said that satire had gone mainstream, so why work at it? We’re backwards. Every moment of Congress we see on C-Span is a lie, and the best source of actual news we have is Comedy Central. The National Geographic Society is spoofing itself, pretending to be what it was and isn’t. Those guys in the boardroom must be falling off their chairs laughing. Thank God the loose money will cushion their fall.

    • Guest

      So true Jan, unfortunately. 🙁

    • Annoyed

      Mob is beyond the pale? Really? Why do you guys get to pick and choose what’s right for everyone? Mafia is a real and fascinating part of culture – because NGC runs a marathon, you guys look down your noses at it as you read your print publications with all the latest advice from the 1950s. I understand you hate many of the shows, but this is the straw that broke the back?

      HBO covers the mob, its considered one of the greatest TV shows ever. NGC does some fascinating documentaries (yes, saw them, they are quite good and not sensational violence, but I suppose that would require you guys to actually WATCH, which i know is asking too much) and its suddenly the end of the world. Complain about Doomsday Castle, complain about live climb, but this? Just shows how desperate you are for attention. Sure, that post by NGC was pretty silly, but who cares, its a freaking FB post, good lord. if we started getting our direction from Facebook, the world would be driven by Candy Crush.

      Jan, I appreciate your ability to spin a good post, but other than complaining, a la Alan, you have little to nothing to offer. Glad you’ve given up, the world needs more innovators and less whiners.

      • Jan Adkins


        I’m devastated I haven’t reached your heart and mind. You’re obviously a keen observer of social mores and the Mob. You might note, however, that HBO doesn’t “cover” the mob but presents a (lurid, melodramatic, not scrupulously realistic) drama about the mob, plus a few “reality” specials like “Iceman.” The Sopranos aren’t real, Annoyed. HBO made them up. There’s a difference.

        One can appreciate your sensitivity when elitists (like Alan and myself) look down our noses at you. This must be galling, what with all our 50’s attitudes and the moths fluttering out of the dusty print media. I can speak for Alan when I promise you that neither of us want to belittle or marginalize you. You are in the majority, after all, part of the great HBO audience who made their mob “coverage” “one of the greatest TV shows ever.” Granted, this recommendation might be open to debate but only among long-nosed elitist journalism freaks.

        Thank you for your compliment on my post-spinning ability, but I was really trying for sense as well as entertainment. This sense-over-entertainment is also something we’re encouraging the Geographic boardroom to try.

        Actually, we enjoy HBO, but we’re not pretending that it’s real. The Geographic Channel pretends that its programming is real. And relevant.

        In point of fact, Annoyed, us guys don’t get to pick and choose what’s right for everyone. We don’t pick for you. That’s obvious now that we’ve offended you. But really, Annoyed, we don’t care a fig what you watch or don’t watch. Let freedom ring. The catch is that we can’t be as carefree and accepting as you, because we’re professional journalists and held to a ridiculously confining regimen of facts and history, little things like that. Our beef isn’t with you, Annoyed. Land sakes, no. We honestly don’t care what you think (or don’t). Our concern is for the National Geographic Society, which once held itself more firmly to this fact and history trivia. We’re not addressing you and we’re not deciding for you and we’re really not insulting you. At times we’d like to insult the Society boardroom a skosh for loosening their principles of fact in order to make more money. Nothing to do with you. Go. Watch whatevah. Who are we to tell you what to do?

        We’re old-school, it’s true. And we’re held to old standards. So there’s a difference between our posts and yours. For instance: we sign our names to our opinions; it’s a journalistic way of owning up to our antique standards. But we don’t encourage you to do the same because someone might look down their long noses at you by name, and that would sting.

        • Annoyed Part 2

          what else could i expect but passive aggressive snark, and an attack on the opportunity to not use my name, how quaint. I respect the choice one way or another since Alan allows it on his site, but again, your goal is whining and complaining. Truly the most disappointing part of your post.

          I’m hurt you don’t care, I do care. I care that you have blinders on, i care that you seem to think your opinion is the only one that matters. I care about the society, probably more than you, and I don’t expect you to agree with me, but i can keep trying to get you to think beyond your own limited scope.

          I’m held to new standards, that’s true- because time marches on. Standards didn’t freeze 50 years ago, its okay to vote for women or African-Americans. People change, we evolve, technology changes, we now know the world isn’t flat and that it revolves around the sun. So, yes, I’ll stick with new standards- building off the past, but recognizing we need to move forward. Amazing.

          The mob is real, Geographic covered it – thankfully you guys don’t get to choose the scope of what NG covers. Its not the only thing they cover, its one of many things – and regardless, still an important part of our history. Absolutely nothing wrong with covering it, particularly the way it was covered. High quality, fascinating and educational – perhaps not in the way you deem necessary, but you just don’t care about anyone else but yourself, i guess?

      • Well, Annoyed, I’d echo most everything Jan said yesterday in his response to you. A few other thoughts…

        We can all agree that the Channel is now the most public, most visible, and most important piece of National Geographic’s brand identity. What, then, does a day filled with gangland-style killing have to do with the Society’s stated mission “to inspire people to care about the planet”?

        Re Facebook, you write: “that post by NGC was pretty silly, but who cares, its a freaking FB post.” National Geographic has 16,418,929 likes on Facebook. When we speak to an audience that large, then what we say really does matter.

        Re: “the world needs more innovators and less whiners” — I agree completely. But what is innovative about the Alex Honnold climb (ripped off from Discovery’s Skywire) or all the reality shows that infect NGC in primetime?

        I’d argue that what I’ve advocated here at Society Matters is innovative, especially: building NGS around people, not the planet; around open societies and democracy, not around despots who are also tree-huggers; around journalism that proudly admits to a POV instead of the bogus “we report, you decide” nonsense spouted all too publicly by EiC Chris Johns.

        The challenge for the Society’s leaders is to say to the Society’s current members and to potential ones: This is who we are, this is what we believe, this is what matters most, and this is the adventure we’re all on together. I haven’t heard such a statement from Chris Johns or John Fahey. And as much as I hope that Gary Knell might bring some new ideas and inspiration, I’m not holding my breath. After all, this is the guy who’s main professional calling card is Bert & Ernie & Grover & Cookie Monster. I only hope that Gary proves me wrong.

        • Jan Adkins

          I’m at a loss to understand why Annoyed sees you or me or anyone who comments on Society Matters as trying to restrict opinion, or why we would take on the lordly mantle of deciding for others.

          This unexpected anger and resentment is backing us into one of those un-arguments: we’re trying to explain a perspective – differing perspectives since you and I don’t always agree, which is kosher – and not trying to narrow anyone’s taste in TV fodder. Folks can watch reruns of The Untouchables or The Sopranos until the cows come home, no big. Hey, I’ll get a beer and watch them with you.

          The most crucial point we’re trying to make, Alan, is that there is room for more than eight Crayolas. Easily annoyed folks might think that by advocating many more shades of crayon, we’re somehow insulting their eight crayon box. This is sad, because we’re passionate advocates for color, period. Even gray.

          But we also recognize that education and enlightenment can never be poll-driven. Teaching isn’t necessarily a choice of what amuses everyone or what pollsters say America is watching most. The Geographic isn’t set up to gather favor or even revenue; it has a mandate to educate and inspire and reveal.

          Conversely, the Geographic Channel begs for exposure by “giving the public what it wants.” Not our mandate, not our job, not a useful or admirable pursuit.

          Giving viewing America what it wants to see is the business of HBO. The Society has – or should have – real tasks to perform in educating people in the extraordinary, ever more complex world in which we live. Polls and pandering aren’t the Society’s job. Not even if the Society’s board reinterprets the mandate.

          I feel bad for our annoyed reader because he/she feels slighted by our critical views about programming. One doesn’t know quite how or why. Our perspective doesn’t demand anyone’s affirmation or agreement. We’re not spending time attempting to “be superior” to masses of TV viewers.

          Perhaps this annoyed reader is taking personally our effort to make the National Geographic Society become (once again) a superior reporter of the wider world, a superior lens on the world’s peculiarities and even its flaws. This is the kind of superiority that would benefit everyone. Pandering for a market share isn’t what Geographic was founded to do.

          • They Call Me Mr. Annoyed

            and i long for the day that you understand that your view isn’t shared by everyone. that the role of Geographic isn’t decided by you and Alan together. That not everything on NGC is garbage and you if you spend all your time focusing on the negative, you fail to see the big, beautiful world out there. i don’t feel slighted, thanks for asking (wait, you didn’t, sorry – never mind, thanks for once again being passive aggressive), i just feel sorry that you can’t expand to see anything good in NGC. I want them to change, but not to what you want, but if one doesn’t agree with Jan and Alan, then of course, they must be taking offense and not understand.

            Continue your defense with one another, continue your sad attempts at insulting through snark and continue to stick to your own worldview, that’s fine. I will continue to see the world and all that’s in it, yes, even including the mafia.

          • With all due respect, Mr. Annoyed, you’re not really grasping what Jan and I are trying to say….

            We know “our view isn’t shared by everyone.” If it was, then there would be no need for Society Matters.

            We know that “the role of Geographic isn’t decided by [Jan] and Alan together.” But we do think our ideas deserve to be part of the discussion, public or otherwise.

            We know that “not everything on NGC is garbage.” But the fact is that the garbage is paying the bills. Please see Dear John: Why is a violent insurrectionist the star of an upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel?

            My interest, broadly stated, is rather simple: How does our Society sustain itself? Is it okay to Save Big Cats (and to pursue other Mission projects) if we’re financing our efforts by putting a violent anti-government insurrectionist on the National Geographic stage? If so, why? If not, why not?

          • Annoyed

            With all due respect, that is a most disrespectful way to start a sentence. Your post makes no sense, just reiterates my point. You don’t listen, you don’t care you simply are so filled with hate , you have become irritating. I find you interesting when you aren’t busy trying to find clever ways to joke about channel content and actually discussing direction, but sadly that seems less and less these days.the descent into whining is making me sad for you, life is too short, with or without geographic, the earth still revolves around the sun.

            Now you are into censorship. I don’t know who this guy is, but I do know if I cared enough, I wouldn’t just take one fringe groups word on it, I would do my own research. It seems there is more to the story than you know, but it seems to fit nicely into your worldview, so you accept it.

            But let’s play that out, let’s say he is the violent guy you need him to be. If Ngc is covering preppers, certainly some of them will be like that. Let audiences make their own decisions on it, they aren’t giving him a stage to have a podium, never seen them do anything like that. They shouldn’t be censoring to misrepresent that world. I would gather they dropped it because the show hasn’t aired and they want to avoid the publicity later. Sad.

            Sure, they can help cats as well. Same way they can cover the Mars rover in one issue,and the decline of jellyfish in the same issue. Problem is, once again, you have an ill defined filter on what NG should be. I could watch the mob, national parks, Stonehenge and a drugs show and still have no issues. To me, it’s not as much what they do, it’s how they do it.

            You are often focused on topics, topics don’t bother me, there is little gegographic couldn’t cover.

          • bob

            Annoyed, sorry I came late to reading these posts but “way to go.” I get so tired of the Alan and Jan snarking show, that at times I, too, am compelled to comment. The model for which they long is obviously obsolete. So, my biggest complaint with them is that, while they are happy to tear down current Society decisions, they have no better suggestions on how to proceed with a Society that can survive financially in 2013 and beyond.

          • Bob – I have a ton of suggestions. Here are ten…

            1. See my latest post (10 Nov 2013) and realize that stories like the one written by Chris Hedges and the one written by Ha Jin should have been published. Why? Because they reflect the values that should — but don’t — animate our Society: we should be championing open societies, free speech, and democracy. Go back to NGM from 1941 to about 1980, and that’s what you’ll see — a Society with a moral center.

            2. Lay out, in detail, exactly the challenges faced by NGS for the 4 million members who remain. Explain what’s at stake — one of the few remaining independent media outlets that are membership driven. NGS is an endangered species that should survive. Make that case explicitly to the members.

            3. Acknowledge that NGM can no longer generate revenue on content alone. People don’t want to pay for elephant pictures when they’re drowning in elephant pictures. Stop trying to be the Photojournalistic Deity atop Olympus; instead, tell the people that the story, literally and figuratively, is now in their hands. There is an army of digitally-armed Davids out there; NGS should be an organization that is dedicated to supporting them and nurturing their talents.

            4. Create buying cooperatives with, say, Canon and Nikon. Instead of selling ad space in the Magazine, tell them that each month we will arrive at their door with a purchase order for, say, 4,500 Canon t4i. What’s the price for such a wholesale order? … My bet: cheaper than what any member is going to get going it alone.

            5. Create advertising partnerships with like-minded non-profits. Offer a page in NGM to, say, Habitat for Humanity in exchange for Habitat promoting NGS memberships to all their members. We give them exposure they never dreamed possible, and we get a partner who is not out for profit, but to make the world a better place — much like NGS. … Corollary: Don’t sell our good name to Shell Oil.

            6. Establish local NGS Meetups. (Ask youself, Bob: Why hasn’t NGS taken the lead on this? It would take them about 10 minutes to set it up, but they don’t really want us all getting together unsupervised. Ever wonder why?)

            7. Distance ourselves editorially, in whatever ways possible, from the Channel.

            8. Tell Chris Johns to stop saying nonsense like this:
   …. It makes our Society look stupid.

            9. Produce a tentpole documentary like this one: … Supplement with books & magazines.

            10. Open up the doors and windows of NGS and let the sun shine in. Make everyone at HQ — especially the senior executives — available to the press, and to Society members. Because right now, they are hermits. (Where is the staff contact list at

            Those are a few “better suggestions,” Bob. And I’m just getting warmed up….

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