Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Death of Western Media

I apologize before I begin because I know, right off the bat, that this item is going to be much more of a rant than an entry in this web log. When you get to be my age, it's not very often than the blood pumps with the rapidity and velocity that enables the energy required to go off on a rant, but this, gentle reader, is such a time.

There is a clear distinction, at least in my personal classification scheme, between a rant and a BLOG. A BLOG is typically a measured, coherent, logical opinion or attempt to sway opinion in one direction or the other. A rant is often driven more by passion and enthusiasm rather than logic or an attempt to sway the reader opinion. Be it anger, sympathy, outrage, or understanding - the release of the passion is the entire point and is not always a display of proper logical discourse or valid arguments. The purpose of a rant is purgative as opposed to the usual BLOG which is to educate or give structure to an opinion. So, forewarned, this is - and with no apologies - a rant in the purest sense.

I am so tired of watching (actually, not watching) cotton candy news. But, when I thought more about it, I realized they are only giving us what they know the majority will watch. Junk food for the mind. JonBenet Ramsey, Susan Smith, Elizabeth Smart, Lori Hacking, Laci Petterson - tragedies all but, the fact that we seem to be fascinated by such individual misfortunes is becoming, sadly, a pathological national obssession. I understand that there are reasonable, studied and clear explanations for the human psyche's need to stop, crane out necks and view tragedy unfolding. The Passion plays of Christ's and, even earlier, the Greek tragedies of Plato make one cringe and want to turn away, even as it makes one yearn to look, to feast one's eyes, and to try to understand: for abhorrence and fascination go hand in hand. But, when watching train wrecks of the human condition becomes a national idée fixe we have, in my opinion, a significant reason to be concerned.

Caution: Now, for those keeping score, what preceded could be described as a legitimate BLOG; from this point on, I descend rather abruptly into the pit of an absolute, unfiltered, and an unapologetic rant.

Now, with the seemingly all-pervasive story of the "Runaway Bride," we reach a new depth of degradation and profligacy. We have become not merely a society hooked on junk food, we are a society fizated on "junk news." There is little nutritional value in either. We, apparently, sit thoroughly mesmerized by the inner workings of the disturbed mind of a 32 year old medical assistant and the hand-wringing office manager fiancé from the obscure town of Duluth, Georgia. We hear sound bite after sound bit from anyone and everyone, jockeying for position at the microphone, including restaurant waitresses, clergymen, firefighters, policemen, pop psychologists, wedding planners, marriage counselors, the local police chief, the district attorney, and a "family neighbor" who had a cousin who knew a bridesmaid for the Mason-Wilbanks wedding. I have a visual image of everyone in this sad little town queing up, as if waiting for the Judgement of St. Peter, to tell their pathetic and tenuous "first hand knowledge" about the rueful and piteous tale of these star-crossed lovers. I await the appearance of a pet psychologist interviewing the beloved family pet, Old Blue.

It is a sad commentary on the American mindset when people actually care about this issue while thousands are being butchered in Darfur without a peep of interest. We never saw this depth of analysis when the world stood idly by during the massacre of almost a million Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994. If you want racism, the "Hispanic male" slur aside, that is racism. We fixate on the "evolving human drama" of this histrionic ditz and turn away from the true tragedies of the world. Particularly, if these tragedies involve Africa.

I, unlike others, do not place the entire blame on the mass media. While CNN, Court TV and others have made this story the Greek tragedy that it is, these successful ventures obviously have their bottom line in mind. These media outlets sell advertisements to make money and they will cover the type of news stories that they know the American public will watch. And, by our watching, will see their advertising minutes. So, they air these tabloid items as news. They are inexpensive to cover, do not require any actual thought or analysis, and even the most junior broadcasters can be sent to armpit Georgia for the live interviews. The endless parade of smarmy "experts" (expert wedding planners, expert psychologists, expert waitresses, etc.) have their perpetual "Will work for airtime" signs around their necks. Airtime sells books and services so this pro bono discourse is a mutual exercise in back scratching. Further, it is no small coincidence that CNN's blow-by-blow, minute-by-tedious-minute telethon requires only a 28-mile hop, skip and jump from its Atlanta headquarters. For cost-efficiency, this particular emotional meltdown cannot be topped.

But, it is the viewing public that shoulders the bulk of the blame for this woeful cataclysm. Those fueling this wildfire, consuming the meager remnants of rational thought in America, actually watch these broadcasts and, loaded with their trivia, are ready for the water cooler the next day. "Did you know she bought the bus ticket a week before she ran off?" "Did you know that John Mason's father used to be mayor of Duluth?" "Did you know that Jennifer's eyes actually did pop out of her skull once?" It is just these sort of probing inquiries that are important to we, the people.

And, before my head turns a full 360 degrees on my neck and explodes, this parting prediction. The final nail in the coffin that is our culture is the fact that I clearly see the following unfolding, quite probably in the order presented, in view of my mind's eye:

1. Paid interview with some major interview host in prime time; Before the end of May, 2005, Dr. Phil will also rush tape a show on "premarital stress" and use the phrase "What were you thinking?"

2. Book deal for Wilbanks in 6 figures; smaller book deals for John Mason, Wilbanks' parents, Mason's parents, and Old Blue (ghost written by Hiraldo Rivera).

3. Made-for-TV movie - two actually, authorized and unauthorized - run on different channels at the same time. In prime time, of course; one-hour documentary on Court TV. Old Blue is interviewed but turned down as host of the new Animal Planet series, "Crazy Brides and their Crazy Pets."

She, and the "tragedy-struck family," will actually make money off this silliness. And, the next time a woman is missing, anywhere in the country, those in the search will always wonder "Did this woman just run off to hide?" and, more disturbingly, "Why am I out searching in the woods, anyway?" It is with that question that the true fallout from Jennifer Wilbanks affect us all.

If you want to know how low the media in the West has sunk, you need no more proof than this. But it speaks volumes, also, about our collective consciousness. As long as our culture displays even a modicum of interest in this sort of tabloid fluff, I am confident in predicting we will continue to have it fed to our eyes and our brains by the commercial media.

Nero may have fiddled while Rome burned, but we will be watching "Newlyweds II: Britanny and Kevin Federline" on MTV when this civilization falls.

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