In my media class we saw a video about the April 30, 1998 televised suicide on the California freeway. It was a “Nightline” episode, where the host (presumably Brit Hume) was holding forth on whether this constituted journalism or not.
The panelists were apologetic, wringing their hands and oozing sincerity, and at the same time defending their right to show stuff like that. In the seven years since, nothing has changed, not that I find that particularly galling. No, there is a particular reason for my ire in this case.
What pissed me off, more than anything else in the whole show, was their apologies. They aren’t sorry. They never were. While this guy was contemplating suicide, I’ll bet any money that they were egging him on back in the control room. When he blew his head off, I’ll bet any money that they were cheering, giving high fives, and smoking cigars. Why? Because nothing generates ratings quite like violence, live violence even more so.
Do I think they have the right to show stuff like that? The First Amendment has consistently held that they can determine what is newsworthy, and I agree. But let’s not lie to ourselves here. They don’t report the news anymore. In most cases they MAKE the news. The tail wags the dog. In determining what is and what is not newsworthy they literally manufacture news. Why was this guy a big story? Because it was live TV, in living color. Suicides are a dime a dozen, protests happen every day, traffic accidents stop the freeway all the time, so there was nothing remarkable about this guy. But damn, was it good news!
What’s more, after it happened they put up the usual caveats and apologies, hemming and hawing about how sorry they were that they showed the guy’s head coming apart. Bullshit. They weren’t sorry, and I am absolutely incredulous that they would say so. Then Nightline does a story about the “tragedy”, not coincidentally replaying virtually every part of it for a NATIONAL audience, and trying to take the moral high ground in doing so because it’s now “newsworthy”.
It really makes me sick, this moral and ethical bankruptcy. They intentionally put this stuff on, call it news, and then to mollify the “outrage” of the public they make apologies rather than telling the truth, which is that they showed it because the public wanted to see it, because the public has been conditioned to the idea that this is what news really is. The “public” outrage is really a fig leaf, one that hides the bloodlust, the very thing that encourages live TV, blood and guts in living color.
I’m sick of the dishonesty. Show it if you want to, but don’t pretend you’re sorry that you did, and if you’re the public, don’t pretend that you’re outraged about it. It’s what you want, after all.
Next topic: The total unmitigated ignorance of the American populace. I was walking back from class, still stewing over what I expounded upon above, when I heard a girl say that she took a “lucky guess” at who one of our State Senators were. The other one said that had she only known she would have gotten an A on her test.
Are you kidding me? How is it possible that you don’t know who your senators are? How can anybody be that uninformed? I’ll bet that she knows who J-Lo is dating, though.
In closing, I despair for this country. I’ve said before, and I maintain, that this country can survive with Hanoi Jane, Bozo the Clown, or Kent Brockman as President, but you know where the inevitable decline of this country will start (and has started)? With its citizens, the fat, sated, utterly uninformed, completely vapid, and ridiculously unconcerned populace that couldn’t give two shits about anything as long as they can watch the newest fad reality show every night.
Where did we go wrong, what can we do to fix it, and do we want to fix it or do we want to just chuck the whole rotten mass and start over?