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  • Monday, August 07, 2006


    Bleeding Edge of News

    This is not a new observation: Television "news" very rarely contains important information. My definition of "important" in this context is "valuable for making decisions; providing context for facts."

    The "news", as presented, is an almost unremitting stream of crisis and catastrophe, mayhem and destruction, leavened by exhortations to buy. Oh, yes, let's not forget the commercial support network for the "news": potions and elixirs for problems you didn't know afflicted you. Because while you are in that excitable state of mind caused by the news, you are susceptible to suggestion. Suddenly, for some reason and despite high gasoline prices, you are finding that big SUV attractive and desirable. Suddenly an SUV seems like a good security blanket against the terror of the world. Quelle surprise! (excuse my french)

    I think I've mention this before but breaking down the typical local news half-hour is particularly depressing, content-wise. A minimum of eight minutes will be commercials. Another 8-10 minutes will be taken up by weather and sports. The remaining twelve or so minutes will contain at least two stories about local bleeding stories (fire, industrial accident, tragic automobile accident, shooting, murder, etc.) These stories have good visuals and evoke empathy in the viewer but are rarely important beyond the immediate visceral images.

    So what remains of the newscast is maybe five minutes of "important" news. And the value of the content of that five minutes is very hit and miss. It's possible that nothing in that five minutes will be worth knowing in the larger scheme of things. This is the local news.

    Of course, almost no one sits down and watches the news anymore. We've become multitasking whizzes, giving only part of our attention to much of our daily inputs. People keep the TV on as company while preparing dinner or doing other things. And this is the sorry state of the "news": we expect little of it. We don't expect to learn important things. We expect to hear about a disconnected series of events which we will forget about the moment the story is over. The lesson we learn from the news is alienation and fear: People are violent all the time and the world is actively seeking our individual and collective destruction. We learn we are all victims awaiting the predation of an inevitable victimizing situation.

    Let's hear it for empowering citizens. We voluntarily expose ourselves to brainwashing, a perspective that murmurs to our hindbrains "Why struggle? Why fight? Your doom is inexorably stalking you. Accept your rabbit fate with fatalism. You, as an individual, are no match for the fierce predators of big business and government. Trust in their paternal wisdom."
    Am I reading too much into the local news presentation? Yes. But there's also a strain of truth in this rant. The atomization of society, the division of people from each other through instilling fear, is so prevalent that it's just become part of the background static. We don't talk to our neighbors but know all sorts of details about particular celebrities. This is the way our connections are redirected away from the real people around us to distant figures, almost mythological for all they actually affect our day-to-day lives.

    We are a nation of alien abductees. We are inhabitants of the frozen zone between fight or flight, doubting all our desires but lusting anyway. This is our inheritance today: a forcefed powerlessness we embrace while forgetting the ways of community.

    Thus endeth the cynical rantings of this raging curmudgeon.

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