Friday, May 25, 2007

Facts or Fiction?

This morning I looked at the front page of the Star Ledger, which is a legitimate newspaper in northern New Jersey, and saw this headline: "Idol Voters Crown Jordin." On the front page. As news.

I've been noticing this phenomenon more and more lately, even on my favorite news radio station, 880 WCBS. They mention who won this week's American Idol as part of the daily headlines.

When did this start? How did an entertainment show become part of our reality? Something mentioned in the same breath as headlines about Marines dead in Iraq?

Perhaps it all started when CNN was created and the producers realized they needed to find something, anything, to fill the 24 hours that had to be filled with news. As a result we got the non-stop coverage of the OJ car chase and subsequent trial; the Mormon girl kidnapped from her house; Jonbenet Ramsey; the Unabomber; but at least these were actual news events, however hyped up they were.

But the ratings needed to be pushed higher 24-hour news started covering entertainment figures such as Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Anna Nicole Smith. This must be where it started to go downhill. Now it has come to this - a popular TV show's events are reported as news on the front page of the paper. And don't even get me started on the non-stop coverage in our papers of the final season of The Sopranos!

But to me it all has a kind of surreal feel to it, like watching Nero fiddle while Rome burns. TV and other media have become the "opiate of the masses," keeping the citizens happy and ignorant while dark forces are working behind the scenes changing our country while no one is watching.

Luckily, many of us have not been sucked in to this vortex. We may be unable to avoid the constant barrage of trivia completely, but it doesn't mean we have to support the "news" sources that keep pummeling us with it. We do have a choice. We can watch The Daily Show.

Yes, The Daily Show is considered "fake news." But in reality, I get more "real" news from The Daily Show than I ever do on regular TV news programs, which, even when reporting real news, focus only on local events (Toddler Falls From 3rd Floor Window; Family Left Homeless by Fire in the Bronx).

Jon Stewart actually shows real clips of real news, including the latest news from Iraq (usually bad, and therefore not shown on regular TV news programs), or press conferences featuring "W" and his latest pronouncements, which again, get very little coverage on regular TV. Stewart's commentary, while witty, is always right on the mark and skewers both sides of the political aisle for different reasons. Often I hear things on the Daily Show that I wouldn't have heard about otherwise.

The interviews are also frequently insightful and serious. Tonight he had Al Gore on the show talking about his latest book, The Assault on Reason, which is what got me thinking about this subject in the first place.

Gore's book is all about how reason has gone out the window and decisions are being made that have nothing to do with the facts at hand. He argues that "the marketplace of reasoned debate our country was founded on is being endangered by a variety of allied forces: the use of fear and the misuse of faith, the distractions of our entertainment culture, and the concentrations of power in the national media and the executive branch." (from Amazon's review). That pretty much sums up the mess we are in right now, and it is getting harder and harder to imagine being able to pull the country back from the precipice.

Sometimes I wish I were like my husband. He has developed some kind of specialized filter on his consciousness. He has no inkling of the existence of the icons of popular culture. He reads the newspaper every day and somehow any mention of J-Lo (or Bennifer), Anna Nicole Smith, or Britney Spears, let alone Paris Hilton, never enters his conscious mind. Even my mother, who abhors the entertainment-as-news phenomenon as much as, if not more than, anybody, cannot avoid knowing who these people are. But DH? No. He has no idea. I'm so envious of his blissful ignorance!


Liz Hinds said...

It is true that things infiltrate your brain without knowing. I don't watch Eastenders, a soap, but I usually can tell you roughly what is happening in it!

I only listen to the news on BBC Radio 4 and they don't mention Britney or the rest I'm pleased to say.

Icarus said...

Hi, Kate the Great here, saying this is definitely a subject for my Orwell side.
Your husband is a remarkably lucky guy, or incredibly self-disciplined & resolute. It is taking over European main-stream news too. Even the BBC is not what it was. the agenda - briefly - has been set by the privates, the model was the USA and all it took was one vulturous, voracious media mega-tycoon out of australia by the name must know it, 'cos he owns Fox....Rupert Murdoch to push the lowest-common-denominator boundaries down, down, down & Hey Presto! From news to "entertainment" to "documentaries", the masses are queuing up screaming "Dumb me down as far as you can take me, please!!!". 25 yrs ago I was studying mass media, pluralisation, and tele-enslavement, Mexican style, before cable, satellite, digitalisation, etc. was heard of. It is the same as Globo in Brasil and Televisaof Mexico was doing then, but much worse, much bigger, much huger profits. The press is no different. Murdoch got away with it and we the idiot consumers bought in. Lies, deceit, celebs, scandals, loads of sport, salaciousness & sleaze - and that's just the news. the name of the game is selling. It is inimical with truth, objectivity, decent investigative journalism, or decent values & principles.
That's why the internet is so good, so popular for anyone who wants to get an alternative view & opinions on what is going on in the world. But you can be sure, they are working on it, because such a tool, which EDUCATES & INFORMS, rather than forms opinion, is DANGEROUS.
Wow, I hear ole Uncle G. Orwell speaking after all!

Mauigirl said...

I'm glad, Liz, that the BBC hasn't gotten any Britney news on it...yet.

Yes, I definitely know Rupert Murdoch - not only does he run Fox but he also owns the New York Post, which he turned into a tabloid full of exactly the kind of thing you're talking about. It's a shame, too, because it's a newspaper with a long history and was once a legitimate paper. He recently was trying to buy the Wall Street Journal, and they refused his offer! Thanks goodness.

I know what you mean about the Orwellian nature of our current situation. I feel Bush is what Orwell foresaw so many years ago. In fact I recently bought his book "1984" just to remind myself of all the things he predicted. For instance, in the book the country was always at war with a vague opponent, just to keep the people afraid and under control. Sounds familiar.

Mauigirl said...

Obviously the second part of my reply was to you, Icarus! ;-)

DRP said...