Thursday, April 26, 2007
Unless you see it happen with your own eyes, everything is editorialized. If you see a car wreck, tell your mother, she tells her neighbor and they tell a co-worker, chances are that theco-worker's vision of the carnage is much different than what you saw. Each successive interpreter of the story puts a slant on it or leaves something out. This is editorial-ism. Sometimes it is unintentional, but most times it isn't. At least where the media is concerned.
Some of you may live in pretty rural areas (lucky bastards), but most of us live in the cities. If you do, and you happen to get your daily information fix from the local TV news channel this should come as no surprise. Without fail, every time I tune in the 6pm Evening News, there is always a bold graphic with an urgent sounding voice-over, "Breaking News ONLY on Channel 12: Pickup Truck Stuck In A Dry Creek Bed.....News-Copter 12 is on the scene...come in Captain Dave."
There has to be a breaking news story to get your attention. It has be to urgent, and if it is bleeding or on fire....ALL THE BETTER. Lets face it, our inner demons love looking at the things we aren't supposed to see. Do all those Nascar fans go to see who wins or who hits the wall hardest? Since producers and editors know this, and since producers and editors jobs are on the line if the advertisers don't show up to cover their paychecks....Captain Dave is kept pretty busy hovering near overturned vehicles and house fires. Not that this is News by the way....it is just good entertaining carnage and destruction. If they were still sacrificing Christians in the Colosseum in Rome, you know the news blimps would be fighting for the airspace above it.
This sort of media manipulation has been going on since scribes put pen to parchment. What concerns me at this point is the saturation level. There is a growing segment of the population that is feeding off this like hungry piranha.
When I was a young man in college I had one of those moments that made me stop and think. I was working in the college media center. This is back in the day when most of us still had black & white televisions, and there was no cable, much less the Internet. You had three channels (ABC / NBC / CBS) and that was it. One evening I was alone in the media center and had all three of the networks up on different studio monitors and watched all three nightly news casts at the same time. It was eye opening to say the least.
The lead story on ABC and NBC was the same, but it was the 3rd story on CBS. Likewise all the other stories deemed newsworthy by the network gods were jumbled in random order, and some were missing entirely from various stations. This puzzled me. Who was making the decision on what I should and shouldn't know about?
Later that evening, I walked back to my college apartment and turned on my shortwave radio (yes I used to have one, Radio Moscow was a hoot to listen to). I tuned in the hourly BBC shortwave broadcast (which always started out with the chiming of Big Ben and the intro "This Is London") and got the 'world' prospective. I was amazed that almost none of the stories on the BBC were even mentioned on the American nightly newscasts. Especially the 47 Ugandans that had been murdered that afternoon. Africans dying back then wasn't considered real news-worthy I suppose.
This is what started the seed in my mind about who was telling me what and for what reason. That seed has since grown into a redwood.
Media outlets lean more and more toward hype and our base voyeur instincts and less and less toward the knowledge that we really need to make an informed decision.
As in school or any training class, repetition is the key to retention. You memorize things until they become second nature. That includes what you see as well. Repeated images of Paris Hilton /IEDs in Iraq / and college gunman reinforce the 'image' not the message.
You can tell teenage girls not to act like Paris Hilton, but the more they see her, the more they want to be like her.
You can tell folks that we are winning the war in Iraq, but if all you show are Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) blowing up American soldiers, that isn't the perception.
You can report on the missed opportunities to help a troubled student before they go postal, but the resultant images and media blitz only reinforces a troubled youth's belief that violence is a valid option.
Media has always manipulated the masses that watch it. William Randolph Hearst knew that, so does Rupert Murdoch, but I don't think anyone is questioning what the digital revolution and global compression are doing regarding the effect on society's mental health not to mention its ability to make an informed decision.
Which brings me to the title of this Blog. I suspect that there is actual a psychology to the evening news format that goes beyond our thirst for voyeurism. I have noticed this pattern in local news coverage. I call it the Murder / Puppy Dog / Car Wash scenario.
The lead off story, is usually some grisly murder or death (preferably with pictures). This imagery is sad and depressing, but holds our 'thriller' interest.
The next news story is warm and cuddly. Usually involving a furry animal or baby or an elderly person riding a unicycle or knitting the worlds largest pot-holder. This calms our fears and anxiety and softens or erases the images of grisly death from the first story.
Then comes the story of redemption. The car wash, which is usually being held by high school students to raise money for the funeral of their classmate who was killed in the previous days grisly murder. Thereby leaving the viewer with some sense that there is hope in a really wacky and screwed up world.
Then they go to commercial.
You may laugh at this and think I am stretching it a bit. But seriously, watch your local news and keep in mind that those stories are not put there in random order. There is a producer / news editor behind the scenes pulling strings and determining what you need to see and what you need to know (and what you need to think).
Hand me the remote....I want to see what is on Cartoon Network.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Is Lynching Really A Bad Thing?
I am going to rant for a while....
There is something that has been really bugging me. It has been growing and not diminishing over time. It just keeps getting worse.
It is the concept that no one is accountable for their actions. You can make a mistake and be forgiven. No foul, no harm done. I understand that this had a certain logic in the past. Forgiveness was divine, tolerance and patience were a virtue . But like so many things in our lives, this concept has been corrupted over time. The lack of accountablility has become so ridiculous that it has direct adverse consequences on all of us.
I first started thinking about this when the whole illegal immigration debate started heating up last year. I live in the American Southwest where illegal immigrants from Mexico are a daily way of life. They are ingrained into the economy and we couldn't live without them. The folks that don't want them here endlessly debate how to 'get rid of them' or how the laws need to be changed.
This raised a question in my mind. Instead of how to deal with the problem, why aren't we looking at what caused it in the first place. Where was the proper funding for the border patrol back in the 1970s? Who was in charge of the INS at the time, how much money did they request from Congress and was it approved? Were there reports documenting the increase in illegal crossings? If so, where did they go and who made the decision NOT to act on them?
Many will say that it does little good to look for the lack of management or leadership in past and to deal with the problems as of today. To that statement I say, "bullshit". If there is no accountability in the past, what motivation do the current people in charge have to make the correct decisions. They know that if they fail, they won't be held accountable for the failure that the public entrusted them to prevent.
This same scenario is repeated in the news on a daily basis with people arguing over how to fix a problem that should never have been allowed to fester in the first place.
Corporate CEOs at Enron, Home Depot and Cessna are making millions of dollars a year in compensation while running their companies into the ground. Where are the federal regulators and Board of Directors 'before' the companies collapse?
Several years ago, in the Arizona legislature, a state senator put forth a bill that was approved by the house, the senate and signed by the governor. This bill allowed Arizona citizens to receive a tax break on vehicles that were converted to propane power. Only problem was, everyone wanted the tax break, everyone started converting to propane and the state went bankrupt. The next election year the senator was booted from office and promptly went to work for a propane distributor. Where was the oversight in state government that allowed all these senators, representatives and even the Governor to allow this debacle to happen? No one served any jail time and the senator that pushed the bill through was 'investigated' by the Attorney General who found nothing improper. The end result is that our elected government threw away almost 800 million dollars of taxpayer money. Those legislators are all retired now and living on state pensions. Does this seem right?
My wife and I are fixing up an old house in an historic neighborhood. Needless to say, there isn't much standard on our house (it is 70 years old) and finding a competent contractor to do work on the home has been next to impossible. There is a housing boom in the desert southwest, but most of the homes are built by unskilled labor from cookie-cutter parts found at Home Depot. Contractors are more than willing to take your time to meet with you, but when they find out that they will actually have to do some 'work' and not just plug something in, they quickly back out the door. If I take off 10 hours of work, at $20 an hour, only to find out that the contractor can't do didly for me (even though he said he could), should HE be paying me for my lost wages?
Some of the other scenerios that have stocked my fire recently are:
-Contractors make appointments to give estimates and never show up.
-Retailers sold us furniture, promising deliver in 3 weeks. After 3 months we call to find out they sold the stock to someone else instead and never told us.
-A car dealership takes 4 weeks to do simple maintenance on a vehicle, fails to correct any of the problems and then forgets to reinstall engine components.
-I have uncovered massive failure to collect required data at my job, and when pointed out, no one is tasked to clean it up or reprimanded for not doing their job (albeit, this is government work, not the private sector).
The overriding issue here appears to be a 'push' toward mediocrity where no one is held accountable and if they are, it is generally done in committee where nothing is really accomplished.
The rights of the individual to cover up their bad mistakes, declare bankruptcy, drop their 'failed' jobs from their resume has undermined us all. We have forgotten that living in a society means that certain individual rights are forgone for the good of the group as a whole. In order to reap the benefits of health care, police protection, sewage removal, and well lighted streets, we have to give up our individual rights to start fires where ever we want, disobey laws, throw litter everywhere and fail to yield to ambulances.
If you want to live a life free of responsibility, move to Wyoming or Alaska and live in the wilderness where you are the master of all you survey. If you choose to live within a society, set forth laws that promote the good of the whole (not the individual), tax the populace to fund the infrastructure for them and then ENFORCE them. Living within a society means the loss of some individuality. That is the price we all pay for the benefits of society.
This concept has been lost with the advent of not holding those accountable for the mistakes that they have made. Those that aspire to rise to public office or law enforcement need to be made aware, that if they fail because of their own stupidity (and not by circumstance) they will be brutally held accountable. They are given a public trust to do what is best for all of us and the generations that follow. I do not understand why they can be allowed to walk away while our children suffer because of their actions (or inactions)
Is it just me, or shouldn't we all be mad as hell? I know I get more angry every day.