30 December 2004

We're So Nice

A conversation reported to me by my best friend, which took place at a doctor's office between her and the nurse, went something like this:

Nurse (recently returned from Germany): I don't like foreign news services.
Friend (recently returned from Ireland): Why?
Nurse: Because the images they show on their news is icky.
Friend: They are only telling the truth, more of it anyway than we get here.
Nurse: But I like our news better. It's nicer.

My query to friend: How can she think our news is nicer?
Friend: Well, it is more graphic over there.
Me: More graphic? How?
Friend: Because over there they show images of Americans beating up and abusing Iraqis.
Me: So our media coverage is nicer because we show them dead, instead of merely being abused? Of course she likes our news better. She's more offended by their portrayal of American brutality in the particular, than by the static results of a level of violence we've all become accustomed to. After all, we're supposed to be the "nice guys." Goddess forbid we be shown for being merely human instead of heros on the world stage. Sucks to be merely human, doesn't it?

29 December 2004

Armchair Rubbernecking

"Unprecedented Disaster!"
"Field of Death!"
"Waves of Destruction!"
"Death Toll Could Top 100,000!"
[___________ insert exclamation marks here]

Yes, it's horrible, yes, it's tragic.

But today I am particularly appalled by an earlier notice on MSN: There was actually a link to a story indicating a scramble for the most gut-ripping shot of the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean. The mental image of photojournalists shoving each other out of range, lining themselves up to get the most gruesome pictures should be appalling. When did mass destruction become a spectator sport? Why?

Like Rome before us, we Americans have become desensitized to real tragedy and real waste. The popular media, from movies to the evening news, has been feeding us a highly concentrated diet of mayhem for decades. And we accept this as our form of entertainment, oblivious to the intrusion on privacy it occasions on others and the somnific affect it has on our sensibilities.

How many gigs are these "news" sites dedicating to invasive photos and videos of grieving Asians when they could be doing something far more constructive with that space? How much money are they shelling out for 24/7 photo and video coverage which could be spent in more productive ways considering the size of the disaster being covered?

I am as much a product of this culture as anyone else. I am more ready to vomit over the callousness of our coverage than I am over the pictures themselves. But it cannot be just me who is sickened by this armchair rubbernecking our media partakes in. Can we not, as the consumer public this hype is geared toward, manage to send a clear message that this kind of behavior is wholly unacceptable? Are we ourselves so far removed from common decency that we prize our right to voyeurism over anyone else's right to basic human dignity? The media is doing this ostensibly for our enjoyment, because this is what they have been training us to want for 40 years.

The primary news websites post links to relief efforts below the links to the latest video feed. Anyone else here remember the old newspaper adage about placing the attention-grabbing headlines above and below the folds? Websites do the exact same type of layout! Their editors, producers, and gold-plated BoDs sit on their asses and reap the traffic benefits of pot-shot pictures because they know violence sells. They know this because we've bought into it. Time and time again. If I were a Sri Lankan woman sifting through heaps of bodies for my children, I would deck the first photographer who came within 100 feet of me with his own damn Nikon. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY! TURN OFF YOUR TVs AND STOP CLICKING THOSE VIDEO & SLIDESHOW LINKS NOW!

Why can't MSN splash a fundraising offer across its site e.g., "Microsoft will match every dollar you contribute to Tsunami Disaster Relief--just follow these links"? Why can't CNN solicit its advertisers' contributions with "Buy an ad during our 'Tsunami Coverage' and we'll donate 50% of your purchase to Doctors without Borders"? For crissake, are you men or media vultures? If you really gave a damn, you would do something real to help the relief effort you so effortlessly profit from.

These Snarcophagic Times

These Snarcophagic Times

SARC [From Latin, sarx]: flesh
+ PHAGE [From Grk, -phagos]: to eat
+ SNARK [From Lewis Carroll via MTS ]: 1. a system failure; 2. any unexplained or threatening event on a computer, often refers to an event that might indicate an attempted security violation.
+ SNARKY [dialectical]: ill-humored, irascible, irritated, nagging
= SNARCOPHAGY: n., the major media's cannibalization of the public brain through the use of pervasive spin, overblown rhetoric, and nagging pablum, the goal of which is to bypass rational voter thought, disrupt critical social dialogue, and cause a complete democratic system failure.
[Take note, OED: Word and definition created by TL Patten, Dec. 2004]

Do you know your opinion is being influenced even as you read this? In the course of 2 paragraphs, you have decided whether I am (1) an elitist, arrogant pundit worthy of criticism, or (2) a witty, intelligent commentator worthy of future reading.

Every opinion you have formed has been influenced by someone somewhere. So have mine. What chaps my arse about these snarcophagic times is the permeation of broadcast media influence on public opinion. Once it purported to disseminate the news. Now it has become the news. Ever since the first Greek chorus took the stage, the media has had a proprietary interest in spinning a tale. That is its job. But with that job usually came some sense of responsibility to the public. Responsibility has fallen by the wayside. Hard fact has been replaced by fractious opinion and hard news by celebrity causes.

Assertion is no substitute for research and glamour is no equivalent for substance. This insipid, Paris Hilton mentality is being shoved down our throats because the corporations and the government prefer their chattel dumbed and numbed to the lowest common denominator.

You may hate my blog, you may enjoy my blog, but at least I insist upon thinking. And here I will be thinking most about who is spinning what, how, and, most importantly, why. I look forward to our dialogue and dialectic.