Monday, May 9, 2011

Indeed, What the Hell is Wrong With Us?

As some of you know, I have a very talented brother who is a novelist, Bob. He's recently started a new blog and having read a particularly meaty post, I thought it only appropriate to respond to his very important query: What the Hell is Wrong With Us? Please read his original post on

My answer: Money.

Bob has hit upon something that's disgusted me ever since I was introduced to tabloid newspapers by my friend's mom in ole Bombay, NY. At first I thought it was a joke since my friend and I often read MAD Magazine and watched Saturday Night Live. I soon found out however that people actually read tabloids as news. Over ten years later, it was start of the second Iraq war when my roommate was watching news about it on her TV. I was aghast at the broadcast because it was the most sensational newscast I'd ever seen while the pundits reported with actual excitement as movie trailer-worthy graphics exploded across the screen. I thought it must have been a tabloid show-- something out of a sci fi movie that used such news networks as an illustration of the degradation of society. I thought the news was very liberal. I had watched CNN now-and-then after the first Iraq war propelled the network to the fore in '91 and thought this had a similar tone-- although far more sensational. I asked my roommate what network it was-- FOX News. We didn't get Fox where I grew up and when I moved to bigger TV markets, I didn't watch much TV. I then learned it was supposed to be the conservative voice in TV news. What? After what I saw?! It was news marketed for easy consumption similar to propaganda, I thought. I wonder now if the second Iraq war is what propelled Fox News to the fore.

Since that time, scripted TV which often featured heroes have been replaced by stories about villains and "reality television." The values inherent in myth have been decreasing in popularity just as the late myth scholar Joseph Campbell foretold. I'm sure CNN, NBC and other news casters have done their share, but Fox is the one who has succeeded at blurring the line between news and entertainment. Talk show hosts are presented as reporters and are allowed to skew facts, use rumors spread on the internet, imply falsehoods or simply lie to support a point. Reality shows on all networks are similar as they present them as real while events caught on camera are actually influenced by the creators, re-ordered and edited in a way to support a narrative. (In the end, they need a story to follow or no one would watch. They need to make it sensational to keep people watching.) Reality TV originally began as a twist on documentaries, an experiment to show real drama in the lives of normal kids in The Real World. It was obvious even then that the camera changed the situation entirely. These kids wanted to use TV to gain notoriety and they could get a whole lot more screen time on MTV then they could on Jerry Springer. The show eventually devolved into a moral dilemma for the participants to either keep to their career-related intentions or do something infamous to become a minor celebrity. And breasts were then flashed and walks of shame were caught on tape. Once these shows Big Brother, Surviror et al about regular folks ran their course, makers of this content needed to up the ante. They started building shows with an odd mix of minor names-- infamous spectors from the tabloids or had-been actors or music stars. This then led to following off-center celebrities like Hulk Hogan, Ozzy Osbourne and their families. I can only descibe this whole genre as disturbing st best.

Celebrities have always been created by our country in one form or another, but the habit probably didn't explode until movies began to talk. As a culture, we became interested in their romantic misadventures and bad behavior and blew it up into a real life soap opera. Some people made an obsession of it for sure, but never before has there been such interest in and availability of these tawdry, titillating tales. Everywhere you look there seems to be a photo or story about the latest footstep taken by Hilton or Lohan. But why?! Follow the money. Our society has gone from 'root for the underdog' to 'destroy all who show any talent or unique thoughts.' It's gone from celebrating triumphs of mind, humanity and creativity to lauding stupidity and all because it makes more money. In a film likely considered ancient and out-of-date by today's popular opinion called Citizen Kane, Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) builds a newspaper company which gains popularity by being the independent voice of the people-- reporting on what he said other well established papers were afraid to because of their ties with business and government. However, Kane eventually changes his 'printing what people need to know' mantra to 'what the people want to know'. With that seemingly slight change of focus, he then builds a huge media empire based on bold, trashy headlines and sensational stories of celebrity. He becomes a celebrity himself and makes more money than he could ever spend, but he is ultimately destroyed by his own creation. In essence, this is the story of a villain, but its status as a cautionary tale, and one of the finest films ever made, is never in doubt. Today, I fear this story would be told with Kane actually succeeding by somehow making his selfishness and self loathing an asset and surviving for a sequel. In a very real way, I think this same story is playing out in many people's lives the world over. On a mass scale we're not only allowing these things to exist, we're supporting them with our hard earned money. That true believers is a very scary thing! Little-by-little we've built the foundation, the walls and offices, the antennae and satellite dishes to beam this content in every nook and cranny it can penetrate. It's gone from advertisement and brand overload to celebrity overload. Perhaps that should be the subject of Morgan Spurlock's next documentary-- what happens when brands have faces instead of logos and you don't own the intelletual property of your face?

Is there hope to combatting this billion-dollar industry?! What can I do if everyone is doing it? How can I combat it if the world is saturated in it? It all starts with the one, my friends. As my brother Bob said, don't buy this crap, don't watch it-- even if you just have the TV on for background noise. Be a shining example for your friends and families! Just because you believe that some things are still precious in this world or you think we can do better doesn't make you an elitist, jerk, crazy, curmodeon or old fogie. You'll be abundanly surprised and pleased to lear that people still respond to REAL values and that even the most cynical of teenagers will hear you even if they won't admit it. We all feel the grey seeping into our lives, but I think there's a lot we can make ying-and-yang again. Evil is still evil even if it's only a little evil at a time.

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