NEWS FLASH!!!! Today's media outlets don't start meaningful conversations, they grind them to a screeching halt.
Case in point: I read an article the other day that cited TMZ as a source. TMZ! Don't snub your nose, because your news source looks to Twitter. Po-tay-to, po-taw-to. What next, attorneys citing Wikipedia?!! Tabloids drive our 24 hour news cycle people!!! It's the National Inquirer on steroids!!!!!
No one likes a dialogue hog TMZ! Quit leaking news to real sources of information like primetime media and cable networks (wink, wink, nod, nod). These purveyors certainly don't dominate discussions and dissuade people from having any real conversations. They don't operate under a cloak of journalistic expertise to wrest control of truth and spin it for our delicate palates.
They're the kid in front of the class practically jumping out of his seat, motioning vehemently with his arms for attention. The excessive enthusiasm drives them to cut off and choke out streams of potentially thought-provoking national debate. They quarantine our conversations and inflate our minds with garbage.
But media outlets aren't solely to blame for the vitriol. They're just giving us more of what we want. Salacious headlines appeal to our base nature. Just look at the recent explosion of Reality TV Shows. It's a system of supply and demand, and public appeal drags us further into an abyss like a black hole. The source consumes the audience it panders to. Almost cannibalistic.
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Maybe you prefer instead to feed your boredom with a steady diet of turbulence, violence, and political brutality against citizens, and then wonder why your appetites is never satisfied.
Remember the Jerry Springer era? How many of us followed the rabbit down that hole? Honestly! It was garbage, but we watched with bated breath in part to satisfy our curiosity, and partly to make ourselves feel better about our own lives. It was vile and disgusting and we gobbled it up in super-sized portions.
Reality TV today is a slightly less messy twist on the 90s tabloid talk show. I fully realize this, and yet I tell myself, "I only watch for the (fill in the blank with any line of justification reaching for precious insight into the human condition)". The truth is I delight in seeing corny people get tortured. The jilted bachelorette, the American Idol rejectee stubbornly convinced of his vocal range (maybe the judges are really the ones that are tone-deaf), and Real Housewives that look more like beauty pageant contestants than actual housewives (you mean you don't perform domestic duties in six-inch stilettos, full hair, and make-up?). It's tragic, but I have to force myself to look away.
I even discuss their lives in the lunch room over the water-cooler ad-nauseum as if their TV personas actually transcends the printed page. Despite better judgement, I convince myself that they're real. Come ON! It's not like I'm watching WWF Wrestling or anything like THAT. Everyone knows THAT stuff is totally scripted, whereas Reality TV is real. It even has the word real in the genre.
I'm willing to admit to having my major exposure to current events fed to me by fake news shows produced by The Onion, Jon Stewart, or Stephen Colbert? (Naw I'm just kidding. That stuff's real. They're not competing for ratings or anything.) Oh, lighten up. It's just entertainment. Right?
Who doesn't get lost in these 24 hour news cycles competing for our attention. What seasoned teacher doesn't get sucked-in to the kid eager to feed her what she wants to hear.
It would be easy to blame the media who produces the embarrassingly immature content that dominates our news feeds. But are these sources really influencing national discourse? Or is it merely echoing public opinion?
I guess if we want to return civility back to public discourse, we must first start with self. It isn't enough merely to point-out the need to tone down our national rhetoric. The content is not to blame, but the sources themselves drive the conversation into the gutter in the first place. We need to stop driving demand. "The medium is the message" and the more of it we consume, the less critical we become.
Demanding higher standards for ourselves means that we have to expect more from the media pandering to us. We have to build stronger reflective filters. As my father put it we need to pick up a book!
My tv and my computer have an on/off button. I know how to use it. This idea may seem obvious to those of you who've already begun the practice of re-routing the source of your discourse, but controlling content for the rest of us will be a process.
As a society, we can do better. We must do better.