Photo Courtesy of thompulliam.com
Just a quick Google search draws a stark contrast between the likes of BBC News and CNN. Simply designed, with a hint of intellectual aloofness, The British Broadcasting Corporation’s website prominently displays articles on the harrowing peace process in South Sudan, the continued rise of Egyptian military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and the news that China may have just overtaken the United States as the world’s leading trading nation.
Flip to CNN: the screaming homepage headline, complete with a spark notes-esque video, covers the same Chris Christie bridge scandal the American public has been hearing about for days on end. Issues such as the U.S.’s recent diplomatic row with India or reports about recovering American economic output are lumped in small-text columns with stories and video links titled “Diamond ring found in frozen pipe,” “Cursing tot’s mom: ‘Every kid does it’,” “This grandma loves smoking pot,” and “Upside-down photos: Silly or Creepy?” An entire page section, “Read This, Watch That,” promotes videos about puppies, naked celebrities, and yes, Bigfoot.
The point of this post isn’t to call out CNN—all of the major American 24-hour news networks are guilty of this nonsense—nor to extoll the virtues of BBC, which has occasionally found itself accused of embracing the uniquely British variation of gossip and scandal-mongering. Instead, this differentiation highlights a rather disturbing trend in information presentation within the borders of the US. Since when did Grandma Jenkins hitting the bong become news worthy of proliferation on a national scale? How does a toddler’s bad mouth trump jobs analysis and solutions-based investigations? And why are people turning pictures upside down in the first place?
Ultimately, the issue as it stands is that the reality of our world is shaped by the information we consume. So for those of us who rely on most American media and entertainment sources, we are more likely to contextualize our lifestyles in the sense of a particular celebrity, funny internet meme, or he-said-she-said “controversy” than a larger viewpoint of our place and obligations as American citizens in a very busy world. It doesn’t take much judgment to determine that the things we read, watch and hear are often inconsequential, yet we—as both American media consumers and sources for media inspiration—seem to get wrapped up in the heat of every single publicized moment. Public figures’ private lives are scrutinized for weeks on end over a poorly worded tweet or turn of phrase. Accusations of racism or sexism bring down media condemnation on average people and convert human mistakes into emblems of ingrained evil. Even the Chris Christie Bridge Scandal, which does bear political and some economic consequence, is likely to remain a topic of truly regional ramifications, inflated to entertain people far away from New Jersey and New York.
In writing this first post for The Red & the Blue’s second semester return, I’d like to challenge this blog’s readers to embrace quality news and discussion by maintaining a sense of proportion in the face of a largely empty media flurry. It’s fine to watch cat videos or read about twerking teen flash mobs while still acknowledging that yeah, this stuff is not real news. But the moment that highlights of naked celebrities dominate concerns about the US’s political, economic, and social positions is the moment that we lose our capacity to determine the scale and gravity of our own life events.
Let’s kickstart the year by paying attention to the important stuff.