The Following is an essay by member William:
As we should all know by now, our media has relentlessly tried to convert everything in our society into a form of entertainment. Like so many other major entities, they have essentially sold their consciences for the lure of profits, which come in the form of high ratings. It is also probably true that the media, owned by trillion dollar corporations, has its own political agenda, which is frightening in itself. But let’s just now consider the insidious creep of life as entertainment, as the media tries to present it.
The media wants people to watch; or as they often inelegantly put it, “eyeballs on the screen,” or “rear ends in the seats.” And in an unsettling symbiotic process, the audiences become both dumbed down by the absolutely insipid and prepubescent programming they offer, and addicted to the jolts of adrenalin which the scary or horrible or exciting news stories provide. Meanwhile, the networks and the moviemakers are themselves addicted to the booming ratings and the audiences which they get from providing such fare. So each feeds the other, as in some science fiction nightmare.
I don’t watch too much TV; mostly just college sports, some PBS dramas or historically based stories on the cable stations; and then of course the election campaigns, at least the ones where I have a candidate to really support and care about, like this one.. If my side loses again this time, I won’t watch any more of them, so what do you think about that, networks? Of course, they think that they have millions of other viewers to watch it, and it’s all a numbers game to them. And by watching anything on TV, I of course am forced to see the promos for the various TV shows that proliferate like weeds. And virtually all of them seem to be either witless comedies, or extremely violent police dramas. Do you ever see a preview scene from one of those dramas which does not involve someone pointing a gun at another person, or shooting them; cars crashing into buildings, explosions? I personally find it unsettling and ultimately enervating. I have never minded a good action drama; I love noir movies, with ominous shadows all around. But having show after show purvey hairtrigger violence becomes both anxiety producing and numbing. And our increasing numbness to gun violence is a major story in itself. At least some of it is caused by this orgy of shootings which form about half of the 38 minutes or so which the hour dramas run.
And then of course we have the nightly news. I used to wach a half hour of local news, but that was years ago. Now I try to assiduously avoid those broadcasts, unless there is some weather I want to see about. But from the occasional five minutes which I turn on by mistake, or while trying to set the taping of a Hillary appearance on one of the late night shows, it is worse than I remember it. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is of course the way news has been described. So in five minutes, you will hear about murders, shootings, horrible events of all sorts. This will go on, and the anchors will look concerned and sad; until it is time for the weather and the sports, at which time they will immediately brighten up, and start making jokes. I have always found that so weird, as if they are programmed automatons.
I wonder if many of you have seen the movie “Nightcrawler.” It is actually good; a view of Los Angeles at night, deliberately shown in the most ominous way. It is about a very strange and disturbed but enterprising person who carves out a career as a “nightcrawler,” using a police phone to guide him to the most grisly crime scenes, where he tries to shoot as much footage as he can, to sell to the news channels, which absolutely crave it. He goes further than his peers, though, as he actually starts manipulating crime scenes, or even letting a crime in progress continue, just so he can get his footage. And the producer of the station he sells to, of course realizes some of that, but she doesn’t care, she wants the ratings, and her once promising career back.
And it’s not just the violent news as a perverse form of entertainment. Networks have made a lot of money with the proliferation of these “reality shows,” which are sometimes contests, like “Survivor,” or the various talent competitions; or sometimes soap opera shows, like the various “Housewives” sagas, or a variety of other series where “real people” are attracted, unattracted, yell at each other, sob, look depressed, become exuberant; talk to the camera about what they are feeling. This of course all fills the public’s need for voyeurism; being able to sit on their couches, and watch other people go through emotional turmoil, and often make idiots of themselves.
So it’s all entertainment for the networks, one way or another. And thus it is hardly surprising that politics, and particularly elections, become just another medium of entertainment in the media’s hands. Of course, politics often provides us with dramatic stories. But the networks have gotten to the point where they actually try to create the stories, enhance the drama, so that they can get the viewers to tune in. Most people do not have much interest in watching long debates about policies, even though it is those policies which affect daily lives. The networks avoid those, in favor of debates where there hopefully are verbal fireworks; and then a series of “dramatic election results!” where the viewer is invited in to the political equivalent of the reality show race or competition.
What really addicted the media to this, was the 2000 Bush vs. Gore campaign. For the networks, that was equivalent to a national championship basketball game which went eight overtimes. They could not believe their good luck. The election went on and on, even into December. Twists and turns of all sorts. If someone wanted to write a politically themed movie or TV series, they would have done this kind of thing. Life meets art, or the converse of that. The ratings soared. And ever since, they have wanted this kind of drama. In every national election cycle, they love to say, “This campaign has been full of surprises.” “This has been an extraordinary election year.” They say that, because they want it to be so. They have to try to make it so, because otherwise they would lose most of their viewers.
So of course the networks need a horse race. They need it to go as long as possible. If any candidate looks like a clear winner of the party nomination, they lose viewers. So they desperately try to keep the race going, to maximize the importance of the trailing candidate’s wins; to claim “momentum shifts,” as if we are watching a football game. This of course is what they are doing with the Clinton vs. Sanders campaign. If Hillary cruises to the nomination, that is bad for them. So they go to great lengths not to tell anyone that Sanders is winning caucuses where a few thousand people are voting. The caucus results count, of course, but they do not signify a major shift, or change in momentum. The more interesting analysis would be of the question as to whether caucuses are undemocratic, and allow a small band of zealous people to dominate elections. But that discussion would be boring for them, so they would prefer to say, “A stunning result! Sanders beats Clinton with 75 to 80 percent of the votes! Is this race changing dramatically?”
Through this, the media both hopes to keep the viewers glued to their seats, and perhaps to actually create the effect that they are promoting. That is the disconcerting part. If they keep saying that Sanders is surging, does this impel the voters to want to join in? Probably not, as most of the primary and caucus results have followed the obvious demographics of each state, and the clear fact that caucuses vastly favor Sanders, because his constituency of young people is much more likely to want to stand for three to four hours, jostle around, yell at the other particpants, and have a jolly college outing, than are the older Hillary voters who usually have jobs and children. But certainly the media will do everything it can to make this race closer, and thus toy with the outcome. It is, after all, just entertainment to them.
Now, on the Republican side, it is has been great feeding for the media. The Trump campaign has been something that they would have wanted to create. Come to think of it, they actually did that, by giving this former reality TV performer endless time in front of the cameras, and treating him exactly as they treat the leading performer on “Bachelorette” or “Dancing With the Stars.” Does anyone think that if it weren’t for the TV media, Donald Trump would be heading for the nomination, one step from the presidency? It should be more than obvious how absolutely ignorant and dangerous Trump is. But the media figures it is not their responsibility to care about that; they just want to hook the audience, so that they can sell the commercial time. If Trump gets elected, and starts a nuclear war, would they change their minds? Probably not; they would just cover the war all day.
So the media has terribly lost its way. Or better said, they have determined, along with far too many other major players in our country and the world, that “their way” is that which makes them the most money, and enhances the careers of their key employees. No one takes any responsibility for the effects of their actions, that is just left to rather predictable circumstances. Build a bunch of weapons, let them get into the hands of everyone, and then when the carnage starts, sit back and say, “Well, we are not responsible for any of this. In fact, we need immunity from being prosecuted for any of it.” In some awful Ayn Randish way, the idea is that everyone act only with his or her self interest and profits in mind, and things will somehow work out well; or if they don’t, well, don’t blame them.
But only when people are willing to take some responsiblity, and to give up some of their tawdry rewards in favor of trying to tell the truth, trying to elevate the discussion, could we possibly make some worthwhile progress. Otherwise, we are caught in a negative spiral, where the media makes the population dumber, and so addicted to receiving visual hyperjolts, that they cannot sit through literary dialogue or intelligent discussion; while the media itself needs ever increasing ratings, and has to search for or invent ways to get them. Watching the election cycle is then just another form of entertainment–but only if it doesn’t matter to someone as to who actually becomes President. Come to think of it, since the networks put on various ‘political dramas” which have actors playing presidents of various types, perhaps the populace will latch onto one of those, and lose their collective minds completely, thinking that one of those characters is the real president; anything to distract them from the frightening reality which the media has brought them to. Actually, that would be a rather good drama, wouldn’t it? Maybe the networks will think of it, but only in a profit-making sense, of course.
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