This weekend, Judi stepped on the Buddy the Cat. He was lying in the dark of the hallway, and he squealed when she trod on his sensitive meowparts. We both laughed, not at Buddy’s pain, but at our other cat, Janey, who came rushing out to watch the disaster. She does this every time Buddy squeals, as if she’s saying “Did you finally kill him? Is this the moment we’ve all been waiting for?” She inevitably walks away from the scene after a few seconds, tail in the air, disgusted that we haven’t eliminated the Buddycat from her domain.
I learned two new names in the last two weeks. Last week was Casey Anthony. I’d never heard of her. She either did horrible things to her child, or allowed horrible things to happen to her child, and it remained unreported for over a month. I felt lucky that this name had escaped me–apparently there was a trial and all sorts of icky press. And yesterday, another name popped up that I was pleased to announce I didn’t recognize: Jaycee Dugard. She was kidnapped by some wacko, who raped her and forced her to live in a tent for 18 years, bearing his children. I vaguely remember the story of her rescue a few years ago, after having been “missing” for a long time. Again, like Casey Anthony, the name didn’t ring a bell. I can’t work up enough bile and rage anymore. If it’s not Anthony, It’s Dugard. If it’s not Dugard, it’s Balloon Boy’s Family. If it’s not Balloon Boy? It’s Strauss-Kahn. We love us a good tale of naughty proportions. People kept asking my opinion of the Casey Anthony trial. I don’t have one. I have no feeling whatsoever.
I know people are interested in stuff like this, but I just don’t get it. What is our fixation on horrid crimes that put these things at the top of our everyday lists and household names? I guess it’s not uncommon, even in other centuries. Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Lucretia Borgia, Katherine the Great all were public darlings for their perversions, assassinations, and giving a number of whacks, and insane tricks with horses and pulleys. We know Mrs O’Leary’s cow started the Chicago fire. Typhoid Mary isn’t an uncommon name, even today. We fixate on injustice, perversion and even mayhem in general, as if staring at it long enough can solve something.
We are a society of rubberneckers. Like our cat Janey, we hope to see the “news”. We look over the fence into the neighbors yard to see if it’s tomato vines or cannabis. We wonder if that dog is barking all night because the people in the apartment are selling drugs somewhere. Is this because we are suspsicious, or because we like a good story? Several times in my life, we’ve seen the interview with the neighbor of the killer: “He seemed so normal.” It’s always the quiet ones, we say, and nod amongst ourselves silently, as we wander away, looking for the next disaster. I’m not sure I want to even know why we do this. It’s just a phenomenon common with the human experience, I guess. I don’t like it. I don’t want to be the rubbernecker. I don’t want to wonder where the nearest crime is, or be the ambulance chaser. I am anyway. We all are. I mention all this to say it’s perfectly normal to look. What bothers me is that something along the line has changed and I think I know what it is.
Every day, too much violence, crime and disaster happens, yes; but even more alarmingly, too much of this sort of thing *isn’t* happening, and is being reported as news. It started with the OJ trial, I heard a gnarled old newscaster assert a few years back (I think it may have been Bill Moyers): that was the moment is when media finally blurred the lines between news and entertainment. Evening news no longer was making money — there’s the deal — the almighty advertising dollar. The Mainstream Media has tapped into the fact that America fixates on this stuff. We subsist on a diet of COPS, Court TV, and National Enquirer items because it *sells*. So why not stick it all over Headline News to increase viewership, to increase advertising dollars. For those who think I’m being a jaded cynic, this is part of the “Legal News” Regional section of CNN’s website today (July 12, 2011), cut and pasted as-is:
- Dog had teeth sawed off
- Cops: Facebook poser indicted
- Arson destroys football gear
- Murder-for-hire convict appeals
- Woman found bound in woods
- Deadly love triangle trial begins
- Cops: Pair tried to take dog
- Victim: “You’re going to jail”
- Police: Man stole sandwich
- Grandpa charged in shooting
- Strangers help iPhone victim
- Mom: Mob attacked my family
- Police recover 4 stolen Camaros
- Video: Mayor busted for DUI
- DEA: Tour buses carried drugs
- ACLU sues Albuquerque
- Loughner cab driver speaks out
- Garrido 1st victim speaks out
- Cops: Door saleswoman raped
- Cops: Man stole $5 from teen
- Man held in crossbow attack
Seriously? “Man stole $5 from teen?” “Mayor Gets DUI?” “Man Stole Sandwich???” This is what passes as national news reporting today. It satisfies our national desire to suck on filth as if it is actual sustenance. Sadly, we never take time to examine. We accept it at face value. Somebody, William Randolph Hearst I think, once said “The news is what we say it is.” Never has this been more true. It dismays me. So, I’ve stopped watching the news. I never go to CNN’s website anymore, unless something “huge” is happening (Japan Earthquake was the last time I paid attention to CNN). I listen to NPR, not because I’m snooty, but because, some of the time, they still remember what is, and what’s not, newsworthy. I watch The Daily Show, because it manages to humorously report on the issues of the day, and lampoon the media’s presentation of the non-issues.
I’m not indicting anyone else. Ha! I used a justice term. I don’t care what other people watch. My diet is for me. I would, however, caution you not to fall into the News-Is-Entertainment-Is-News trap. Use your god-given right to think something through. Is it news, or is it just sensationalist ploy to turn you into an advertising dollar? Believe me, I’m not exempt. Stick me in front of DailyKos, or HuffingtonPost, and I’ll blow 3 hours without even noticing the movement of the hour hand. I hope someday I become a better person. Today I’m not. Today I’m thinking about Jaycee Dugard. Sigh.
(Disclamer: I deleted the TV station call letters from the list of CNN stories, since the text as-written became too confusing to read)