Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Right Now, You Say?

I grow curious when and why particular news stories achieve popular attention. Most trends, being trends, go on for some time, yet they break into popular consciousness at particular times. Take for example today's concern over the "74 school shootings since Sandy Hook." The issue at large, violence, is no doubt relevant to many, but not much more so at the 74th shooting than the 73rd or 70th and so on. Yet it's only today's cris de coeur. Earlier this week libertarians were buzzing about police militarization and before that Jon Stewart's loyal viewers were especially incensed about SuperPAC corruption. Next week will bring another cause for concern. Why is man so easily stirred, yet so briefly?

Part of the conundrum lies in the fact that virtue is, alas, not habit forming. We are what we do regularly, to paraphrase Aristotle, and for the most part that doesn't paint a flattering picture. Eating, sleeping, working, cleaning, these are the things we carry on with each day. Not the stuff of legend, but I would argue that's quite alright. Daily life, done well, is hard enough.

The other part of our problem is that we think on too large a scale. We don't want to make our neighborhood safe, we want to "stop gun violence." We don't want to help our neighbor's son, we want, "universal pre-school." Yet these are goals unattainable by top-down managing and cannot be achieved in all places at every time. Problems cannot be tackled by programs, but by virtue.

Yet the news keeps coming and tapping into our sense of duty, bringing local news–for all news is local news–to our distant doors. We hear the news, express outrage, and go about our day. Now I don't disparage your average citizen here, for I believe people truly are concerned. Watch people when they take in a news report about a fatal fire or car accident. I'm convinced they're moved. Their dull lives, however, have rendered them vulnerable to that addicting feeling of concern which the news provides.

Watch Fox news for an hour. It's a magnificently proportioned symphony of instigation. Notice how they stitch in minor outrages amidst the major stories, and then pop little cheerful videos into the mix, just for a little variety. It's an emotional ride from scandal to catastrophe to horror, and viewers are addicted to the feeling. And Fox's is but one demographic, the same as MSNBC's only the former network is vastly superior at playing–or pleasing–its viewers. Every show and network has a variation, though. Comedy Central's Stewart-Colbert duo validates the intelligence of its viewers by mocking everyone else. CNN sells a sense of being informed by its bland repetition, apparently for traditionalists who still feel that you have to suffer for your education. In every case the news is just a vehicle for the sensation which its presentation provides.

Network television has finally perfected the paradox of education: that the educated feel good just for knowing, even when they don't do anything.

No comments:

Post a Comment