Distrust in the news media is not simply an extrinsic phenomenon. Recent shock and awe over false claims of deposed MSNBC news anchor, Brian Williams, is a powerful reflection of a much greater, systemic issue. Misplaced trust in corporate news journalism and our inherent need to openly credit any powerful institution, (mistaking power for legitimacy) proves symptomatic of a deeper social discord. The cultural degradation we’ve been experiencing over the last several decades comes with the rising tide of an Information Revolution. Economic, social and technological trends have propelled globalization into new, freak-show heights. The internet, microtechnology, mobile technology and reality TV, have altogether successfully blurred the lines between authenticity and delusion, sucking news media and journalism into its black hole. Personal opinion has made pundits of us all, dominating the news in a need for aggrandizement and melodrama. Even Hollywood, has poked fun at the political underbelly of this social discord, treating Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir crime thriller, Nightcrawler, as a sort of, inflated exposé behind the dismal reality of news broadcasting. Dogged by the relentless self-interest of oligarchical media giants, who control 90% of what we read, watch and listen to, (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and CBS) profit over news serves as sensationalism in an all-out ratings war. Feeding an addiction to drama by a public jacked up on sports and pop culture, news media distracts from the real, effecting issues of our time, disengaging an otherwise uninformed and ignorant public. While religion controlled the populous through doctrine, language and institution in antiquity, news media labours to controls the majority through distraction and sensationalism in the 21st century.
No longer a safe house for receiving instructional, illuminating information about local and global current affairs, news broadcasting has become a petrie dish of the latest silver screen gossip, crime, and the kind of personal anecdotes one would associate with Reader’s Digest. Instead of galvanizing the public with facts, news broadcasting has turned everything into a hyperbolic human interest story, falling victim to our current cultural shift from realism to surrealism. Where do point the finger in this cat and mouse game? Is it Brian Williams’ fault? MSNBC? Microsoft? Time Warner? Mark Zuckerberg? Or is it us? In this funnel of supply and demand, we are all siphoned into caricatures of our selves; our lives simulated by social media platforms, endless data streaming and the constant uploading of information. Within this divide between dream and reality, there arrives a frightening conclusion: We are no longer able to reconnect. Politics, current global affairs, education, the environment, food, friendships, relationships, ourselves – the world of senses and intellect is fast becoming lost upon the breakwater of our cheap information addiction. We don’t care how we get it, or what we’re getting, so long as it stimulates our central nervous system into a feel-good frenzy. Animated gifs of hamsters playing on pianos, blogs about the latest smoothie diets, viral Youtube videos of men dancing in women’s underwear- this is what we want. After all, what could be more of a downer than hearing about the details of federal election platforms, the global warming crisis, foreign policy, and the war in the middle east? News networks have their work cut out for them.
In order for this preposterousness to persist, there must continue to be vacuous space for it, space created in an absence of something better, something more real, honest and transparent. Reality TV is tantamount to this phenomenon – give us something fake that we can try and be real about, while we continue to create a reality that is nothing but a series of make-believes. And we’re not alone in creating this vacuum of reality. Behind the curtain rests the foundation of our society: media, market economy, government politics, multinational corporations, the top 1%, disparity between rich and poor, education, health… If we start to unravel the mechanics and contingencies of our system, a trending towards corruption and immorality becomes evidently clear. What is not so clear is where it begins and ends. Vastly interconnected, we are all linked to one another in a contingent process that places blame on everyone’s shoulders. Perhaps we can simply say that duplicity, greed and self-interest are fundamental to humanity itself. After all, society has always embraced sensationalism as a sort of social necessity. Take the Roman gladiatorial games for example. For centuries, human beings have been consumed with a need for the outrageous in an effort to excite our most basic instincts. Of course it doesn’t stop there. Sensationalism can be found in almost everything we do – from dancing, to art and sculpture, to music, literature and language and food. In this respect, drama, in its myriad of forms, is essential to the well-being of society. Through it, we can make manifest our deepest darkest secrets without necessarily causing harm to ourselves and others; we can fantasize and exercise our creative brain, we can express emotions we would otherwise be too humiliated or embarrassed to express. It may be argued that drama itself, encourages analytical thought in a self-deprecating, critical and reflective manner. Whether fantasy or fiction, drama holds a real and honest place in our society. But the question remains – when is it too much? When do we get the point where we say, “Ok. Enough is enough” ?
While there doesn’t seem to be any real accountability for the wrongdoings and shortcomings within our system, a system in which we place a great deal of trust, (trust in our well-being, in our children’s education, healthcare, our jobs and pensions, our banks and houses), we have to ask ourselves, what we can do to stop this cyclic abuse of our cultural times? Without trust, there would essentially be no system at all; without the system, we would find ourselves dissolved into a kind of anarchistic dystopia. The system itself is important. We, an integral part of that system are important. Until we realize the value of our own self-worth and wake up to the wondrous and majestic reality around us that continues to thrive
outside the bubble of technology and pop culture, we cannot realistically take back control of the flow of information coming from the top down. While we must trust in the function of drama and sensationalism and its place in society, we must also trust that it does not reserve a place in our source of informative education: journalism, broadcasting and news media. Until we start caring about those national and global events and issues that intrinsically effect us all, the news and it’s mouthpiece, Brian Williams, will continue time and time again, to fail us. As consumers we have a choice about what we want to watch, what we want to listen to and what we appeal from our system. The laws of supply and demand dictate that the real power is with the people. All we have to do is stand up, recognize and use that power.