I’m not your typical angry guy.
I’m not the guy prone to cut and flip you off on the freeway. I’m not the guy you see hurling curses at CALPIRG recruiters or turning into a human steam engine the second Starbucks mucks up his order. I rarely raise my voice, let alone shout or scream, and I’ve only ever been in one serious fight. I’m even-tempered, level-headed and cool.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not mad as hell.
You see, people who cuss out flustered baristas or chuck books across board rooms keep their anger in their heads, right behind their eyes. I keep mine in my gut.
While some use their hatred to fuel actions or words,mine is spent mostly on expediting digestion.
I have my moments, of course, usually in the car, sometimes on the phone, occasionally in this column. Like the San Andreas Fault or Mount St. Helens, a disaster is a consequence of pressure over time. It’s a destructive event, but one as tumultuous as it is predictable and rare.
That’s all with the exception of cable television.
Nothing — late-night telemarketers or reckless drivers included — gets my blood boiling like the endless drum of the 24-hour news cycle, punctuated every five minutes by cheesy and shameless advertising spots. It’s a phenomenon independent of my current state or mood. One look at Wolf Blitzer’s face, and I’m zero to 60. It’s an instantaneous and unavoidable reaction, and it’s one the media has conditioned to a science.
For years, TV programming has catered to humanity’s more deviant obsessions. Shows like “Dateline” and “60 Minutes” hinge entirely on our fascinations with death, violence and perversion. We tune in for the same reason we slow down as we pass car wrecks on the freeway: to catch a glimpse of something gruesome. Sex and violence sell, and the media capitalizes on this interest.
It’s only recently that they’ve capitalized on a third selling point: anger. If wind and solar are the future of our energy economy, anger is the future of the media’s. An unprecedentedly polarized political climate, coupled with a steep economic downturn, has set the stage for the media’s “perfect storm.” The relationship between the viewer and the network is no longer an exchange of information and ideas; it’s a self-perpetuating cycle of agitation.
People don’t tune in anymore to “get informed.” They tune in to hear what they want to hear, to reaffirm their own beliefs and prejudices through the words and actions of others. This explains the existence of programs like the “Daily Show” or the “O’Reilly Factor” that deliver the news with an ideological slant or agenda. Most of what today’s media purports to be news is much more closely related to the content of this column.
Throwing “media” around so liberally warrants some definition, but the word itself is becoming hard to define.
Traditionally, the media is the entity responsible for disseminating accurate information in an efficient and timely manner to the public. In the realm of politics, it is the media’s responsibility to keep tabs on campaigns and initiatives, separate pertinent information from irrelevant information and keep elected officials in check, duties summarized by the terms scorekeeper, gatekeeper and watchdog, respectively.
But none of these descriptions apply today to even our most straight-laced news outlets. Fox News is no TMZ, but they still spent the minutes following the Supreme Court’s ruling on health care last summer reporting the wrong verdict. The same goes for CNN, the Boston Globe and the Associated Press, who reported an arrest in the recent Boston bombing case two days before any such arrest was made. With such blatant disregard for accuracy in favor of quick and incendiary headlines, the distinction between news and tabloid runs thin.
Sensationalism is to blame. We are a society overstimulated in virtually every regard, from our excesses in consumption to the desensitization of violence and pornography.
News outlets are under constant stress to “up the ante” in order to accommodate an increasingly callous audience, and the result is outlandishly exaggerated coverage of modest and sometimes trivial events. “Breaking News” is prominently displayed in bold block letters over headlines hours or even days in the making. “Tragedy” and “scandal” have become common articles in every successful broadcaster’s vernacular.
The result is an institution motivated by profit and more concerned with manipulating its audience than informing them. With thousands of channels and an expanding online presence, news outlets are subject to the same competitive pressures as Hewlett-Packard or your local Barnes & Noble. Information has fallen victim to the rigmarole of the free market, and in turn has become ensnared with entertainment and popular culture.
The age of honest journalism is dead. But that doesn’t mean information has to die with it. The power to shape and determine the success of any news outlet rests solely in the hands of the viewers. By exercising conscientious viewership, we can shun programs that aim to manipulate our emotions and incite controversy at every turn. By simply tuning out, we can strip these programs of their credibility and their financial support.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” goes a centuries-old adage. I think it’s time we reconsidered.
Mark Strong also advocates rethinking your friendly relationship with postal workers.
A version of this article appeared on page 16 of the May 2, 2013 print edition of the Nexus.
Views expressed on the Opinion page do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Nexus or UCSB. Opinions are submitted primarily by students.