...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blowing smoke

"A house is not news. A house on fire, now that's news." -- an old journalism wisdom shared by one of my writing mentors in college.

Unfortunately that gem has recently been rendered ridiculous. Trying to follow the Dem's Convention has become an act of futility as nothingness get spun and spun and spun until it seems like conflict!, gossip!, something! Though I hope all of the media provides equal crazy time coverage of the Rep's convention, I have switched off this product.

Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we no longer receive news. Turn on all of the media information networks (CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc.), there's no news. There's speculation, commentary, commentary on the speculation, and occasionally some speculation on commentary. These businesses need to distract you long enough so that you forget that you're watching 24 hours of advertising. It's tough to put something on screen all day, it takes a lot of work from a lot of individuals, and it becomes more difficult when other journalism portals are racing to say something first or louder.

The house is not on fire. But it's up to these companies to make us keep checking to see if things are ablaze. If we stop watching, ad revenue goes down, stock prices go down, and these shops start folding up.

Some of you know that I haven't had any television channels in my home for the last 7 years. This abandonment of the box wasn't due to reality programming, bread-and-circus distractions, or terrible writing.

Seven years ago, a day came when the sky fell. The house really was on fire. I, like most of the nation, couldn't stop watching the reporting. For weeks. Once I came out of the somnambulism induced by falling buildings and death counts, I realized that every station kept saying, The House Is on Fire. Experts were coming in re-explaining the events and speculating on every moment of the fire. Though a little exploration of why the house was burning would have gone a long way, the actual commentary was repetitive. The voices and images kept saying the same thing. Why? Because there was nothing left to report. The house was no longer on fire. Fear had turned us into the perfect captive audience. And that realization spelled the end of television in my home.

One of the media networks, who had up to that point been poorly constructed and been limited to awkward lurching amateurish programming, caught full hold of that fear and hasn't let go since. And it has been the best thing to ever happen to them. Besides holding a consistent political bent to their product, they still wage in that same fear which has now spread to every part of society. They keep saying every day, THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. And their consistent viewers have to believe it if they receive all of their information from this source.

That network's blossoming has since caused the rest of the companies to rush to keep up. Instead they don't always say the house is ablaze when it's not. Chris Matthews talks to experts about potential sources of conflagration. Wolf Blitzer showcases people who have lived in burning houses. There are graphics of what would happen if the fire starts. And all of this proves very addictive viewing. But it doesn't mean that anything is actually happening. It is the definition of pornography -- an artificial manipulation of real feelings in order to create a temporary false emotion.

Now, I'm the first one to say that everything is not right in this country. The wiring is all messed up, the appliances were never strong to begin with, there are cracks in our foundation, and we apparently have no basement. But, well, let me tell you a quick personal story:

In 1995, during my family's first full year in Santa Barbara, we were enjoying another in a series of 200+ consecutive beautiful late mornings. I was on the can, thumbing through a Baseball Digest and Sporting News, when I heard my dad's running thumping footsteps passing by the door. He was shouting, "THE HOUSE IS ON FIRE. Get out of the house!" He'd seen dark smoke coming from the vent in his room. My idyll was interrupted and as we all scurried out through the garage, my heart raced with adrenaline. I believe the SBFD was called in (need to fact check through Jason), but one thing was for certain. The house was not on fire. A towel in my parents' bathroom had gotten a little close to a light bulb and started smoking. I'm not saying that wasn't important. The smoking towel needed to be addressed. But the house was not on fire.

As for the republic of Georgia, their house is on fire. The U.S. has the potential, and that potential must be explored, but to scream and frighten in the disguise of News is a lie. We need to focus on and fix the faulty things, the open flames, the smoldering towels, the blocked fire exits. But current reporting (journalism?) is an illusion, a trumped up distraction to keep you watching and the ad sales coffers filling. What will happen when this current programming process is no longer of interest? Will some of these media companies begin starting fires in order provide a product? Maybe, maybe not. But I'm sure they will do their best to slow the fire department from putting it out.

I am not interested in debating the difference between Truth and Fact here, but I am calling a lie a lie, a cheat a cheat, and emotional abuse a reality. Networks! Save the Fear for the unpopular politicians. Bring news back. And let us know how people are planning on fixing the plumbing, opening up their windows to the outdoors again, and what's being done to lower the electric bill.

In the meantime, please expand your coverage of Megan Fox's latest nipple-slip. Thank you.