News Mythology

My three news sources are Twitter, Steven Colbert and John Stewart. The latter two with no regularity. So when my Twitter feed erupts with responses to a headline, I tend to pay attention. But what I don’t get is the types of headlines people react to. Case in point: Casey Anthony. This has blown up to the point of overshadowing more important concerns. This has prompted me to ponder about News Mythos and our current state of mis-information.

Since William Randolph Hurst, news has been sensationalist, targeting our gut reactions to moral issues rather than straight reporting. Sure, there are news outlets that try very hard to keep it real, such as NPR, but they lie in the shadows in comparison to other news sources (probably because of their medium. I bet if NPR launched a TV subsidiary, they’d give CNN a run for their money). News media, however, seems to construct our culture myths by reacting to a seemingly pointless issue and reporting on it ad nauseum. For example, the Vietnam war was the first to unfold on television, which helped fuel the student and counterculture riots and rallies, giving the late 1960s the flavor so idolized in modern culture. Same with all of the other wars and major world events.

But what does it suggest when a mom accused of killing her daughter is aquitted and everyone gets angry? Something within our perfect utopian illusion has been violated, so we react en masse. But the reaction is something unconscious being triggered, anything from mommy issues to a metaphorical Abrahamic sacrifice. Maybe Casey Anthony is guilty or not–that’s not the point. The point is that the news has erupted to create a screen of distraction from the larger concerns of the nation/culture, and this is what makes sensationalist news reporting so attractive and entertaining. It gets difficult to face daily reports of why our utopia is failing (which is why I disconnected from the news beyond Twitter headlines), so murder trials give us something else to project on to. Maybe if we get upset enough, we can restore the utopia. But it doesn’t work that way. See yesterday’s post about Epic Mickey.

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