On The Media

So I’m halfway through watching Starship Operators, and I’ll have a review for it up pretty soon, but as I was watching it, it raised an interesting point for me.

If anyone doesn’t know the idea behind Starship Operators is that there’s a starship that’s being funded by a news organization to participate in a war after the home world of these cadets is taken over. (That in and of itself raises some interesting questions, which I’ll probably touch on in the review, but not right now).

What it reminds me of is how the media gets the short shrift in fiction. Really.

There are two types of news media in fiction: the Crusaders and the Paparazzi. The Crusaders are the noble, against all odds, fighting the man, noble types who are trying to get the truth out to the people. They embody all the noble qualities of the news media. Generally these pop up when the reporter is the hero of the story.

The Paparazzi are the dark side of all of these qualities. They’re the vultures, who want to make a buck off of the suffering of others. They deride and sling mud on good people. Generally they pop up when the media is the antagonist in the story.

All I have to say is bullshit. I mean where’s the regular joe who has to cover the local 4-H fair, or the fire that burned down the local drug store. Where’s the normal guy who’s having to shuffle through reams of agendas, trying to decipher exactely what the change in zoning is going to mean to the people living on Main Street, USA. Where are these people in fiction?

They aren’t there. Why? Because it would make the media too human. And assuming that the media is human breaks the comfortable wall we’ve built between ourselves and what appears in the newspapers, the television screen or the front page of Yahoo or MSN. In fact, it’s become the last great frontier in fiction. Because once we accept that the media is giving the audience what they want, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we really want that?”

And the answer is an emphatic, “YES!” Yes, we want to know about Britney Spears drug addictions and self-destruction. Yes, we want to know about the hummer Bill Clinton got in the Oval Office. Yes, we want to know about the 20 car pile up on the local intersate. And hell if we can get a close-up on the left arm of that young mother dangling lifeless out of the car than more power to us. We want that.

Now most of you are probably saying, “Oh he’s full of it.” right about now. But ask yourselves, why is the National Enquirer have a larger circulation than any other newspaper in the country? Why are shows like Survivor and American Idol and Entertainment Tonight and E! so popular? Why do more people know about Lindsay Lohan’s police record than know about George Bush’s education bill?

Because people eat that up. But it’s an uncomfortable fact. It sits in our guts like leftover fruitcake making us wish we’d done something else with it.

But until we’re willing to accept that about ourselves, we’ll keep shuffling the blame off onto the media. We’ll keep either villifying or glorifying them until we can accept that maybe, just maybe they’re giving us what we want.

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