When satire becomes more real than reality and reality makes satire look subtle, well then something is most definitely wrong with the world.
In just the last year I have had to check to make sure that no less than 12 stories I read from “reputable” news sources were actually real, they just seemed TOO outrageous to be real. On the other side of the argument I can’t count how many times I have seen a story from a satire webpage of which I am unfamiliar where I had to make sure it was NOT real, it was just insane enough that I could not discount it as possibly being real without deeper investigation. I think this is a sad, sad state for not just news, but for society in general. At what point did the batshit insane become the norm? Now, I know that these nutball stories have always been out there, I worked in a newsroom for a decade, I saw all kinds of insanity that never made the air, but even in that time I watched “weird news” start to take over for the actual news and I think that says more about us (the viewers) than it does them (the programmers).
In the news specifically and in society in general the attraction to the offbeat is palatable and yet the striking element is that what is offbeat has become just that… more offbeat. Sticking with the news for just a moment longer lets look at how quickly things changed in this regard. In the 1970’s you would never have run a story about a man getting his dick caught in a vacuum cleaner and then going on a 3 state coke binge looking to kill and rape (in that order) all surviving members of the Starland Vocal Band, but today, that would be a full days coverage with reports from the neighbors (“He was a quiet man, always running that vacuum cleaner though…”), from the families of the victims who it turns out had their organs sucked out of them via the anus (“My brother always was more of a broom kind of guy than a vacuum man…”) to finally the false tragedy of the anchors as they sit stonefaced attempting not to laugh (“The perpetrator, now identified as George Flowbee, *snicker* has been gunned down, *muffled air swallow* in a gummy bear factory with a packed anus of the yellow variety of bear *suppressed laughter*”). All of this is then followed by days and days of pundits interviewing “experts” about the psychology of the man, his fixation on the Starland Vocal Band and what this means for society all the while The Starland Vocal Band’s single hit song ‘Afternoon Delight’ skyrockets up the charts along with the stock price of Hoover.
The above is not really so much satire as you might think it is, sure I made it up the details but you tell me that if my scenario HAD indeed happened and you saw it on CNN (Credibility Not Necessary), MSNBC (My Source had Never Been Correct) or Faux News (We Lie and You Swallow It Whole) you would not have doubted for a second that you would been glued to the screen for the entirety of the coverage… and that makes YOU the problem not them, they are giving you what you want and you want the most insane story you can, that is how this entire thing got this out of control, you did it and yes, I did too. We as a societal whole have degraded what news means and even what interests us as a people. I used to think that Morton Downey Jr was the most out there thing TV would allow to be called “reality”… I was so painfully wrong.
This all started in earnest with the tabloid TV shows of the 1980’s (Hard Copy, Inside Edition and A Current Affair) but it has it’s roots in the papers and magazines from long before that.
a newspaper having pages half the size of those of a standard newspaper, typically popular in style and dominated by headlines, photographs, and sensational stories.
Note that final 2 words in the definition of tabloid, “sensational stories”, yes we as a culture demand sensation and hyperbole over fact and professionalism. In any civilization that (pretends) to pride itself on being “the best”, as America constantly does, tabloids SHOULD never have taken hold, yet they did and they far, far outsold their real news competitors. Geraldo Rivera, Bill O’Reilly, Rupert Murdoch, Michael Savage, Nancy Grace, The Enquirer, The Sun, Weekly World News and The Daily Mail are the first names that we associate with the term tabloid but what about Keith Olberman, William Randolph Hearst, Bill Maher, People, Time, Newsweek or TMZ? They are all tabloids in a very real sense as well but they would PRETEND they were real news and you allowed them to keep the farce unabated. You gave Time a pass when they actually made OJ blacker in an effort to make him seem more menacing. You still buy People magazine in quantities that dwarf the numbers of Mother Jones or The Nation. You continue to give Faux News a pass time after time for being CAUGHT straight out LYING to you. You did this, make you effort of pretense that this is not your fault.
When the news started to get sensationalized was the same time that the aforementioned tabloid TV shows (Hard Copy, Inside Edition and A Current Affair) started to offer real competition in ratings and these shows were pure tabloid sensationalism through and through so former places of reputation and credibility had to equally ramp up the “sexiness” (actual industry term) of the stories to keep their advertisers. Look into it and yes, CNN used to be a real place where actual journalism took place and you can trace almost to the day when that journalism was replaced with the ism of sensation and that is when Hard Copy, Inside Edition and A Current Affair overtook them in not just the ratings but also in (astonishingly enough) public trust. Yes, public trust. It seems that the American public thinks you are holding something back from them if you DON’T report on the “preppy killer” by showing the videotape footage of Robert Chambers after getting out on bail with lots of ladies on his arm, doing coke off of hookers breasts and bragging about how he will “get off” for killing Jennifer Levin. To the American public A Current Affair was the only place that TOLD THE TRUTH about Chambers due being the only place sleazy enough to actually air the video and this dangerously mistaken position is what allowed for CNN to become less journalistic and more lewd which allowed for the rise of MSNBC and Faux News. When the news does NOT report something (even if that something is irrelevant to the story itself) the public sees you as shaping the news (to be fair, you are) but in reality you are holding out some modicum of journalistic integrity. Did it not strike anyone as odd that the man who produced A Current Affair (easily the sleaziest of the 3 big tabloid TV shows) would make the Faux News Channel to replace it or that as soon as Murdoch buys former stalwart magazine/papers New York Post and Wall Street Journal that not only do the covered stories get more sorted and scummy but also they have their circulation go up? The blame for that lands squarely on you and not them, they are feeding the beast (actual industry term). A perfect joke about this from the TV series The Critic “New York Post Editor: Now if you want to work here at the New York Post, you must know that we insert the following words into every headline: headless, nude, sewage, and governor. For instance, Subway Fares Raised becomes Headless Governor Found Nude in Subway Sewage.”
Let me ask you this then, why do you prefer Yellow Journalism to honest journalism? Why is it that you endorse (even tacitly) this tabloid/yellow reporting on “news” of the world? Why do you eschew real news in favor of an astronaut in a love triangle that wears a diaper or whether a sitting president shot his wad all over the face and dress of a chubby girl? That is not news, not even the spooge story involving the president, that is not news, it is simply what the tabloidifcation of the news has done to the term news. This is indicative of, and same way, how magazines on any subject tend to be more re-written press releases than actual articles. Don’t even get me started on daytime TV and the “talk” shows.
Can we retake the “news” and make it news again? Honestly I doubt it, I think with the way society is today and especially with how the youts (not a typo) of today require instant gratification and a need for a flashy headline with a buried lead to even read the piece, if they actually do more than simply skim it for buzzwords, there is no such equation any longer to the news I strive for. Take back the news, show them that you refuse to watch programs filled with excess, with the bile of humanity, with the castoffs from a culture that has cannibalized itself. Take back the word NEWS, terms like “tabloid journalism” are an oxymoron and should have no weight and it’s up to you to assure that happens. The Revolution Will Be Televised and unfortunately it’s a tabloid revolution.