This week I’ve learned two things.
- The Monday after the VMA’s is the day of the year that I feel the oldest. Before I logged into Facebook Monday morning, I didn’t even know “Old Out of Touch Guy Day” was here. I celebrated by telling some kids to get off my lawn and then telling other Old Out of Touch People how superior rotary phones and Led Zeppelin are to what kids have today.
- There is no difference between an MTV or a CNN. There is no difference between entertainment and news.
I thank the Onion for driving home that last point with this brilliant article (spoiler: lots of language, don’t read it aloud to your kids; also lots of truth, don’t read if you’re not a fan of that).
My initial reaction when I was reading everyone’s opinion on Ms. Cyrus was, “Wow, everyone really has an opinion about Ms. Cyrus.” I was also wondering why anyone was surprised. I was also wondering why my friends who are genuinely concerned about what is approved as suitable entertainment were watching the VMA’s to begin with. Then I wondered how my horse had gotten so high and if I should probably just get off. So I did. I decided to just let this non-news story pass.
But when I read the above linked article on The Onion (disclaimer: I didn’t even know that Miley-gate was the lead story on CNN.com this week), the fake words forced out of the fake mouth of the managing editor of CNN.com were the most real and true I had encountered surrounding this whole event. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, just read these two quotes:
“So, as managing editor of CNN.com, I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. “
“ You want to know how many more page views the Miley Cyrus thing got than our article on the wildfires ravaging Yosemite? Like 6 gazillion more.
That’s on you, not us.”
We grant news outlets a lot of trust in deciding what is News, what is important, what we should care about. We assume that’s what their purpose is. There are some big problems with that.
That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to make money. And as the real estate of our minds and attention gets more and more crowded, they have to be more and more entertaining to get there.
Our culture is experiencing an overabundance of information in the midst of a serious drought of care. Staying informed is seen as a high value, it makes you a good person to know what’s going on in the world. But what do we do with this information? As I have posted before, to quote Hotel Rwanda, we say “Oh my God, that’s awful” and then change the channel.
One of the best examples of this is how social, meta news has taken over our News outlets. Again, we are trusting these sources to inform what we should care about in life. But an increasing trend is for these sources to just regurgitate whatever opinions we have about them from Facebook, Twitter, etc. So, to make this clear: the all important News has turned into our consequence-less opinions about the news that the money-making entertainer has decided was important to begin with. Whew.
The older and more out of touch I get, the more convinced I am that an even older dude (Neil Postman) got it right way, way, way back in 1985: “serious television is a contradiction in terms.”
So here are two actions I am going to try to take in response:
Disarm the entertainment/news’ industry power to tell me what is and what is not important. Knowledge is power. When I remember that they are just trying to entertain as many people as possible in order to make money, I’m a lot less willing to trust them to tell me what to care about.
Focus only on information that leads to action (like action action, not like a Facebook update action). This is really hard, because I cannot possibly have an active response to all the events that are out there. I can pray. I can send money when it is needed. I can contact my representatives to let them know how I really feel on matters that are truly important. I can get on my feet and walk to the local school and ask what I can do to help (note to self: get on your feet and walk to the local school and ask what you can do to help).
The rest is just noise.
So Miley, I have decided that you are more important than my inconsequential opinions. So I’m going to try to not pay attention to you. But trust me, this isn’t your problem. It’s not you, it’s me.