Friday, January 19, 2007

Confessions of a News Junkie

(Tangential rant about feminism up on my arts blog, if anybody's interested in such nonsense.)


My name is phillip low, and I'm a news junkie.

I don't differentiate, I'll take it in any form I can get it, television, newspapers, talk radio, blogs. LSD? PCP? Forget it. Try CNN, FOX, BBC. I'm always looking for a new high. If there was a way to inject information directly into my bloodstream? I'd be doing it right now. If they find a way for me to snort it into my nasal passages or ram it up my ass? Consumer whores like me don't get to have limits.

For the longest time, I didn't get how people could find politics boring. Actually, I suspect I largely generate my own entertainment. The television isn't on for five minutes before I start screaming profanities at the screen.

Thing is, it was around the time of the 2004 election that I think I finally figured it out. I was up all night, laptop sitting open in, naturally, my lap, television on, rapidly switching between channels and websites, following the results with bated breath as they gradually came in, state by state, and suddenly it hit me -- this is how my dad watches football.

It's not like I hate football or anything, it's just that I find it unutterably boring. But here's the thing -- the reason that I find it boring is because I don't understand it. Because I don't know the rules, I don't get the significance of things happening -- and because I don't know the players, I don't get the significance of this guy doing this thing to this other guy.

The reason people find politics boring boils down to two simple things: the fact that they don't understand the rules, and that they don't know who the players are. Once you figure those out, it's gripping. I presume football is, as well. The difference, I suppose, is that if the Vikings win the Superbowl, they don't then get to redistribute your wealth.

Of course, the fact that the media sucks may have something to do with it.


In continuing my steady accumulation of 9-11 memorabilia, I just received my copy of a graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Report. Adam Cadre was rather dismissive of it in his review, correctly observing that it consists, for the most part, of stating facts and then illustrating them (e.g. the text will read "President Bush said..." and then show a picture of President Bush, rather than finding a more dynamic way to visually dramatize the events). I would argue that I think he's underestimating the value of being able to attach a human face to the events in question. It's one thing to read "Three Arab nationals set off an alarm and were directed to a second metal detector, but they quickly passed inspection." Somehow, there's a more immediate, visceral impact to seeing it happen.

I spent a couple of months recently working with my students on melodrama, with a particular focus on theatre as political action. Ultimately, the realization I emerged with from this was that theatre's power, politically, is the ability to assign a human face to a problem. An economist can pull out countless charts and statistics, abstractly indicating the idea of poverty -- but an actor can give you a direct, emotional connection.


I recall one morning, as I was fixing breakfast, I was flipping back and forth between CNN and Fox News, respectively regarded as the bastions of the left and the right, and -- it was a surreal experience.

FOX, you see, underscored everything with a rapid, pulse-pounding beat, rapidly switching from scene to scene, offering melodramatic voice-overs and pundits screaming at me, attempting to create news as a kind of action movie.

Then I flipped back to CNN. They were in the middle of some human-interest story about, I dunno, autistic kids or something. The camera was using a soft-focus lens, and piano music was playing in the background. I saw an image of a window, and someone pressing their hand against it from the other side. And I thought, ah. If FOX is giving me the news as an action movie, then CNN is giving me the news as a bad Lifetime for Women television special.

Both of them, I recognize, are struggling with the same problem -- finding a way to create that emotional connection between the information they're providing and their audience. Thing is, what we see are journalists pretending to be filmmakers, and they're doing it badly.

This, I suppose, is why I have little patience with those who complain about programs like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report -- because they're filmmakers pretending to be journalists, and they're doing it *well*.

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