There was a big thread on the Rudius board last week, and now it made the front page of Digg.
And I think the crux of the debate comes down to how you answer this question: Does the media influence culture or does culture influence media? Arguably, in the past, I think it’s been more of the latter, but in the case of celebrity coverage, I think it’s clearly the former. The idea that “the media only reports on this gossip is because people buy it” is a cop out. And I don’t think it takes into account basic groupthink or psychology.
There is this thing called an information cascade–that essentially means people can be forced to go against their personal beliefs if a majority of their peers do the same. Or, if enough people observe the sky is red, you’ll throw aside the fact that it is clearly blue. And I think honestly, that is the most plausible explanation for this fascination with worthless celebrity gossip. Don’t get me wrong, people do care about the lives of famous people. It’s actually biological–and all societies (civilized or uncivilized) gossip about the sex lives of their alpha-people. But there is a difference between that and a solid month of hearing about the Anna Nicole Smith overdose.The latter is the media forcing a story down the public’s throat; hoping that if they do it long enough, it’ll go down easy. The logic of it is proven, look at payola. Record labels by spins on radio stations because they know they can trick people into enjoying bands they wouldn’t otherwise hate. The media hammers in stories so they’ll always have something to fall back on. There’s always a police chase, a murder, a heinous rape, a gossip piece they can use a filler–but first they have to force us to care about it. Which is what we have with ANS.
And the media covers these stories because they’re lazy. It’s cheaper to drag something on than it is to find something new. That’s why Lindsey Lohan and Spears are still in the press, even though they haven’t created new art in years. It’s all about potential costs and risks. They know for sure that some people care about those celebrities, and they can’t say that for certain about some unknown up-and-comer, or some investigative report on an important issue. Which is why we see the same tired stories about the same tired people.
So the whole idea of “they wouldn’t report on it if people didn’t buy it” is bullshit. They report on it because reporters are inherently lazy, stupid and greedy. I understand the outrage and the scorn that Jon Stewart has for the MSM. And he’s exactly right, bias (liberal and conservative) is important, but the priority here, should be the sensationalism, and the greed, and the race to the bottom. And until we put the blame where it really lies–directly on the media–we can’t hope for a higher level of discourse.