Columns / Discourse / November 9, 2011

Voice of Reason: Media troubles

Kim Kardashian recently filed for divorce. You’ve probably heard about it.

I could spend my entire column berating the mainstream media for devoting coverage to this non-event instead of Occupy Wall Street, Afghanistan, global warming or any one of the other ten thousand issues of more pressing concern then Ms. Kardashian. Then I could lament about how the mainstream media only focuses on unimportant issues while important events go uncovered. Maybe there would even be some lazy generalization about how America is going to hell because of this. It would all be so easy.

But I won’t. You can look elsewhere for that sort of thing, but this cookie-cutter critique of media is profoundly uninteresting to me. The media spends time covering the personal lives of famous people even though it doesn’t really matter? Truly, I’m overcome with shock.

There were probably large numbers of Romans who were indignant at Suetonius for filing his “Lives of the Twelve Caesars” with gossip about which emperors were sleeping with their sisters instead of detailed descriptions of their military and fiscal policies.

The only really shocking thing is that it is still surprising to people that the media will spend large amounts of time on sordid details about famous people. As long as there has been media, there have been reams of wasted papyrus, paper and bandwidth devoted to these issues.

What I have a real problem with is the idea that this is some evil plot by the media companies to fill American’s heads with fluff so that they can then profit. What the media covers is driven by a large extent to what people are going to actually watch or read about.

If CNN needs to make money to survive and more people watch coverage of Kim Kardashian than the latest job numbers, is that really CNN’s fault?

A quick look at the top trending stories on Google News is illuminating. Kim Kardashian is up there, as are Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga. There is nothing about the Greek debt crises, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, flooding in Thailand or economic reforms in Cuba, all of which I would consider to be pressing issues.

Who is to blame for the rather vapid nature of this list? Is it Google’s fault? Are there people at their computers who desperately want to read about Greece’s potential exit from the Eurozone but are forced at gunpoint to search for Lady Gaga news instead? No, of course not.

If people can read about any news topic in the world online and choose to read about fluff, it is absurd to be putting all of the blame for this on the media. It is nothing more than a widespread deflection of responsibility. The duty of citizens in a democracy is to keep themselves informed so that they can intelligently vote and participate in civic life.

It is not to sit passively while an all-knowing media gives them exactly the information they need to do this. A good deal of the burden falls on the consumer of media, as eager as we sometimes seem to be to forget this.

If you have a problem with the amount of celebrity coverage in the media, there is a very simple solution: don’t read about it, don’t watch it and don’t clink on links about it. The day there is a massive swing in web traffic from Lady Gaga to the Eurozone’s economic problems will be the day before Lady Gaga is no longer lead news. Until then, spend more effort monitoring your own media consumption and less criticizing what the media is giving you.

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