The dilemma in writing about “media”, with or without the quotation marks, is that in d-oing so you create more media. Regardless of how scathing one’s essay is about the intellectual and social pollution of reality television, you are still talking about reality television and thus helping it to thrive. Every audio or video bite containing the words “Paris Hilton” becomes an infomercial for her and the entire vacuous sex droid product endorsement industry. And so on.
Still, it occurred to me last week that there were some things that could be done about the media’s penchant to market the unneeded goods that smudge our windshield for viewing life. These will be admittedly small gestures, but small acts repeated can often become something powerful. And perhaps they will verify that in a free society, no matter how loud the noise gets, we still retain the right to turn it off.
Mayumi and Richard Heene are the parents of the so-called “Balloon Boy.” That you don’t need me to recite the story to you says plenty about the subject at hand. As of news reported on November 13th it appears they will plead guilty to some charges related to the event known as “Balloon Boy” and possibly get probation. Let me pitch another way things might go.
The judge in the case should demand that the Heenes are never, ever allowed to profit by what they’ve done in any way and from any kind of exploitation of their lives or their actions. Their guilty pleas signal that they are unconcerned about any jail time. That’s because jail time will only provide another tasty element in the story they are hoping to sell. Sell for profit, and for fame. I’m making a modest proposal: That the punishment of the Heenes allows for neither of these. I would further look into the court’s ability to garnishee any/all wages or income made by either parent under any set of conditions, with the court extracting small amounts over eternity until the Heenes have completely refunded the expenditures incurred by dedicated first responders duped into their scheme.
We can’t stop Heene-like events from occurring and creating distractions for society that are dangerous on a number of different levels, such as someone possibly being injured or killed during the (fake) rescue efforts. Or following that but still significant, the resources of our nation’s news gathering agencies focused on a prank at the very moment the insurance industry was attempting to block national health care reform. (Or insert any real problem larger than a boy not being in a runaway balloon.) Again, we won’t ever stop these events as long as there is “media” and individuals frustrated by the absence of their own reflection in media.
But we should create punishments that are more on track with the psychological motivations of these (I think we can use this next word) crimes. And that might cause us to better examine the motivations of others. May I offer one example? We now know for a fact that Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska–abandoning the very people that supported her there–so that she would have time to sell her new book. We can be comfortable with assumptions that the book has nothing of value in it, and that Palin’s purpose in writing the book was to make money and widen the swath of her all talk/ no actual work accomplished-politics. So we can feel good not buying or reading the book, even for its car-wreck and Fourth Stooge aspects.
But we can also, in the privacy of our homes, boycott the media’s efforts to boost and tout it. They won’t be doing that because the book matters in any way; they’ll be doing that because it’s so much easier to blather about Palin than it is to report any real news or useful information. Thus we are comfortable using the word “layabouts” as it describes some who used to be called “reporters.” (Again, to talk about this, I have to use her name; I become one with the toxic fog.)
When the 237th story about Palin’s book comes up on your TV, just change the channel. This will be one time when watching Deal or No Deal actually upgrades your viewing experience. When the newspapers show people standing in line to buy Palin’s book, feel free to ignore that story knowing that those are likely the same people who were hired to fake protest at town hall meetings on health care. Feel good about boycotting the Palin book’s wave of bull excretions. You can’t stop the manufacturing of lazy media, but you are not required to ingest it. And the next time two parents use our collective concern about the safety of children to assuage their thwarted egos… let’s get them where it hurts. Where it hurts them, not us.