Why does anyone care about Tiger Woods’ affairs? Or the White House party crashers? Or Sarah Palin’s squabble with her grandbaby’s daddy, that Playgirl boy-toy, Levi Johnston? Is life so dreary that we welcome every silly diversion, every distraction from reality? Not just welcome it but dwell on it, wallow in it, wear it out?
Nearly everything is theatre these days. The immortal words of 6-year-old balloon boy Falcon Heeney – “we did it for the show” – should be the slogan of the year, of the decade even (Falcon is shown at right).
Hoaxes, party crashing, petty squabbles and squalid sex scandals are all grist for the media mill. And, tragically, so is terrorism.
Why is a 23-year-old Nigerian prepared to blow up his nether regions to bring down an airliner? For the show. This pathetic patsy was willing to sacrifice his life – and the lives of 300 other airline passengers – to make the front pages and get on TV.
If there were no front pages, no TV, there might be no terrorism. After all, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a noise? And if a bomb goes off in a mosque or on a plane and no one hears about it,would it have any propaganda effect?
Without the news media, there would likely be no Tea Party marchers, either. Those hats decorated with tea bags, those vicious “over the top” signs calling the President a Nazi and worse, those outlandish speeches… They did it for the show.
The year in the United States Congress has been nothing but a soap opera. Badly scripted and shabbily performed but a soap opera nonetheless. The show has made a charade of the serious business of governance.
Because of the show, the world’s real problems have been neglected. Instead of focusing on the issues, national leaders are obsessed with making a momentary impact through the media. That’s why Kim Jong Il is launching missiles and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying to build a nuclear bomb. Without the show, they would be nobody.
The Roman poet Juvenal identified “bread and circuses” as the only remaining concerns of a populace that had given up its birthright of political involvement. He could just as accurately be describing America today. Or the United Kingdom. Or any of the big “democracies.”
Today’s politicians have discovered that voters will forget about the lack of bread if they get enough circuses. Naturally, the media are eager to join in the macabre game. Their advertisers want the exposure. And as the masses feed on the lurid trash served up as news, they grow more mesmerized, less perceptive – in a word dumber.
Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had to choose between government without the press and the press without government, he “wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.” But that was before the 24-hour news channels. He might want to revise his opinion today.