One of the constant debates regarding the media is where to draw the line about what gets shown on TV. When is something newsworthy and when is it merely sensationalistic? Is it irresponsible to air certain stories? Will certain images have an averse effect on the general public?
With the rise of the reality-TV genre, whatever standards there were in the medium have started to erode even more. Every time a capital offender gets sent up for execution, some pundit raises the question about whether it would be ethical to air the execution on television. Attorney General John Ashcroft upped the ante in that debate last week by making it possible for 250 survivors and family members of people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing to watch Timothy McVeigh’s execution on a closed-circuit television broadcast. This has many people up in arms, remembering the “closed-circuit” Clinton testimony that we all saw quite a bit of and wondering whether the same thing might happen in this case. All of a sudden, a public execution might be more possible than we think.
The problem with televisionand the numerous reality shows confirm this most clearlyis that when someone has a camera pointed at him, he feels validated or important. Suddenly, by being placed in the spotlight, his views and ideas are given more credence, no matter what public opinion might be. The old PR adage “any publicity is good publicity” genuinely seems to apply.
You see the contestants on these reality shows who become the butt of national jokes, and yet, no matter how negatively they come off, judging by their performances on these shows, they seem to feel justified as human beings. Which is why the mere thought that Timothy McVeigh might somehow be given the spotlight in his final minutes scares the bejeezus out of me. This guy shouldn’t be given the impression that he deserves any of the attention he’s gotten.
Assuming you even agree with the idea of capital punishment, execution should only be seen as an act of necessity on the part of the government for the safety of society. It should carry the same weight as putting a rabid dog to sleepit’s unfortunate, but it must be done. But a televised spectacle could turn an ugly necessity into a circus that demeans us all.
I realize that the only people being allowed to watch the execution will be survivors and families of the victims, and that this will be aired over closed-circuit “state-of-the-art video conferencing.” But even if nobody ends up seeing this but these few hundred people, it sets a dangerous precedent: This could be the first step on the path to publicly televised executions.
I also find this whole development typically hypocritical, coming from an administration led by a born-again Christian. Why is it that the most zealous types always seem clueless as to the foundations of their beliefs? Shouldn’t these Christian government officials follow the basic Christian tenet of forgiveness instead of taking solace in vengeance? I would argue that it’s psychologically unhealthy to hang your peace of mind on another human’s death. Surviving a near-death experience or the loss of a loved one at someone else’s hand has got to be one of the hardest things anyone can go through, and yet I still wonder: Can watching more killing really make it any better?
And that’s the way it was...
As most of you know, only half of Americans went to the polls last year to vote. Low voter turnout in recent decades is nothing new and usually gets attributed to a combination of voter ignorance/indifference and unpalatable major-party candidates. There’s very little we can do about candidatesthat’s dependent on the fruitless wish that the two major parties will pull their heads out of their collective asses. But keeping apprised of what’s going on in the world is something every American is capable of doing. The problem I have always found is that one of our main outlets, network news, tends to be a bombastic and overbearing affair. It used to be the pinnacle of integrity, with Walter Cronkite sitting at the desk, commanding respect and attention as he went over the day’s events for us.
Nowadays, network news is home to hyperbole, with the anchor smug and self-important (Brokaw), bizarre and unhinged (Rather), or Canadian (Jennings). Add to that a sensory overload of graphics and statistics, plus a heartwarming human-interest story, and you’ve basically got an uninformative half-hour every weekday afternoon. This isn’t entirely the fault of the news organizations. The world has become far too complex and glutted with information for a ratings-hungry network to provide decent, comprehensive news coverage.
That’s why I’d like to suggest PBS’ Newshour With Jim Lehrer to anyone interested in a more low-key, straightforward, and comprehensive daily news experience. Over the course of an hour, Lehrer goes over the day’s events in a clear-cut factual manner, then tosses the program to correspondents who interview people on current issues. In the process, the show informs you on the ins and outs of an issue without cutting corners. In the case of the recent Chinese standoff, the show wisely brought in Tip O’Neill, the man who, along with Richard Nixon, brokered most of our relationship with China. Toward the end of the show, Newshour gives us its version of the heartwarming human-interest story in the form of an increasingly scarce commodity: culture. Last week, the show had a fascinating interview with playwright August Wilson, one of our current American masters.
I won’t sit here and pretend that I am fully cognitive of every issue, or that some of the stories don’t go over my head. I’m an average American couch potato like anyone else. But at least Newshour tries to provide me with facts to suss out, rather than dazzling me with visual stimulation so I’ll just forget that I don’t know what they’re talking about.
Trailer of the month
This week’s column is a tad on the dry and serious side, so let me wrap up with a celebration of guilty pleasure. As I mentioned several weeks ago, a trailer can oftentimes be more entertaining than the movie itself. The real coup, though, is a trailer that doesn’t hide the fact that the film might suck and still manages to get you excited.
Driven wins this contest hands-down. The commercial for this race-car drama is nothing but a barrage of sensations: flying car crashes, soaring manhole covers almost chopping a driver’s head off, Estella Warren’s dress billowing up as a car whizzes past, Gina Gershon’s lips and swaying hips, and the improbably goofy tag line, “Welcome to the human race.”
So what does this tell us about the movie? Well, nothing. We have no idea what the plot is or who the main character is. Sylvester Stallone wrote the script and stars, but the only shot we get of him is his eyeballs. Add to that the fact that Stallone is responsible for penning my all-time camp-crap favorite Staying Alive, and the fact that Driven stars Burt “The Bandit” Reynolds, and you can count me in against all of my better instincts.
“In a sluggish economy, never ever fuck with a man’s livelihood.”
Be the first to e-mail the origin of this useless bit of trivia to poplife the shame of your name printed in the paper and some free useless crap from the Nashville Scene!
Previous week’s answer: “Heresy” by Nine Inch Nails.
Winner: Nate O’Keefe.
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