Copyright © Larry Johnson 2020
At the outset of this essay I provide forewarning that to some, the contents may at various points appear to be cold hearted or unsympathetic. However it will be difficult to relate some views without accepting this risk. In the event that the reader is affronted I will understand the disposition to terminate review of the article. Nonetheless it is my assessment, biased as it may be, that the observations are valid and worthwhile the pursuit of discussion.
There is a trend in modern media, particularly the news media, to engage in melodrama and sensationalism so frequently that it appears orchestrated. We see it everywhere from news broadcasts of health issues, matters of celebrity, and even the weather; in some quarters the latter invoking forecasts of the apocalypse.
Journalism, particularly that pertaining to television and radio, is an area where melodramatic convulsions arise regularly. I here note that we all suffer from the foibles of human nature and the rise of adrenalin can lead to over excitement. Nevertheless, there is a danger that if not tempered, the adrenalin rush may result in histrionics and unhealthy exhilaration for scandal or violence. For how many days in succession must we bear the progression of a royal scandal, movie stars throwing tantrums, or sport’s stars misbehaving. To hear about the circumstance once or twice is one thing, but to regurgitate the details night after night and day after day is certainly beyond the pail.
Where a disaster or violent act has occurred news networks regularly insist on replaying or re-living the event. Continual replays of actual terrorist attacks or war crimes etc. with accompanying commentary often endure well into subsequent days, resulting in a feeling of debilitation. Observe any major catastrophic event and then tell me if I’m not correct. News broadcasts are extended to all day events and many in the community end up with disaster addiction or fatigue. Furthermore we are presented with footage of people actually being killed in unambiguous detail. For the unfortunate individual who is shot or stabbed, it should be sufficient that we are informed about it rather than have the image graphically exhibited. I am not saying that events shouldn’t be reported, or that the populous shouldn’t show appropriate concern, but I will posit that saturation reporting is not healthy for the journalist or those who become fixated with viewing the narratives.
We appear to be progressing rapidly to a news obsessed society, with even the daily news brief extended to longer and more frequent instalments. Not so many years ago the nightly news covered half an hour. Recently one of the networks in Australia extended their contribution from one hour to one and a half hours. The result of this is that the last half hour of news is basically a repeat of stories reported in the first hour. In addition, we have news readers and reporters inserting dramatic inflections and tones into their reports, providing a sense of the theatrical. It may not be too long before some bear a mark of the Shakespearian. Moreover, included in some news broadcasts are apocalyptic weather forecasts. I am of the belief that no other life similar to ours exists in the Universe, however if there was, and a visitor from such a world viewed one of these weather prognostications, it may be that they would wish to depart fairly quickly, giving Earth away as a bad lot! In previous times the news was read in an unexcited fashion for half an hour and then concluded, leaving the viewer to their own assessment. Oh, that we could return to those halcyon days.
Apropos modern news reporting I turn to another example: and it is here that some will consider me cold hearted and lacking in empathy. However, the subject is one that has troubled me for some time, and I feel something must be said or stated. It concerns the melodrama that sometimes accompanies the death of persons through misadventure, recklessness or straight-out disregard for their fellow human beings. I am not here referring to people whose deaths have occurred through no fault of their own or who are the victims of these motivations; or even perhaps those who have succumbed to human nature and made an unintentional error with tragic consequences. The public expression of their grief in regard to the latter is understandable and totally justifiable. An instance of concern that comes to mind is one where the driver of a motor vehicle, through dangerous driving, has not only caused his or her own death but that of others. It is all too often that among the outpouring of tears and the laying of flowers and wreaths at accident sites for those at fault, we hear comments from family and friends that the driver was a good, fun-loving person who everybody liked and admired so much. Now that may be so, but the reality is that the person caused the unnecessary death or injury to him or herself and others through maleficence or deliberate recklessness. It is not to say that grief at the loss of the individual shouldn’t be expressed, but rather than engage in public melodrama, out of respect for the innocent victims such grief for the offender may be best expressed privately. Moreover, such post-death dialogue shouldn’t include any inferred canonisation of the wrongdoer. The reader may assert that it is the media who initiate the conversation with the grieving parties of the offender. I would agree; and it is in such circumstance that the media should temper their enthusiasm for the story and perhaps not pursue this course of action.
I could continue indefinitely with more examples to assert my point, but one more will suffice. I refer to what on the surface would appear trivial, and the reader may advise me to ‘not sweat the small stuff’ as they say. However this last proposition does I believe, pose a more serious possibility. There is an obvious tendency for ordinary folk to become engulfed in the sordid life and deeds of those with celebrity. From the moral barnyard of Hollywood to the intrigue of Bollywood to the ubiquitous royal scandal we witness unhealthy, real life soap operas; rife with adultery, drug abuse, egomaniacal behaviour, juvenile tantrums and general moral degradation. It is my continual amazement that so many thrust themselves into the search for information as to whose doing what, with who, and why. Undoubtedly this has always been an inclination of human nature i.e. the curiosity some have with unfolding melodramas of the rich and famous. However, it appears to be ever-increasing. The danger to which I refer is the possibility that the diversion will prevent us from being the individual we should. The distraction, or addiction to the melodramas of these individuals, will lead us away from the pursuit of more constructive lives. It would be disappointing to reach the end of one’s life and realise that an inordinate amount of time had been wasted embracing the dissipation engaged in by these groups or individuals, bonding our own wastefulness to theirs.
Hitherto we have this common thread of over-sensationalism by the media. We witness a news media willing one way or another to over-indulge itself inappropriately in the drama of other people’s lives or immerse itself for indefinite periods in tragedies and disasters. If this isn’t untasteful enough, we have news services that more than merely report the news, have taken upon themselves the task of being judge and jury. Unfortunately, we have inherited a poor quality of expertise in this industry; poor quality in promoting morality within society but perhaps not so poor in gathering profit or notoriety. Rather than enhance our lives, media outlets have become more concerned with presenting the story in a way, and for an appropriate duration, that will satisfy their own appetites for sensation or scandal and the coffers of their employer through advertising revenue, or enhance their own prospects of promotion. My final comment is that we should be very discerning as to what we watch or read and how long we engage ourselves in whatever event is occurring. There is a need to be concerned about what goes on around us, and the level of involvement would normally be governed by the interest we have in the subject or the seriousness of the matter. I merely conclude that it is not healthy for the matter to consume us.