10 June 2011

The Current State Of American Media

Ok so I've been really trying not to think or write about anything related to the Anthony Weiner Twitter scandal. But I am 25. So I'll try to keep this as mature as possible. It shouldn't be hard.

Seriously though, by now it should be universally known that this is the kind of stuff that passes as news these days. The fact is that the American media are more likely to cover with full force a story involving a politician's sex life than one detailing his or her policy credentials. Why? Because they think the American public is more interested in this kind of story. And for the most part, they're right.

The news wasn't always like this. There used to be an "understanding" between politicians and reporters of what constituted real news and what constituted gossip. No more. Some of my older readers may correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the Bill Clinton scandal finally shattered that understanding and opened the door to the modern era of ultra-personalization of public figures by the media. In other words, the country's utter mesmerization with the unfolding story of the blue dress gave the American media a green light to make these types of stories their main area of focus, and the people loved it. I'm not saying there were no political sex scandals before Clinton, but I think their use as fair game for primetime media fodder is a relatively new phenomenon in America.

My overall point is that as trivial as all these stories of tawdry sexual affairs may be, they fact that they are so prevalent is not necessarily a bad thing. We know infinitely more about how the world actually works than any generation before us. The average American of the 19th century knew next to nothing about his or her elected representative except what they were force fed; today we know more than we'd like to. In 21st century America, we are over-informed to the point of possible spontaneous human combustion. From Breitbart to Wikileaks, mainstream society has recognized and accepted the efforts of those who go after any person, institution or story no matter who they are or what it is. No one is safe from the prying eye of the public. Maybe this power isn't always used for good, but it exists and thrives and that in itself is remarkable.

There have always been crooked and creepy politicians, they just got away with it more in the past because they used to have more sway in crafting their public image than they do today. (Largely due to a culture of almost unquestioned reverence for elected office and a complicit and irresponsible media. Sounds familiar, non?) These men and women may have highly important jobs and extraordinary lives, but at the end of the day, they are simply human. And some have major flaws. While our society once suppressed this fact, we are now free to view public figures as people first and titles second. Because that's what they are. For better or worse, at least no one can say we aren't realistic.

My next post will be on the Middle East, I swear.