Because life is a series of edits

Tragedy Capturing

In Internet, Thought, TV on April 18, 2007 at 11:20 am

My friend, Travis, has a good (but too short) post on both his disgust at the shootings at Virginia Tech and the media’s Pavlovian dog-like pantings in covering it all, live and on location. My own impression was similiar to Travis’ – when I finally got home Monday evening and turned on the news, I found myself actually talking back to Brian Williams on NBC, begging him to stop posing for the camera and over-dramatizing his lines while he interviewed students who had almost lost their lives in the horror of the day.

I’ve since limited my following of the story to the Internet (though part of ABC’s “special” with Diane Sawyer – complete with cross-fading pictures of victims set to slow, dreary music – almost snuck in before my nightly X-File last night). Reporting the news has sure gone beyond reporting the news; it’s all about “tragedy capturing” now.

Thinking about some of this, I remembered a point along these lines made by former (and now deceased) professor/media theorist Neil Postman in the opening chapter of his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. After a quick search of the library, I found the book and the quote:

“The information, the content, or, if you will, the ‘stuff’ that makes up what is called ‘the news of the day’ did not exist – could not exist – in a world that lacked the media to give it expression. I do not mean that things like fires, wars, murders, and love affairs did not, ever and always, happen in places all over the world. I mean that lacking a technology to advertise them, people could not attend to them, could not include them in their daily business. Such information simply could not exist as part of the content of culture.

This idea – that there is a content called ‘the news of the day’ – was entirely created by the telegraph (and since amplified by newer media), which made it possible to move decontextualized information over vast spaces at incredible speed. The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination. It is, quite preciesely, a media event. We attend to fragments of events from all over the world because we have multiple media whose forms are well suited to fragmented conversation. Cultures without speed-of-light media – let us say, cultures in which smoke signals are the most efficient space-conquering tool available – do not have news of the day. Without a medium to create its form, the news of the day does not exist.”

Or, to make the point more crassly (but succinctly), don’t forget this Don Henly ditty from 1982.

Which is a poorer commentary on human nature: the VT murders or our fascination with them?

  1. Interesting article along some of these same lines in Slate today: In Praise of Insensitive Reporters. What do you think?

  2. Craig, I agree that the media goes overboard and I too have been sickened by some of the coverage especially as they try to find fault with VT for not shutting down the campus after the first shooting. but given what you know of man’s fallen nature does it surprise you? And would you like to go back to the past when we didn’t have the news of the day? I for one am grateful to have the coverage with it’s faults and all. As a native Virginian, news of a place I know and love is welcome even if they do it in a way that can be frustrating at times. Amidst all the coverage there has some beautiful moments and some of the people interviewed have been brilliant in their analysis and with the way they handle the media. I think this is another instance where we take the good with the bad. It is fallen but not completely.

  3. Side note:
    Pray for Justin Klein. He is a V-tech student in the hospital, stable, but with 3 gun shot wounds. He was involved in NavYouth in Maryland before he headed off to V-tech.

  4. Rob, in answer to your questions, no, it doesn’t surprise me that the media craves this stuff – not trying to media bash, but they are as fallen as any of us. Would I want to go back to not having the news of the day anytime I wanted it? Possibly – it’s just overwhelming at times and beyond my ability to take it in.

    In developing news, I thought this was great: “Student Government Asks Reporters to Leave by Monday”.

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