This is an interesting topic for a blog that I got from James Parker over at The Atlantic. The 1976 movie Network, which is not only a great movie but one of my all-time favorites, predicted and has influenced today’s media. Network is about a struggling fictional TV network called UBS, probably United Broadcast System, and its struggling news division, UBS News, and how they are buried in the TV ratings.
So what do the genius executives at UBS, not including the head of its news division, do, but to find ways to boost the ratings of the network including UBS News by combining news with entertainment. They give their lead news anchor, Howard Beale, played by the great Peter Finch, his own satire/talk show or variety show where Beale can go off on what he sees in the world and what he thinks of it. Imagine Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley or Howard Smith given that role, because that would’ve sounded crazy in the 1960s and 1970s, but that is what UBS does with UBS, News, combining entertainment and news.
Go from UBS in 1975-76 all the way up to today with CNN and MSNBC, and to a certain extent FNC, and it’s no longer what is newsworthy and what is important to know that are important to these news networks but what is interesting or, to use pop culture phrases, what is hot or awesome or, yes, sexy and what can we report that the non-educated population, at least when it comes to current affairs, finds interesting enough to watch.
The Trayvon Martin story from 2012 to 2013 is a good example, with CNN and MSNBC delaying or postponing current affairs programming to show the entire George Zimmerman trial or coming in with so-called special shows to show the latest on the story. But forget about 2012-13 and you could go back to 1994-95 with OJ Simpson, which started with the famous tedious Ford Bronco chase. The next latest sexy trial, for lack of better phrase, could involve Justin Bieber and his drug case if it goes that far, starting with MSNBC breaking away from a discussion on terrorism and privacy to report Breaking News” on Bieber being arrested.
The way media have changed, especially the broadcast medium, is the perfect example of the dumbing down of our culture, and I’m not trying to sound like a stiff or anything, but it is the perfect example of how cable news and pop culture have changed the news media. What is popular or interesting or, yes, that word awesome is now just as important as what is considered essential for people to know that affects their quality of life, for example, whether our government is spying on us and checking in to determine whom we communicate with.