Soap Opera News, American Style
As you may have noticed, the Pope is dead. I seem to recall some brief announcement in the news, to that effect. Maybe a photograph or two on every single news paper in the world. Perhaps a special piece on FOX and CNN. A special piece that will last until Friday on every single network.
If it weren't for the 'net', I would be taking another news break until next week. I am seriously Poped-out, already. Wouldn't you know it? The body will lie in state until it is entombed or what ever is done with dead Popes.
Nothing I am about to say, is about John Paul II or any other Pope. This is about media and the manipulation of mass perception.
A few days ago I went to the Library to look at the front pages of news papers distributed in the last six weeks or so. What I found was no surprise, at all. I learned that American news papers are competing with soap operas and day time television for the hearts, minds, and product loyalties of the American public.
It is true that soap operas often reflect contemporary values and events in strange narcissistic ways. It is also true that the news media has learned a lot from the successful soap opera formula, and its ability to capture the imaginations of the proverbial public. Creating an alternate reality, in the minds of viewers, that can alter their perception of objective reality.
One common feature, of stories I hear from Canadians visiting American relatives, or American/Canadians visiting 'home', is the story of American families and friends sitting around obsessing about the prices of commodity goods and talking about soap opera characters, as though they were real people. Causing much confusion until the Canadian visitors realize their American hosts are talking about day time television characters..
Now, soap opera addicts populate both sides of the border. They just seem to be much more common among the general population in the States. So many things in the culture seem to promote the commercialized alternate reality, created by the entertainment and commercial media.
Now, the news media has gotten into the act, in a very big way. Yellow journalism and tear jerk human interest stories, have always been a staple of the news media, especially the newspapers. Currently, there is almost nothing else on the front pages of even the major American newspapers. One soap opera after the other, punctuated by unexamined, unquestioned 'news', sent straight from the propaganda department of the White House.
National and international news with a pro-corporate business spin on it.
Things of great importance, that the White House and corporate ownership find inconvenient, are conveniently ignored. If you don't have an internet connection, or the time and will to do some searching, you only know what they choose to tell you.
But damn! Don't they like to spill the juicy beans when it comes to things that are of no real matter to the state of the world or the American role in the state of the world.
My trip to the library, did not result a scientific study. What I am reporting is the impression given by quickly thumbing through a big collection of daily papers. While we are at war with many of the citizens of Iraq, while we turn Afghanistan into a giant military prison camp, while ever more revelations appear regarding wide spread torture in military jails and that the orders for the abuses came from high in the military.
While Cheney's business alma mater, Haliburton, is being investigated for fraud, theft, and a variety of cover up and bribe allegations. While Congress has committed bloody rape against debt ridden Americans, with the new bankruptcy laws, the news papers were focused on an entirely different world.
Sure, many allegations, contradictory science reports, and military screw ups, get some mention, most are handled briefly, with as little details as possible and a bit of 'this isn't important' spin at the end of the obscure little articles.
Meanwhile, the dead and wounded, from Germany and Iraq, are still flown in under the cover of dark. But, so what? Martha is out of jail and all set and ready for her new crusade. Comments from Martha's cell mate are headline news.
Martha, Martha, Lacy Peterson, procurement scandal, Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson, Martha, Terri Shiavo, report cites vote fraud, Terri Shiavo, Church protesters, Terri Must Live, Shiavo Death Threats, Bolton to the UN, Michael Jackson, blackmailer testifies, Pope, Terri, Pope, Wolfowitz to the World Bank Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson, congress wants changes in Patriot Act, Terri Dies, Culture of Death, Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Pope is ill, Pope is ill, Pope is dead, Pope is dead, war on Iran, Pope, Pope, Pope, Pope.
You get the picture. Colourful, passionate, soap opera, presented as news. The world is burning and Americans are fiddling with the dial, or looking for the celebrity cross word puzzle. Or maybe testing their "Day Time Television IQ", on the arts and entertainment page.
I knew I was in for a long breath holding session when Air America hosts, and both Bernie Ward and Ray Taliaferro, over at KGO were also on about the Pope. But, with the great numbers of people caught up in the drama of it all, what else can a talk show host talk about without taking his or her phones off line?
Here is a question that is bugging me a bit. Wasn't there an encyclical, from the then voiceless Pope, saying that a feeding tube was not an extraordinary measure and that every Catholic had the duty to preserve life, as long as possible by artificial means? I could have sworn such a thing was in the news.
However, the Pope then decided to die in his apartment rather than be artificially maintained. I'm not criticizing the Pope, what I am asking myself. is exactly who produced the encyclical and made the decision to announce it, while the Pope was still alive but unable to function as the Pope?
I also find myself wondering if this is a portend of the conservative political maneuvering, going on among the Cardinals, who will select the next wearer of the Papal Ring.