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An article worth reading

By jkaras ·
I really dont care whether anyone wants to post their opinion or not and are certainly welcome regardless. I read this article in the Orlando Sentinel and for once I like what was posted in that newspaper. Give it a read, think about what its saying, post an opinion if you want to share it with another, but demand more from our leaders to protect everyone rather than vote on taxes.

Seared into oblivion: Images that flicker and fade

By Bob Garfield | Special to The Washington Post
Posted February 11, 2004

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Watching the grainy, security-cam picture makes your stomach twist. Carlie Brucia, age 11, is led away by a tattooed stranger.

It's the Florida car wash video, chillingly documenting the beginning of God knows what, its very horror residing not in what it depicts but what it foreshadows. The literal image is unremarkable; what it implies is unspeakable.

The clip is sinister, ominous, revealing, brief. And, therefore, from a television news director's point of view, it is a sensational tape. It was, for days, the only event in this developing story for which there was a dramatic picture, so the image was played and replayed on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and most everywhere else in the electronic world.

Numbing repetition, this is called, and not for nothing. At some point, the stomach stops twisting. Desensitization sets in. Horror evaporates. Even before the little girl's body was found, her likeness had become commodified, the same as so much other news video in the modern media world.

The logo-tization of news: This is a relatively new phenomenon, occurring when a journalistic image ceases to tell a story but becomes a symbol for a story, denuding it both of its actual news significance and of its inherent drama. Lately this has been happening a lot. Howard Dean's yelp. Janet Jackson's breast. Carlie's slender wrist in the grip of a grown man's hand.

Journalism history, of course, is filled with iconic images, single photographic frames etched into our psyches through their own intrinsic power and years of exposure: the Hindenburg disaster, the flag emplacement at Iwo Jima, the sailor kissing a stranger in Times Square after Japan's surrender, Harry Truman gleefully brandishing a wildly mistaken Chicago Tribune, a bloodied Y.A. Tittle kneeling in the end zone, the summary execution of the suspected Vietcong, the naked child fleeing a napalm attack, Lee Harvey Oswald taking one in the gut.

For those of a certain age, a few words of reference trigger each picture, ever enduring in impact and detail. The image is frozen, but even after decades the drama of the moment sears. That enduring power, however, resides not in how often we have seen these pictures, but in how seldom -- every so often, maybe years apart, and each time is to gasp. Once upon a time, moving pictures could achieve the same effect. The Zapruder film, capturing the assassination of a president, and the moon landing, capturing the first human stepping onto soil beyond our own planet, are as poignant now as ever partly because they were husbanded in their day.

But more contemporary video doesn't seem to have the same shelf life, no matter how momentous or tragic the underlying events. For this we can mainly thank the 24-hour news cycle and the cold-blooded voraciousness of cable news broadcasting. These channels are ostensibly designed to keep us all informed, but the engine doesn't run on information; it runs on lurid images of sex, violence, celebrity and crime. These channels are titillation machines, and we know the nature of titillation. It wears out.

Which is why Playboy changes its models every month.

Of course, it takes two to titillate. Cable does what it does because it understands precisely what its viewers wish to see. Janet Jackson's exposed right breast, according to Lycos, was the most downloaded image in Internet history. Primal curiosity is a force of nature. Criticizing news organizations for pandering to it is like criticizing sunflowers for turning to the sun.The question is: What is the cost?

Howard Dean knows the cost. The combination of endless repetition and TV's cynical willingness to deprive viewers of the context (a defeated candidate rallying the youthful delegations of many states to keep the faith) turned a media-created front-runner into a media-bludgeoned national punch line. Even TV news itself sometimes recognizes the stakes. Shortly after 9-11, the major networks stopped showing the planes penetrating the towers, citing worries about diluting and trivializing the horror.

The greatest price, however, has already been paid. On the altar of all-news-all-the-time has been sacrificed the permanence of history. Commodified images generate viewership like food, drink, soap and paper products generate revenue. They're manufactured, consumed and quickly replaced. Such is the new media order. But when events become logo-tized as images, and are so rapidly spent, what becomes of them? What happens when news that grips a nation is so fleeting, so transitory, so disposable?

One argument is that genuinely historic moments transcend even the most crass mass-merchandising, that Saddam's dental exam will someday take its place alongside Oswald and Truman, while the Britney-Madonna kiss slowly disintegrates in the mass consciousness.

The smart money, though, is elsewhere. The smart money says that news values that don't distinguish between a dictator's fall and a pop star's publicity stunt inform the way all of us process media images all the time. A commodity, by definition, has its value set by the marketplace. And today's marketplace has determined the value of all sensational clips to be approximately equal, with an accelerated depreciation schedule that would be the envy of accountants everywhere.

Now, again comes the video clip. Here, the last living moments of poor Carlie Brucia, whose tragedy is compounded by the certainty that in the visual memory of the viewing public she will quickly be replaced. Just as JonBenet Ramsey has been replaced, and Elizabeth Smart, and that little girl in Texas.

You know, the kid who fell down the well. What was her name, anyway?

Bob Garfield is a columnist for Advertising Age and co-host of National Public Radio's "On the Media."

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I've said it before and I'll say it again...

by DC_GUY In reply to An article worth reading

TV news is for people who can't read. Yes, the print media do their best to tell us how to feel instead of what's happening and they've gotten pretty good at it. Nonetheless, arguably the most important distinction between **** sapiens and the rest of the animal kingdom is language. Thinking about something in words elevates it to a level of abstraction far beyond merely observing it and reacting to with instinct and hormones. We can consider, analyze, and synthesize our observations and formulate a set of responses that becomes a philosophy and ultimately a civilization. The best, most social, and most intelligent non-verbal communcators -- dogs, psittacines, cetaceans, other apes -- can't do that. The best they can do is admire our accomplishments and in some cases choose to become second-class citizens of our community. To put it bluntly, the goal of TV news is to push us down to the level of our dogs and our parrots.

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by john_wills In reply to I've said it before and I ...

I bought a television set in 1997 to play videotapes for a mathematics class I was doing. I have not yet used it for anything else. I do have plans to view certain movies, and I will even turn the set on if a certain movie gets into the schedule, but at present the set has been sitting in its box for 13 months, i.e. since I moved into my present house. I use the SF Chronicle (pseudoliberal cryptosocialist) and the Economist (really liberal, though with libertarian and socialist flashes)for news. I hope I'm keeping myself conscious, not descending to the level of dogs and parrots.

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It's really only the news on TV that I decry...

by DC_GUY In reply to television

Because TV news is so insidious. A lot of intelligent, well-educated people who consider themselves well-informed and not easily fooled get a frighteningly high proportion of their information from the tube. Sure, I suppose the same can be said of other facets of TV. Due to my hopefully temporary unfortunate circumstances I rarely am able to take in live performances so I make do with what I consider the best of TV. I imagine that the shows I consider provocative, like South Park; dramatic, like 24; iconoclastically intellectual, like John Stewart's segments of The Daily Show; clever, like The Nanny; or just rip-snortin' escapist entertainment, like Stargate SG-1; strike many people as cheap substitutes for "real" culture. But even if they're right I doubt that I'm doing myself and civilization as much damage as if I accepted TV's cheap substitutes for reports of what's going on in real life. And I remain convinced that they're NOT right. There's a lot of very good stuff on TV if you're patient enough to find it and disciplined enough to multi-task on something else during the bad parts. Finally, to refine my objection to TV news: It's not that we should not care about the murders, rapes, fires, wars, breaches of trust, etc. It's that we should be allowed to care about a whole lot of other stuff at the same time. The bandwidth of moving pictures and the spoken word can't deliver it all.

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