Monday, December 01, 2008

The Dumbification of the American People

One of my favorite made-up German phrases is "Der Verdummheit der Amerikanishebevoelkerung", which I translate as given in the title.  Seeing as my wife, a native German speaker, hasn't corrected me, I may have actually gotten this right.  However, this may not apply only to Americans and you can decide for yourself if this shoe fits.

In my neighborhood today we had an accident.  A house on Winthrop Street that had caught fire and burned on July 4th (we saw it as we came back from watching fireworks) was being demolished.  An excavator was ripping the house apart systematically.  My beloved wife saw the work in progress as she walked the dog and commented to me that the operator was driving the machine all over the rubble pile and the machine looked very unsteady as it teetered and tottered atop the pile.

Sure enough, the machine tipped backwards.  But that's not why Americans are dumb.  No, what has me all riled up is the way the accident was portrayed in the media.  I had the opportunity to walk by the accident before the excavator was righted.  It had landed on the roofs of the house next door and its garage.  I remarked to another neighbor that this certainly demonstrated the strength of our houses for the damage was minimal.  The roof upon which the bucket rested was not caved in, it didn't even look as though the roof was penetrated, just a little crushed.  The garage roof fared worse, but didn't look like it would take a roofer more than half a day to repair.

So, with a large exavator boom and bucket resting on the house, relatively minor damage was done, in my opinion. 

Oh, but the media.  "Demolition vehicle crushes occupied house" decries the Stoneham Sun. "Crushes"?  Oh, please.  The neighbor "barely managed to escape" claimed the broadcast on New England News.  Oh, seriously; she watched the darn thing slowly topple over and refused to leave her home for hours because she was fine.  (In all fairness, WBZTV was more balanced in its coverage, identifing simply that the excavator crashed into the house.)  

However, most of the images provided by the news organizations were from behind the exavactor.  These images mask the fact that the garage is a stand alone structure and the excavator landed on the roof of the den, which is a one story extension.  The images used make it look like fully half of the two story house was utterly crushed.  It was such an obvious manipulation that one of my children said, "They're [the news channel] is making it look like a total disaster!  It was nothing like that!"  

My point is that the hyping of the accident (which was pretty stupid from my outside perspective; but then again, I've never driven an excavator) creates a false impression.  One could easily conclude that the driver was grossly negligent, that the elderly resident was in serious danger, that Stoneham has huge oversight issues, that the damaged home is unusable.

And here is why I find that so reprehensible and alarming.  If our media organizations can turn such a small non-event into something that attempts to approach epic proportions, when where do they go with the important news?  By filling the American people up with exaggerated fluff, there is no room for serious news, serious matters and serious discussions.

In Jason Calacanis' essay, "The 120% Solution", Jason claims, 

... On average, we’ve:

  1. Spent well over 20% more than we should have on the price of homes.
  2. Built homes that are well over 20% larger than they need to be.
  3. Purchased 20% more consumer electronics than we needed. (In my case, 300%).
  4. Extended home ownership rates 20% beyond where they should be (to the mid-to-high risk credit folks).
  5. Gotten 20% fatter than we should be.

I would like to add that I think we have paid attention to only 20% of what we should have.  And being fed a diet of sensationalism is the root cause.

No comments:

Post a Comment