When I talk about laziness and stupidity in media, a lot, and laziness and stupidity in politics, a lot, what I’m really talking about is the tendency to glom onto stories that have nothing to do with anything. Yes, I’m going to talk about Balloon Boy for a minute, because Romenesko isn’t, and I can’t think why not.
This is a story that could plainly be seen as a hoax within ten seconds by anyone who watched Mythbusters even once, but let’s say that it was true, that a child had stowed away in a homemade helium balloon his goofy family made in their yard. What the fuck does that have to do with me? Why should I care about that? Other than it being really fuckin’ weird, what’s the news value? At no point in the approximately a billion cable broadcasts did anyone tell me what kind of relevence it had to my life here in Chicago where nobody, as far as I know, is launching tin foil in the air to chase UFO’s with their six-year-old.
Do I enjoy the occasional “news of the weird” story about a priest growing pot in the rectory or someone making the largest ball of sausage in the country? Sure. But the wall-to-wall coverage suggests that not only would I find this interesting but that it should matter, that I should be caught up. We see this over and over with missing-person stories, child kidnappings, Octo-Mom, where somebody’s tragedy is presented to us in the most minute, soap-operatic detail, and we’re never asked: To what end?
I’m not an abnormally important person but I am kind of busy most of the time, so being pressed to form an opinion about something like Balloon Boy and his parents (I’m supposed to say they’re crazy, and act like a gawker at a car wreck) is usually just kind of beyond me. Am I supposed to be learning things from these stories about Jaycee Dugard? Or am I simply supposed to cluck over them at the grocery store check-out counter? If someone asks me, “What do you think of this poor kid and his nutty parents?” am I really not supposed to answer, “I don’t fucking care?”
I bring this up mostly because Balloon Boy is annoying but also because this is a cousin to the critter that tells me I should be outraged becausesome kid in Mississippi wants to wear a tux in a high school photo. Or somebody somewhere can’t post the Ten Commandments on city property. Or somebody in a store said Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas (you can see that coming again, by the way, sure as the first hard frost). So fucking what, again? What does it hurt me that somebody at Macy’s is trying not to offend Jews and Hindus and everybody, if some kid make a fashion choice, if not everything in the world conforms to the way I want it?
It’s not even that I have less mundane things to think about. I think about mundane things all the time. But increasingly I feel pressure by the media-sociological machine to have a personal opinion about other people’s lives and that gets on my damn nerves. It’s all news of the weird now, all little personal outrages, all the time, and none of it matters to anyone.