It Doesn’t Concern You

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.


11 thoughts on “It Doesn’t Concern You

  1. I think some of it comes down to the fact that cable news is simply good at covering things like floating UFO balloons – they’re better equipped to do so than any other medium. On the other hand, they’re usually ill-equipped for some reason to, I dunno, have people other than Pat Buchanan yell at me about politics.
    So I’m fine with Balloon Boy coverage, insofar as I’d rather they do something meaningless well than do something meaningful badly.

  2. I disagree that the Mississippi school district’s decision not to allow a photograph in a yearbook not to conform to the school’s dress code (a “drape” for girls? WTF? That sounds like a porn costume, to my ears!).
    Just for the record: most of my wardrobe comes off the guy’s clothes racks. I buy a lot of Rustler / Wranglers jeans (rustlers for everyday, wranglers for fancy-dress days. I have skirts for interviews, but I ain’t wearin’ ’em out on construction sites, savvy?) and Dickies shirts. They cost a LOT less, they hold up to wear / wash / wear better, I don’t have to either iron ’em or alter ’em to cover my naughty bits, and they’re comfy.
    Matter of fact the last few years way we tell my clothes from my SO’s is he wears mostly short-sleeve shirts (I don’t) and there’s a difference in the waist size on the tags (but I’ve lost enough weight now to wear his, hee hee hee!)

  3. Our opinions and our attention are currency and those stories are nets trying to collect it for their own profits or agendas or validation.

  4. preview is your friend.
    I disagree that the violation of that student’s right not to be pigeonholed while still being included in the yearbook isn’t important.
    If one ignrunt skewl in Mis’ipi can do it to one dyke kid, what stops the state from doing it to all GLBTQW (gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer or wondering) folks of any age in Mississippi?
    That’s a real issue, and kudos to the Mississippi ACLU for trying to intervene on the girl’s behalf. (By the way, look at her photo. She’s much cuter than most androgynous-wannabe pop stars, and I first took it for a photo of a young man — that haircut was popular when I was a high-schooler, on guys). I wore a version of it that was brushed-back on both sides, and longer in the back (classic ’70s shag/ mullet, yeah) for my senior photo.
    We were allowed to wear our own clothes or our senior grad gowns. None of this “drape” crap.
    Yes, it is a semi-porn-look. I had to hunt for one that didn’t bare lots of cleavage. If I were a mom, my daughter would wear a tux instead, gay, straight or otherwise, just for the cause of dignity.

  5. Death by Spreadsheet and Balloon Boy.
    Two of the many heads of the same hydra: Reductio ad absurdum.
    Can we get off this algorithm NOW, please?
    New f(unction): substitute[variable:self-determination] for [constant:conformity]
    substitute[variables:anti-trust and entrepreneurship] for [constant:monopoly]

  6. Sarah, what I meant by the MS school photo example was that her wearing a tux is being taken incredibly personally by a lot of conservative whackjobs as some kind of affront to their values or something, when really, it doesn’t concern them at all. It concerns her. That’s all I meant. The denial of her right to express herself is a different thing.
    I was unclear. If someone wants to wear what they wanna wear, let them, was my point, what difference does it make? My comments were aimed at those attacking her, not defending her.

  7. I think you’re operating under some serious misconceptions about the media.
    1). We are not their customers. Advertisers are their customers.
    2). News/information is not the product they sell. Eyeballs are the products they sell.
    3). They sell eyeballs to advertisers. With this in mind, everything they do makes perfect sense.

  8. They sell eyeballs to advertisers.
    Oh, I agree with this, to a considerable degree, but, up until about twenty-five years ago, the news department was treated as the advertising loss leader of each network. Certainly, CNN played a big part in the change in attitude. But, sensationalism has been such an integral part of the “news” for ages, that, perhaps we take it for granted.
    What has changed the equation is virtually instant communications. That has increased the value of the voyeurism variable in that equation, and the news organizations have been playing to the voyeuristic tendencies in the public. The only reason to have, for example, helicopters showing real-time video of the balloon floating along is to heighten the expectation that the child presumably aboard would somehow fall to his death, and the public would have the opportunity to see the eventas it happened, the latter being an integral part of the voyeur’s thrill.
    Nathanael West’sDay of the Locust predates 24-hour news channels, but, it doesn’t predate human nature manipulated for gain. 🙂

  9. The problem with CNN is not that they cover nonsense, but that they take up most of a day, plus a significant part of the following days, covering the same nonsense over and over, complete with talking head analysis as if it were a football game. I found that balloon interesting for the first 2-3 minutes of the “story”, but after that it was so pure nonsense, so totally irrelevant to anything of importance, that it became virtual porn.
    CNN covers all stories where they can get video to show, that same way. If a cat gets stuck in a tree, and CNN has a camera there to tape it, we get this same kind of coverage. If some violence, or some threat of violence accompanies the “story” – perhaps the cat is rabid? – we get this for several hours, followed by even more hours of analysis about the amount of saliva being dropped by the kitty.
    Heretic nailed the reason for this. If real porn were legal to telecast you can be sure that CNN would be broadcasting it live 24 hours a day.

  10. A. you are killing the mainstream media, again. How dare you imply that they should apply some sort of journalistic judgement about what is and is not truly newsworthy? You clearly need another blogger ethics panel or something. (see why I drink?)

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