24 March 2010

Show Business News as a Weapon of Mass Distraction

Stop and Think

I have to unload a few thoughts here. Thoughts regarding the rather tragic accident a few weeks ago involving a South African celebrity, drugs, expensive cars, careless driving and far too much death. The media is making sure that we know the character of the accused, especially the more famous one, so it really doesn’t need further assassination, and if you are reading this from another country and are unaware of the specifics; trust me, it’s grim so of course the big picture becomes invisible in that process. This story isn’t about the details, but about the bigger picture so not knowing the gossip isn’t an obstacle that should stop you from reading.

After the accident, if that’s what we want to call it (I am not suggesting that it was planned; it rather was an accident in a way that doing LSD and shooting in the air with a rifle accidentally killing someone is), the children of Soweto, where this all took place, have been incredibly angry to the point that ending up in a jail for a long time might just be the better option for the accused than to have to face the real world.

I haven’t been following every turn of events religiously, but to me it appears that the lack of news analysis has resulted with finding the insignificant, putting it under a microscope and then, with this feast of social pornography of a fallen celebrity, media making a few bucks on the side. That’s what it always comes down to when even the SABC is nearly fully (80%) advert funded, which regardless of its role as a Public Broadcaster undermines its leaning towards anything but generating advertising revenue, which to a large extend depends on the popularity of their programming. The commercial media mantra that is infinitely repeated – the scandal sells – is a truism, but it should be also criticised from the angle that so does crack-cocaine. The fact that it sells, doesn’t mean that it must be on sale – or at the very least, it shouldn’t have to be the main thing available. I am almost definitely sure than even a crack-head would agree.

So instead of dwelling on the details of celebrity show biz news, I’d like to suggest in my opinion a few more important questions and topics. It would be a shame if we missed the opportunity to address them while the topic is hot.

I am probably the most worried about the children. This incident has triggered such a massive reaction out of them and while it is, of course, incredibly tragic and their peers lost their lives, it is possible that they are not just reacting to this, but every other thing around them as well. Every abusive or absent parent or teacher, the lack of resources in the class room, the uncle whose hands are wandering when giving hugs, the anger of inequality and the lack of hope. I don’t know if this is the case, and I may really be out of order speculating here, but it seems to me that the kids aren’t alright. The scenes appear to be resonating the 70’s and 80’s rioting and without being dramatic, if I was the accused released on bail, I’d consider being necklaced a real potential threat.

I am not blaming the government – if anything, I blame apartheid. In South Africa, for a long time to come, the extreme inequality will always has its roots in apartheid regardless of who is the president or the governing party, so even if I would blame the government, I’d blame the apartheid and Western fiddling for it. I am also not criticising the people, but the media that forgot us as citizens and only value us a consumers. I find that very problematic. Just like I find it problematic that the South African media culture lacks analysis, which I attribute to the apartheid regime discouraging any critical engagement with their hateful policies which wouldn’t have survived much questioning anyway, I assume, even by the most brain washed victims of propaganda.

But these children are the future of this country and it’s alarming that there’s so much hurt going around.

You should also be able to talk about celebrities without it being a show business news. Have the VIP tickets and open bar parties made these guys feel indestructible? We must remember that we, as the public, have put these people on the platform, and we should demand more from them. Except that in real terms maybe the PR and media companies have done it and the only thing that sells more than the rise of a star is his fall. It’s a game we all participate whether we know it or not.

I sometimes wonder am I the only one who worries about South African traffic safety? I think that what has happened in this incident must be seen in the context of soccer mums texting while driving their 4x4’s and people going out to get trashed as their own drivers. The general expectation from the traffic behaviour is so incredibly low that what these guys were doing, racing on the public road, isn’t as far from the standard practice as one would like to wish. I am not comparing these things directly, and definitely I am not saying that they are the same thing, but what I am saying is that when the consensus is that you can select the rules that apply to you, some people will take it much too far without seeing the otherwise immediately clear problems.

With the personification of the hatred towards someone who quite clearly ruined his own life together with his collaborator by doing something incredibly idiotic and irresponsible, we disassociate ourselves from any responsibility regarding to the way we drive – I am talking about myself as well – the way we feast on the lives of rich and shameless and most importantly, we reduce the youth into an over-reacting mob that resorts into violence as if there weren’t any better things to do. Even the human tragedy that this story should have been about has been forgotten already. It seems to be a very human condition to find the soothing breeze of one’s own innocence from the thundering guilt someone else.

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