Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 16, 2004

Getting the media we deserve

Why do we make such a big deal out of events that are, in the long run, inconsequential? For example, why is there such an uproar over Janet Jackson’s two-second breast flash?

It was a win-win situation for anyone with big-time money involved in the half-time production. Just as soon as they’d replayed the few frames with Janet’s nipple shield until the batteries in their TiVo remotes died, everyone with money and an agenda at stake went to work.

Right-wingers used Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe failure” show to whip up their masses. I’m not, thankfully, on any “Moral Majority” type mailing lists, but I’ll bet they had the rough drafts of the fundraising letters written before the second half of the game was done. I wonder how much money Janet Jackson’s wardrobe failure has raised for Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell types?

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, certainly has raised the public’s awareness of his persona with his reaction to Janet’s peep show. His public umbrage leads me to wonder: What political office will he be seeking in a few years?

CBS got big ratings for the broadcast that producers hyped as having a shocking half-time show, pleasing advertisers as well as its own executives and stockholders. Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake got their names all over the airwaves and the Internet and in newspapers and magazines around the world, virtually guaranteeing a boost in their album sales.

Meanwhile, anyone who watched the halftime show long enough to be offended by the Janet-Justin episode at the very end sat through several minutes of skimpy costumes, flag desecration, crotch grabbing and simulated sex without being upset enough to turn the TV off.

Televisions do have off buttons. Given the nature of the entire halftime show, why didn’t those with sensitive eyes turn the boob tube off long before the Super Bowl gave that name new meaning?

Then there’s the question swirling around Sen. John Kerry: Did he or didn’t he use botox?

(That question may be upstaged by a more salacious Kerry rumor being spread by Internet “reporter” Matt Drudge; we’ll see what happens, but at the time of this writing, mainstream media were not yet reporting it.)

Why do we even ask presidential candidates these stupid questions? Do Kerry’s grooming practices have any real bearing on his qualifications to be President of the United States?

I don’t care if John Kerry used Botox. I don’t even care if he lied about it. It’s a question, like the boxers-or-briefs query during one of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns, that just shouldn’t be asked. I don’t think there’s any obligation to honestly answer rude, none-of-your-business questions.

Meanwhile, while we spend all our time and energy worrying about Kerry and Botox and the Janet-Justin peep show, we’re ignoring a host of important topics with long-term, and potentially dire, consequences.

Internationally, we’re not talking about how to restore a semblance of order to Iraq and bring home our troops.

Nationally, we’re not talking about the trillion-dollar budget deficits that don’t even include the cost of waging the war in Iraq.

On a state level, we’re not talking about what cuts Sacramento should make when Gov. Schwarzenegger’s $15 billion bond measure fails on March 2.

Regionally, we’re not talking about why we’re still trying to extend BART to San Jose, even though just building the project – not operating it, which will bring even more red ink – will bankrupt the VTA by 2013.

On a county level, we’re not talking about how to fix the deplorable conditions at Juvenile Hall.

Locally, we’re not talking about the cost of the Gilroy police station or how to fix the myriad administration problems at the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

It’s easy to blame the media for the situation, but really, the blame lies with consumers. The media prints and broadcasts what we read and watch. If we turned off the televisions whenever Janet-Justin or Kerry’s Botox came on, if we didn’t buy the magazines or newspapers featuring those stories, if we didn’t endlessly Google those topics, they’d go away.

But I’m not so naive as to think that will ever happen.

It’s a lot easier to talk in outraged tones about a halftime show than it is to seriously consider the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of countries like North Korea, India and Pakistan.

It’s a lot more fun to compare speculative before and after pictures of John Kerry’s forehead than it is to try figure out how to save the social security system.

Just like government, I guess we get the media we deserve


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