Anyone keeping up with the news over the last month or so must surely have reacted as I did, with increasing amounts of incredulity and shock as one outrage succeeded another. We can almost see those four horsemen of the Apocalypse – death and war being well represented, conquest and famine not so far behind. Armageddon seems just around the corner.
However, perhaps a little perspective is in order here. We forget that sometimes the past wasn’t always that rosy. In 1965, the musician and satirist Frank Zappa wrote a song entitled ‘Trouble Every Day’ after watching TV coverage of the Watts Riots, one of the worst ever race riots in America. Its primary lyrical themes are racial violence, social injustice and sensationalist journalism.
Well I’m about to get sick from watchin’ my TV. Been checkin’ out the news until my eyeballs fail to see. I mean to say that every day is just another rotten mess, and when it’s gonna change my friend is anybody’s guess.
On a roll
Present-day media culture is far more sophisticated than it was in Frank’s day. Since the 1980s, we’ve had ‘rolling news’, keeping a story on the boil 24/7. However, the major drawback with this format is vast lacunae of nothingness when things are developing and journalists are increasingly desperate to fill airtime.
This leads to panel discussions with various ‘experts’ brought in to – well, talk. The anchor frantically tries to draw this together into something coherent while we go back to Brian or Jenny in the street outside whatever is supposedly happening for frequent updates. Often, the sheer paucity of information forces the increasingly hopeless studio anchors to jump to premature conclusions. These then become more or less set in stone as they have “been on TV, so it must be true”.
Compounding the felony, we have blanket social media and the fact that practically everyone on the planet has a smartphone and is prepared to use it. There is scarcely a news broadcast today that at some stage does not have wobbly, grainy footage of something taken on someone’s phone. Lars von Trier and his fellow Dogma adherents have truly been vindicated.
A loose cannon
People share images on social media at such a rate that any news story soon spirals out of control – inaccuracies and all. We saw this with startling clarity recently with the attack on the Munich shopping centre. Various people (including the new UK foreign minister, Boris Johnson) were quick to speculate that the gunman was an Islamic terrorist. It transpired that he was, in fact, a disturbed teenager.
News media have a heavy social responsibility. News stories can inflame feeling against minorities, leading to violence and even death. Today’s social media platforms allow total freedom for everyone to express their views ‘in the now’ with practically no holds barred. Exercising this freedom requires a correspondingly high level of personal responsibility.
So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’, hopin’ for the best, even think I’ll go to prayin’ every time I hear ‘em sayin’ that there’s no way to delay that trouble comin’ every day.