Friday, April 13, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Reality News Show

I love when I get requests.  I got once recently asking what my take on the whole Trayvon Martin situation might be.  Well, here it is:

My take on the whole Trayvon Martin situation is…well…to tell the truth, what I know about the case I only about in the periphery.  I mean, you can’t turn a television on, you can’t read a newspaper, you can’t go clicky-clicky on the interwebs without running into bits and pieces of it, so I know the basics but it’s not a story I’m actively following. 

I’ll tell you why:  This story feels very contrived to me.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I think it’s horrible that this poor kid got shot.  I think it’s horrible that this man shot him and that Florida seems to have laws that make it a gray area as to whether or not shooting an unarmed boy is legal or not.  It is unquestionably a tragedy.  One life lost, one life probably ruined, many other lives forever changed—this is going to reverberate. 

It feels contrived to me though because you can almost feel the hand of the media wherever you turn in this story and frankly, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps this is how the media in Florida rolls?  First, let me dispel any notion that I’m ignorant of the FACT that the media contrives all of the “news” we hear today.  They do.  News used to be about gathering and disseminating facts.  Now, news is a business and it has been for some time now.  Now, news is about the story, the narrative and about entertaining the audience.

Here are some cold, hard truths:  People get killed in tragic circumstances every single day.  Kids are gunned down by adults every single day.  A lot of them look like what Obama’s son might look like.  A lot of them are wearing hoodies when they die.  A lot of mothers kill their kids.  It’s sad.  It’s true.  So, what’s so important about THESE specific cases that they seem to warrant national media attention and the inundation of every television, radio, computer, phone and conversation? 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both of these stories originate in Florida.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Trayvon Martin story comes so closely on the heels of the conclusion of Casey Anthony being every day news.  When Casey Anthony was flogged to death as a story, a vacuum came into existence and demanded that SOMETHING fill it.  Let’s play Big Shot News Executive for a moment.  Your ratings go through the roof during the Casey Anthony story and trial.  You make such a story of it that it gets national attention, which fuels and feeds the local stories even more.  The constant attention it gets almost forces everyone to have an opinion and having opinions leads to argument and further attention on the story and then our basic need and desire to be “right” keeps us riveted.  The results?  Higher ratings, increased ad revenue, professional notoriety—in short, the result is financial and professional success for all involved in the telling of the story.

Then it goes away.

Ratings go back down to more normal numbers.  Fickle advertisers come and go with more regularity.  You go from being a professional success to being yesterday’s news.  In short, the financial and professional success you saw rise begins to fade away.  You can almost see the board room filled with stuffy suits and everyone with an opinion on what can be done to get things back to good.

And it’s not just the board rooms.  Writers, reporters, cameramen, editors, all of the people who had a connection to fame for a moment feel the void and the emptiness and they all want it back.  It was like a drug and now…  Now, they feel like they’re in withdrawal.   

It sets up an environment where everyone feels pressure to make things as good as they were before.  So, whether it’s conscious (as I feel it is) or not, instead of looking for news stories, these news agencies start looking for characters.  They report what they must, but they keep their eyes open because they are casting for the next big thing.  They are looking for compelling characters for the next Reality News Show.

Enter Trayvon Martin.  Enter George Zimmerman.  Enter (bless his heart) Geraldo Rivera.  Enter President Obama.  Enter The Miami Heat.  Stir it up, add some chocolate chips, bake for 3-5 months at 451 degrees Fahrenheit and all that financial and personal and professional success comes back in the pre-packaged, delicious treat that makes mouths water.

What I think about the Trayvon Martin situation is that it’s an example of mass manipulation.  I think it’s a local news story that’s gotten national attention because of great casting and excellent production.  Is Trayvon Martin the angel that he seems he must be in so many of the pictures that have been released? Or, is he a hoodie-wearing thug with a gangster limp?  Is George Zimmerman a concerned citizen trying to protect his family and the families of those in his beloved neighborhood or is he a racist, trigger-happy killer who saw an opportunity to kill a human being and get away with it?  Is this a race thing?  Is it a Second Amendment issue?  Is this controversial Florida Law about using firearms just?  The answers are irrelevant, that fact that there’s so much to talk about, so many story lines for the producers to exploit as this Reality News Show goes on is all that matters.

What do I think about the Trayvon Martin situation?  I think the shooting occurred on February 26th.  I think that the Nielson Winter Sweeps period where ratings are established for shows, often deciding how much ad revenue will be earned for a quarter ran from February 2nd through February 29th.  In other words, if the ratings for the various news shows were down—it was the final week, the final few days to turn those numbers around before advertisers starting considering other options.

THAT is what I think about the Trayvon Martin situation.  I think it’s a local story that became a national story because the Florida media knows how to cast and produce a Reality Show.  I think they have practice at it.  I think they were desperate to fill the void left by the conclusion of the final season of The Casey Anthony Show.  I feel like the sad reality is that kids get killed all too often and I notice that not all of them become national news sensations—in fact, few do. 

I feel manipulated.  Say what you will about Snooki, The Situation and the rest of the Jersey Shore gang, but at least with them, what you see is what you get.  With the news—THE NEWS—we are told that we are getting journalism, but what we truly get it Must-See TV.  No thanks.  I’ve got better things to do with my time.