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CNN's world news page includes stories about Japan, India, China and, oddly, Nicole Kidman.
In the wake of the Solonge/Beyonce/Jay-Z media blast about an elevator scuffle, it might be time for us to reflect on what is and what isn’t worthy of being considered news and why the distinction is important.

Entertainment news = entertainment
Sure. Many people will say that entertainment news is just that – entertainment. They like to know where famous people went and what they wore and with whom they went when they went there. 
  • The pro entertainment argument: people want to know and therefore it is news. It’s just harmless fun. Besides, world news doesn’t impact them – they don’t need to know what’s happening outside of their respective backyards. (To these people I say: Have you heard of elective sterility? Try it!)
  • The con argument: It is harmful. It makes us feel like we’re keeping up with the news, when in fact we’re not. For example, we should probably know what’s happening to the people of Sudan rather than knowing anything at all about Honey-Boo-Boo. 

World news (real news) is of great relevance. As we increasingly become a global society, what happens elsewhere matters. In the same way the hipbone is connected to the knee bone, our political, cultural and business decisions are connected to the political, cultural and business decisions made in India, China, Greece, etc.

Entertainment news, on the other hand, does not impact our decision-making on any level – not global, local or personal. News about who kicked who in an elevator is not news. It’s just old-fashioned gossip and it’s boring and worse than that it’s a distraction from what really matters.

Entertainment news = distraction
A New Yorker article, Why We Don’t Believe in Science, stated (based on a Gallup poll) that “46% of adults surveyed believed that ‘God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years’ but only 15% agreed that ‘humans had evolved without the guidance of a divine power’.”

Problematic for sure, but more problematic is that these numbers haven’t significantly changed since 1982 when they began asking the question. Why is this important? Because it indicates that we are resistant to facts.

Andrew Shtulman at Occidental College led a study that was outlined in Cognition explaining why we’re so impervious to new information: “people are not blank slates, eager to assimilate the latest experiments into their world view. Rather, we come equipped with all sorts of naïve intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue.”

In another New Yorker article, Why Smart People Are Stupid, we can read that even intelligent people take mental short-cuts: “When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions.”

So we’re dumb and lazy, then?
Yup. We’re dumb and we’re lazy. Essentially, it’s not enough to learn about new ideas; we have to unlearn previous ideas. And to do that, we have to expend time and energy, which we don’t want to do. We’d rather lean on our untrue but existing information than take the time to unlearn or learn. When given the choice, we watch entertainment news instead of really thinking about anything.  

We’re dumb, we’re lazy and we partly control the media.
The media has a responsibility, according to Wikipedia, “to work as a gatekeeper and instrument to disseminate necessary information." 

Unfortunately, the media works on viewership/readership numbers, so whatever we read and look at the most, we get more of. That’s good, though, right? That’s democratic, right? Wrong. The masses should not be choosing what is considered news. News content should not be based on a popularity contest. Why not? Because Nicole Kidman ends up on the front page of CNN’s world news page.

Do you see the problem now? The media is meant to educate and inform; not let us eat cake.  

If we’re impervious to new information, lazy to truly understand past information and we want more Honey-Boo-Boo, shouldn’t Honey-Boo-Boo be taken away from us? If our demand for entertainment news means Nicole Kidman is a main "world news" story, we’re fucked.

Have you guys seen Idiocracy? Watch it. It’s a comedy on what would happen if we let the average citizen take over. Here’s the write-up from IMDb: “Private Joe Bauers, the definition of ‘average American,’ is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he's easily the most intelligent person alive.” It’s funny because it’s true. It’s also scary because it’s true.

 


Comments

Marc
05/19/2014 10:43pm

This is fundamental to people's daily lives and issues as enormous and potentially cataclysmic as climate change, wars, starvation and mass poverty. Unfortunately by 'peoples' I mean largely other people's (knee and thigh bone point taken) and therefore Nicole Kidman is worth our time instead of issues affecting millions of people. I'm starting to believe that if we only fixed one aspect of society it should be the true independence and tenacity of our media equipped with sufficient resources to get the job done as this generates many of the other requirements of a civilized society. Actually it fits within education as i think further. Love this piece, read and circulate please.

Reply
muckymind
05/28/2014 7:51pm

Thanks! And I agree about media fitting in with education. It might even start with education, and education should encourage free thinking, questioning and differing views. We should be educating kids how to think not what to think.

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