Last Friday afternoon, Fox News fueled the nation’s hunger for a taste of tawdry action-adventure scenes, devoting its show to a car chase in the Arizona desert. An unexpected twist arose when the driver stumbled dizzily out of the car and suddenly pulled a weapon to his head. The suicidal blast was muffled when the anchor said, “Get off [the shot.]” But the implications had already been made clear — suddenly, the cheap thrill turned a little too real, and the station had trespassed on a private, devastating moment.
Apologies followed from Fox after a commercial break. News anchor Shepard Smith did his best to explain the failure of the five-second delay meant to avoid such scenarios and asked for forgiveness, claiming it had not been time-appropriate and overall had been insensitive. The timeliness of the event seems unimportant — would there ever be a more appropriate time to publicly air a suicide? Although his apology appeared genuine, there seems to be a greater issue at hand, dealing less with Fox News and more with our nation’s developed taste for broadcasting cheap thrills at the expense of humanity.
Turn on the television and suddenly you are assaulted with reality shows and distasteful competitions whose entertainment value relies solely on the personal failures of their main characters and contestants. This “schadenfreude” craze, where, for some reason, we feel better about ourselves through enjoying the misfortune of others, is made strikingly obvious when asked why anyone would watch something like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” — a show dedicated to observing and making comedy out of the antics and embarrassing family values of a seven-year-old pageant girl. There is really nothing funnier than getting the satisfaction that your life is better than the ones being shown on TV.
In the same vein, car chases are just another form of trashy entertainment where we can feel part of the action when the wrongdoers get what they deserve, or after enjoying an adrenaline rush from the poorly shot scenes of a high-stakes hunt on the highway. Fox was wasting time on kitschy material when more astute news could have been reported; on the same day, we reached the milestone of 2,000 American soldier deaths in Afghanistan. News like that took a backseat to an exposé on our spinelessness. For our horrified reaction to the all-too-real finale of the car chase demonstrates that despite the fact that we sit on the edges of our seat for some kind of excitement, we do not want to acknowledge the fact that the individuals we root against are actual people.
We seem to be suffering from a disconnection from reality that ironically is fueled by reality television. We are the products of a culture that rigs blunders and thrives on embarrassment to foster entertainment and enjoyment, allowing us to forget that real disasters and human errors have real, life-threatening consequences. The fact that we expect to be entertained highlights a large flaw in modern society, for when watching the news of the real world unfolds, stations should not be censoring what they put out for us to get their ratings up and keep our attention. The news should be grabbing our ankles and tugging us back down to Earth, where our world is under attack by characters and situations more real than reality television and that pose threats not only to pixels on a screen but to human life.
Sasha Leshner is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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