February 11, 2007
I know that this blog is meant to be exclusively for film reviews, but due to recent events, a different kind of cultural review is in order. The event? The sad, but ultimately not shocking, death of Anna Nicole Smith. I know, it’s tragic. She suddenly died and no one knows why. Of course I would never want to minimize the sadness of another human’s death, but I have to say that the attention the news has given it is obsene. The media have gotten to a point of ridiculousness. When the news first broke that she passed out MSNBC covered her fall for what seemed like over a half an hour. I thought that was a little over the top, but it was nothing compared to the coverage her death got. MSNBC covered her death for over three hours! I would have kept monitoring it, but I had to go home. Three hours? Are you kidding me? Was there nothing else going on in the world at the time? Had world peace suddenly broken out? Were snowstorms no longer killing people in the Midwest? Apparently there was nothing more important going on in the world that it was necessary to show the same stock footage of Anna Nicole flouncing down red carpets and hamming it up for the camera. The anchors didn’t even have any new information to offer throughout this three-hour circus. They just kept repeating themselves over and over.
One thing I did notice was that they kept saying that her life was such a public spectacle, and now so is her death. Well now, who would be to blame for that? It’s one thing if MSNBC and all the other news networks were innocent of keeping her out of the spotlight, but they are not. Clearly there is no longer a blur between the lines of news and entertainment news, and that is a sad comment on our culture. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with entertainment news. I follow the gossip blogs, the trashy mags and I also watch the shows that are entirely devoted to covering this sort of nonsense. However, when I turn into the a news network, I should be able to get informed about the presidential candidates and the latest news from the war in Iraq. Apparently I shouldn’t have set my expectations so high.
Why did MSNBC insist on running this non-story for so long? Well, the only way to really figure that out would be to call up the GM, Dan Abrams, but I’m sure he wouldn’t talk to me, so instead I am left to speculate. My guess would be because of ratings. It is clear that in television, ratings are the number one goal. In the media saturated world we live in, cable news networks need to find a way to grab viewers so the more sensational the better. Apparently, the commitment to bringing the hard news to the American people takes a back seat to the stories that carry fun and exciting images. But the problem with that theory, especially when it comes to Anna Nicole, who really wants to watch that for so long? Presumably the people who tune into MSNBC are people who are interested in following "real" news and not the fluff they can soak up on Access Hollywood. So the fact that her story has been all over the network has been extremely frustrating and disappointing.
It is not only the cable channels that are to blame. The network news programs are also at fault for sensationalizing it. While the story wasn’t the first one mentioned by NBC, CBS, or ABC, more time was devoted to covering it than was the Iraq war. Maybe they figure that people are sick of hearing about the war and they need something else to spice up their nights, but whose fault is that for the people being bored with hearing the news? Maybe if we were given an all encompassing understanding of what was going on and not a fragmented picture of the news we might be more interested in hearing about it. We would be able to understand it and be interested in learning more about it. When you have to cut down the amount of time to talk about the war, politics, economy, health and education so we can fill up time with a piece about Anna Nicole, someone famous just for being famous, you know there is something wrong with your culture.
I know that there has been a lot of negative backlash against the news coverage, and I can only hope that the outcry has trickled over to the news rooms and they tone down the coverage of Smith’s death. I also hope that they realize that they should not pander to sensationalism and acknowledge that their viewers are interested in real, hard hitting news stories that will ultimately affect their lives.