Friday, October 24, 2014

Celebrity News: Lessons for a Polarlized World

Some time ago I was thinking about politics, our news media, and the stupider aspects of polarization. In politics, the news about politics, and the media that surrounds it, everything seems to pull to one pole or another. Often, this need to align with a pole will transform positions and reasoning into an idiotic farce. What I mean by that is, if you start with a basic story like "President Obama Kisses Baby", before ink has hit the presses groups of people will find the need to author "How dare he kiss a baby", "Presidential baby kissing is destroying our economy", or perhaps even "Obama kisses baby and ignores the dangers of Ebola pandemic". It's a constant game of "I'm Rubber, Your Glue" and for most of us, it can be exhausting.

It's particularly relevant as we swirl through the election season. As election season nears, the madness of all of this polarity comes to a boil. If one candidate uses a serial comma, there will be widespread backlash against serial commas and anyone that uses them. Soon you'll find yourself needing to align with the comma users or against them -- but choose carefully, because the other side is hell-bent on evil.

What makes it worse is that there are ecosystems devoted to echoing and amplifying the two poles. From the cable channels to the papers and the radio stations, the media aligns with an audience and, before you know it, your feed is saturated with one pole or the other. And these ideologies live like religions, with us in the midst of an epic, never-ending holy war. It's so pervasive, that it seems almost a natural part of our existence.

But it's not.

I realized that one day while reflecting on lessons from the celebrity/gossip media. In the celebrity gossip world, you don't really have poles. There is no liberal/conservative split in the news about celebrities. When you get "Justin Bieber Arrested for DUI in Florida," you don't see a knee-jerk response from some other side. There are lots of "Bieber is an asshole/jerk/idiot" stories. Perhaps some teen girls with the "Leave Justin Alone". Even a certain number of publicist-driven, "Ah come-on guys, it wasn't like that" stories. But there is no "other half" of the media saying, "Justin Bieber is not an asshole/jerk/idiot" or "Why do they always bust white Canadian men, nobody says anything about Rihanna being drunk" stories. Or even the "They're just trying to destroy our traditional street racing culture. This is a classic American value. Did everyone forget about American Graffiti? American Graffiti should be mandatory in every high school."

Regardless of where you look in the celebrity media coverage -- if you parse it by celebrity, by communications outlet, or even as a broader sort of survey -- you won't see the kind of polarization that you see in anything that touches politics. That's probably why politics and political news is so disheartening. Put a different way, if every time you opened a story about your favorite celebrity, you knew that somewhere, there was a corresponding series of stories from the side of a "competitive" celebrity" saying that you were an idiot for showing interest in the first celebrity. Odds are, you'd probably buy less product, go to fewer movies, download fewer songs -- and you'd certainly only want to buy, download, or support the appropriate side.

The world we live in... strange, but not as polar as you've been lead to believe.

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