America’s obsession with the sensational hides the important
Nevada Appeal Publisher
Fascination. We are all held hostage by our fascination with people and things that have no essential relevance to our own lives. Fascination dopes us, binds and mutes us, and clamps our eyes open to fixation. The kind of fascination I reference here is not one of escapism.
A recent fascination that has had our photographic eyes snapping shots with each involuntary blink of their lids is the surprising – though not utterly shocking – death of Anna Nicole Smith. It has been said that during the week of her death, national news television devoted more than half of its total time to her immortal goddess-like ascension to a galaxy of stars and the gravitational pull that jealously snatched and hurled her will to its abysmal descent.
I admit that her life fascinates me now as much as the arrival of her heart-stopping presence did in the early 1990s. But were the posthumous media worship, curiosity, and condemnation worth more than 50 percent of national news time for the past several weeks?
Was she really just a lonely school girl whose graduation day passed over pomp and circumstance, and skipped a grade to the top of the class of romp, camp and consequence? From the bold gloat of her body beautiful in the ’90s, to the trash-soiled bloat of a physical wasteland just a few years ago, Smith was always assured of media permanence while alive, and her media dominance in death only seems to send out wishes that she could be around to see it all and be part of her own eccentric audience.
I guess what fascinates me more than anything about all of this is that Anna Nicole Smith has been the unstoppable topic of current choice (or is it necessity – necessity to quench the blood thirst of 21st century America) for Barbara Waters, Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Keith Olbermann, John Stewart, Anderson Cooper, Larry King, Geraldo Riviera, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Good Morning America and The Today Show.
Newscasters seemed so consumed with the life and death of the former Playboy vamp that even news of American fatalities in Iraq seemed to come across as laconic, matter-of-fact postscripts or obligatory interjections as if to say, “Oh, yes, and by the way, 15 American soldiers were killed today …” Blab, blab, blab. But were the newscasters merely carrying out what they knew their public wanted to hear at that time? So you ask yourself, do I want to hear more about Iraq? More about crime? More about drugs? Or do I want to know more about who the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby, Dannilyn, is, and where Smith is going to be buried, and maybe some delicious Babylon juice of how she really died? The answer seems to be, “Umm … I’ll take ‘Drug Induced Scandals’ for $1,000 Alex.”
Closer to the naked truth is the average viewer probably preferred the coverage overkill of Anna Nicole Smith’s death than hearing about American casualties in Iraq. And scooping that naked truth out of the bone marrow, we would probably find that the average viewer probably thought to themselves, “More dead American soldiers? Eh … so what else is new? There will be more killed later this week anyway. They’re not my sons and daughters, so what do I care?” And the hand on the remote then navigates the channel to more on Anna Nicole Smith. Right? Right?!
I am sure many people are yelling out to the media, “Enough already with the Anna Nicole Smith stuff!” But I am equally certain that those same people had their faces glued to their TV and computer screens so many mornings and evenings since the announcement of Smith’s death struck its dissonant chord. Face it, smut is marketable. Smut sells. Add tragedy to smut’s mud pie recipe and its delicacy defies temptation and becomes irresistibly appetizing. Smut alone is a playground for the rich, and a schoolroom for the impressionable.
We are all legalized voyeurs in so many ways. The media provides the windows through which our eyes and senses penetrate the arresting sights that no drapes can hide. And it is one of America’s favorite pastimes to sift through the dirt of someone else’s broken dreams, and watch with sheltered glee their demise so that our own cross-bearing seems lighter, easier. But it is still over the top – the big top – the canvas tent that institutionalizes America’s societal circus and celebrity clowns.
The next act? Who knows? Maybe Brad Pitt assuming the last name of Angelina Jolie as they adopt two kids of each race and nationality, some with handicaps, some not, but two of each nonetheless. Noah’s Ark for the affluent and bored.
• John DiMambro is publisher of the Nevada Appeal. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.