We don’t want information, we want to be entertained

Former State Rep. Lynn Jondahl, who was co-speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives with Paul Hillegonds in that institution’s golden age, once gave a presentation in which he asserted that not only are we not solving our most pressing problems, we’re not even talking about them.

Jondahl asked the some 50 people in the audience what they believed are the most serious problems that government must address, and in all but a very few cases they were issues that indeed seem to be overlooked.

If you go to WOOD-TV Channel 8 or read your daily dose of MLive.com, you’ll get a good look at what Jondahl was talking about. Both the local broadcast and print media spend a lot of time talking about Art Prize, about the woman who died just after childbirth and then lost her child, about the state trooper who was killed in the motorcycle crash north of Grand Rapids, about President Trump saying angry things about NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem, the tweets of Trump, and Michigan avoiding an upset at the hands of Purdue.

But if you ask people who pay attention to the news and give a hoot, the most important developments that deserve our attention are the latest on perhaps stumbling into war with North Korea, the Mexico earthquakes, the many serious and destructive hurricanes and a candid conversation about climate change, the wildfires out West, and the steady drip, drip, drip of the investigation into Russia’s interference in our 2016 presidential election.

So it’s easy to blame the media for not doing its job. But many in the business will tell you they’re just giving the public what it wants — Crime, sports, entertainment, local weather and particularly information about where you can spend your money. In other words, we’re mostly interested in “bread and circuses” rather than complex and unpleasant issues that may require rational thought rather than emotion.

This trend didn’t start just recently. It’s been going on for as long as I’ve been in the journalism business. Print, broadcast and Internet media increasingly are giving viewers and readers lots of information about things that really don’t matter in the long run, It contributes to the disease of our deteriorating republic. I once read an alarming quote that in a “free” society, eventually people will willingly vote away all their freedoms and won’t understand until it’s too late.

We really do have serious and challenging issues facing the world, yet too many of us are busy watching “America’s Got Talent,” the latest wham socko movie with violent images and impressive graphics, and being spectators at sporting events and taunting and disrespecting our opponents.

Adam Curtis, my favorite film documentarian, has suggested that politicians some time ago finally came to the unpleasant conclusion that they really can’t solve problems, so instead they distract the huddled, easily distracted and easily misled masses with dazzling footwork and visually pleasingsong and dance routines.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. a couple of decades ago called modern America “the best entertained and least informed society in history.” Because we fell for bread and circuses.

1 Comment

  • *Panem et circenses (bread and circuses)*
    Juvenal, a Roman poet and satirist, commenting around 100 A.D. about laws passed around 140 B.C. (240 years before his work Satire X was published):
    “…Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

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