Sex, Lies and Million Dollar Retainers: Is the Media Steering Us Out of Economic Nightmare?
You can tell a lot about the state of the economy from the state of the news. Hit your wayback button to three years ago and what was the media covering? The housing implosion, unemployment, corporate scandals, the Wall Street bailout, the Detroit bailout and everybody’s favorite: the War. All this dreadful, nail biting, psoriasis inducing bad news kept us fixated in a permanent gaper’s delay, waiting for an oncoming pileup around the next bend. Sex was about the last thing on anyone’s mind; between disported trolls like the Kardashians, Jersey Shore-ites and Real Housewives of Orange County on TV, it would take a constant IV drip of Viagra to arouse the country’s libido. But last week’s news, with a peek of boob leading the way, cast a sliver of sunshine through our thousand days of night.
The week’s most interesting headlines covered things that wouldn’t have registered three years ago: The Time magazine mommy-boob shot, the “shocking” revelation that Yahoo’s CEO officially joined the ranks of millions of resume fudgers and the publication of Penn State’s PR crisis bill (millions). Let’s face it folks – if the media has dropped its sights below the waistline, can an economic recovery be far behind?
The media tends to love throwing a little napalm on any fire it finds. Just last week it was reported that Jim Nabors was dead – then alive again – after the false and unvetted story was circulated globally. And in times of true crisis, the media can be counted to make us feel as bad as possible. Themes like plummeting home values, living on spam while waiting for the bank to repossess your house, or being just too darn old to get a job in a jobless market were common during the blackest hours of our recession. Of course this nihilism is tempered with upbeat DIY advice like “cut your own hair short to save money and look younger,” and “try coasting downhill to boost gas mileage.” Nice to know the media’s got your back! But the true barometric pressure is found when they shift their focus. Sure, the little JP Morgan shortfall at the end of the week caused a bit of a stir – but that happened on a Friday – so who really cares!
Additional top ranking stories last week involved Obama’s support of gay marriage (sex), the John Edwards trial (more sex and lies), the Facebook IPO (money) and the success of the Avengers movie (money and a suggestive female lead, ok – more sex). We won’t count all the downer stories on Greece and the election in France, because these stories typically don’t make the front pages of our news outlets (our interest in the world ends at the front gate – right?). And if the Secret Service sex scandal is any indication of where things are headed, even the White House is sending a message that maybe it’s time we all just loosened our belts and relaxed for a little while.
While it may be too much to hope for the irrational exuberance of the pre 911 – pre-recession – pre-housing and pre-Internet bubble déjà vu all over again days, it’s possible that we’re seeing a subtle shift in the rip tide that’s been sucking us into the Bermuda Triangle. Does this Spring fling in the media mean that they’ve turned their word howitzers away from the war and the housing issues and the unemployment issues and the immigration issues and all the other issues that tend to remind us just how cluttered with relatively unsolvable problems our world really is? When was the last time you read about global warming? Might detract from the raft of hot, new over $100,000 cars suddenly on the market. How about AIDS or the Liberian child soldiers? Those things are bummers – get it?
The media and hot, negative, wallet gouging issues have a synergistic relationship. One can be fueled and perpetuated by the other until rumors become truths that are self-validating. Just ask Jim Nabors. The real nightmare in this scenario lies in the vexing corkscrew questions: Has the value of our things gone down because we’re reading they’re going down and following suit? Where does this value come from? Someone hears that his house is worth less because the guy’s house down the street is worth less and the bank says it’s worth less and suddenly we’re reading about it in the paper and then everybody thinks it’s worth less. Value doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it needs company to propagate – and the propagation through the media begets reality. Of course the banks and credit companies play their part as well – they also read the news. I think Gomer Pyle would agree with this assessment and Vonnegut would merely shrug and comment, “so it goes.”
If the media wants to get us thinking about sex and lies, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Personally, I could go for a little more cleavage than housing slump when I’m looking at curves. How about you?