Thanks to the Internet, the 24-Hour News Cycle has become obsolete. Now, big topics pass by on a weekly schedule, with minor stories fading in and out of the peripherals. These news stories are deemed worthy based upon their “trend ability” and take over all sources of social media with users voicing their extremely strong opinions either in favor or against whatever the topic is. Many times, opinions are formed over things that opinion should have no factor in, like facts. I submit that the news should now be referred to as the Solomon Grundy News Cycle, based upon the children’s nursery rhyme:
Born on a Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Grew worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday,
That was the end,
Of Solomon Grundy.
For example, let’s look at the last few weeks in “important” news. There was the Kendal Jenner Pepsi commercial, then the guy dragged off the United Flight, and now the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino. What will be next week’s big thing?
With any of these recent events, have you stopped to think if there is advertising behind any of them? The Starbucks one, obviously, but the others? Who is benefitting from these stories continuing past what used to be just a bad 24 hour cycle? These stories survive because of the Internet, turning movements into memes and, as SNL recently described it, “you read things on the internet and then you post them on the internet.”
There is something else going on with these “news stories” that has come to define the current state of information and online outrage. The Internet has a way of brewing up storms for very specific, easily shared and understood topics, and because of this, the topics get more and more diluted until single images become shared headlines and create a zillion think pieces. What is the image you think of when someone mentions the United guy? Probably his body being dragged, his shirt lifted up, exposing his stomach, or the other photo of his face, blood coming from his nose and mouth.
Yes, the United guy was a fucked up thing. It was also easy enough of a story for everyone to hear and talk about and have the late night comics riff about the unpleasantness of flying and have everyone everywhere nod their head in amusement, shock, horror and outrage, because this is something that could happen to you. This isn’t a sensational story, it’s just a little fucked up. But the self obsessed hive mind of the Internet turned this into “Terror in the Sky” and practically made it clear that if you don’t delete your United Airlines app and stop using their services, you may as well have been the one who dragged that poor bastard.
These news stories make people behave like cats chasing a laser pointer: they manically try to grasp onto something that is literally impossible, lose track of it, then see it again somewhere else and go after it again with the same gusto as before, oblivious to their own futile efforts to make any real difference.
They also play directly into the Internet’s constant FOMO problem. If you see a meme or status update in multiple locations and don’t get the joke or the context, you feel out of the loop. What is this thing people are sharing, and if it matters to them, surely it must matter to me too!
When seeing an unidentifiable meme, it is not uncommon to be so ashamed of your “out of the loop-ness” that you can only ask those closest to you if they understand it. Asking someone outside of your comfort zone may result in chastising. Usually, a simple Google search will solve all your problems, and within a minute (because who has longer than that to gather information on a topic to become incensed about?) you will know exactly what the meme/status update represents, and what side of it you should be on.
The Pepsi ad was ridiculous and fucking stupid, but does the general public understand why? What if Coke had made a commercial during the Civil Rights Movement where Marilyn Monroe got to the front of a protest and handed the cops a soda, thus solving everything. More extreme of a version? Sure, but it may as well be. The problem with the ad isn’t really about the ad, but more about the process it took to get the ad made. How many desks did this concept cross with no second guessing coming from anyone? The bigger concern with the ad is the thought process (or lack thereof) going into the creation, not so much the execution.
There has always been a difficult struggle to get Americans to care or understand about anything going on internationally. No one paid attention to Brexit and then the same idiotic results happened last November in our election. People are getting a rise out of Syria, yet have no idea what’s really going on and why. The famines that are going to hit Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nicaragua are staggering, but that doesn’t really effect us the way that getting dragged off a United flight could.
How about facts that impact everyone, like global warming? Somehow, this topic has become too complicated to be memed, even though it should ultra simple. Instead of talking about the disastrous state of Earth, this week was devoted to sharing photos of the Starbucks Unicorn drink. Because it’s there right in front of us and it’s as easy as taking a photo and hitting “share.” Bill Nye couldn’t even save us.
Sticking to domestic problems, because that’s how America works now, why not have news stories about the fuckery occurring with lobbyists who work for Sugar and Tobacco? Sugar has been proven to be a drug that works a lot like cocaine and absolutely kills people. But it also fuels a huge industry and it’s far too complicated to take on and understand. Sometimes, it feels like these problems that the Internet chooses not to circle are in direct relation with how simple the solution is and how much paperwork would go into creating actual results. Dude dragged off airplane? Fire the people who did it and boycott the company (but not really, just tell people you are). Pepsi ad is totally idiotic and insensitive? Pull it from the air and fire someone, but whatever you do, don’t stop drinking Pepsi.
The most frustrating thing about all of this is how incredibly passionate people become about issues they literally know nothing about. Can’t we at least direct the laser pointer toward something that truly matters? The point of this isn’t to make you feel guilty about buying a multi-colored marketing gimmick from a corporation whose stock and sales are dropping and is in desperate need of a PR boost (your body should do that), but to point out that there are bigger things going on, and choosing the simplest, more shareable idea is literally killing this world via lack of knowledge and initiative.
It’s been scientifically proven that people actually feel like they’ve made a difference by sharing a news article on social media. How insane is that. How insane is it that you’re still reading this and haven’t stopped to check and see if any of what I’ve said is true either? It’s Nigeria, not Nicaragua, among other things. But I guess none of it matters because that’s over there and over here is another video of something happening on an airline (American, this time) and did you hear that Cory Booker still hasn’t gotten that date with Mindy Kaling?
Anyway, I read somewhere that the Unicorn drink gives you cancer. So drink up fuckwads, because Earth won’t be around much longer for us to enjoy it’s simplest pleasures. At least Starbucks isn’t trying to steal Christmas anymore, right?