The National News Fetish: Mass Murder Edition

A lunatic shot a bunch of people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. This is horrible. It is sad for the families and friends. It is another instantiation of the increasingly typical mindlessness of modern society. And if we were writing an essay on the increasingly typical mindlessness of modern society, it would be a useful example. 

But is it news? I mean national news of the sort that dominates national headlines and leads off the six o’clock news. If there had been a rash of attacks on synagogues throughout the United States lately, then this might rise to the level of national news, since the story would be not the specifics of this or that case, but an apparent wave of violently anti-Semitic sentiment in the country. 

As I have pointed out before, in connection with similar headlines, we have become so used to sensationalist reporting and “infotainment” that we tend to simply accept these titillating reports of movie-like private horrors as though we had not only a legitimate rational interest in the bloody, terrifying deaths of people we did not know, but even a “right to know” about their private anguish and sickening ends. We are so desensitized by this continual chatter of amusing fatality that we need and crave increasingly gruesome details to make each new murdertainment episode as titillating as we would like it to be.

Yes, as we would like it to be. You can make a man desire anything. This is the secret of advertising and news, or advertising as news. The news media has made us, collectively and somewhat abstractly — oh, of course not in our deepest hearts; no, no, not there — desire these killings. This desire is fostered, among other even more sinister (mostly political) reasons, because it keeps us excited, it keeps us empathizing, it keeps us watching

“Really? In the head? Right in front of her daughter? Oh, god, that’s so horrible! Quick, check Fox and see if they’re interviewing the grandmother yet!”

We are lost.

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