Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I watched Nightcrawler last night. It's basically a monster movie, where the monster is created by America's insatiable need for titillation and fear.

Jake Gyllenhaal - looking profoundly creepy and emaciated - plays a casual sociopath who discovers he can make money cruising around LA filming crime stories and selling them to the local news casts.  He is abetted in this by a TV producer played by Rene Russo, who craves the blood and gore, especially if it is from a white neighborhood.

As the Gyllenhaal character notes, people watch TV news to get informed - at least that's what they say when asked why they watch.   But TV news doesn't inform.  Not about politics or education or science or anything of substance.  It sells blood and fear.

This is why people think violent crime is rising in this country when in fact it's declining precipitously.  We have created a news-entertainment complex that panders to people's need to be thrilled.  And Gyllenhaal's sociopath is the perfect purveyor of this.  As he tells his partner, "Maybe I understand people.  And I just don't like them."

I realize that in some ways, this is no different that what Hearst and Pulitzer did when they coaxed us into war with Spain.  But TV has an immediacy that print doesn't.

This morning I saw a clip of Christiane Amanpour interviewing the deposed head of the Nigerian Central Bank over corruption and the coming elections.  I'm interested in that, because we study Nigeria in our Comp Gov course.  And it was substantive and lasted over 7 minutes.

And I'm guessing nobody gave a shit.  If it bleeds, it leads.  And a discussion about the conditions that allow Boko Haram to exist isn't as bloody as an attack on a school full of girls.

We are a nation of fearful idiots, but our public discourse is making us dumber and more scared.

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