The news sensation

    We Americans love a war. We love a crisis. If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead, as they say in television. Our society fetishizes violence, and stares gleefully in the face of (someone else’s) death, all for the vicarious adrenaline rush. We are a culture of ambulance chasers with a lust for blood and widescreen televisions with which to whet that thirst.

    Wednesday afternoon, CNN was buzzing with talk about a plane – no, a helicopter – no, definitely a plane – that had crashed into the side of a high-rise apartment building in Manhattan. The bottom of the screen flashed messages to the effect of “It probably wasn’t the terrorists this time, but we’re still totally on alert." With the tragedy that befell New York City five years ago, it’s no wonder that the town is a little bit wary of planes crashing into buildings. But let’s look at this realistically:

    A small plane, carrying two passengers, collided with a building, setting a few apartments ablaze and killing – what’s the number now? Fewer than 10 people, I think. On CNN’s website, along with the constantly updating, uninformative “coverage" of the event is a link to a video, labeled, and I shit you not, “Watch the orange flames ravage the apartment." They sound so giddy, it’s a wonder there aren’t five exclamation points at the end of that sentence.

    Many car accidents kill more than 10 people. Sure, it’s pretty strange that a plane hit a building in the middle of New York, and in a city with a history of just that happening on a much larger scale, it makes sense that people would be temporarily freaked out. But this tale of plane-meets-building is still the lead story on CNN’s website as we head to press. How many experts do you need to consult to discover that, yes, an aircraft hit a building and no, we don’t know why but we’ll tell you more later? And why are we so glued to the television, trying to get the next unsatisfying morsel of information about the tragedy du jour?

    The phenomenon of fetishized violence is also apparent in the coverage of the school shootings that are once again becoming rampant in the U.S. Whereas during the last wave, it was usually a disgruntled kid or two shooting all the preps or the girls who’d rejected him, now milkmen and their ilk are marching into random schools and shooting at will. Perhaps it’s just this writer’s imagination, but don’t these events seem to cluster together? Am I the only person who seems to think that each shooting starts a domino effect, leading to more violence?

    The facts of these tragic cases are virtually inescapable unless you reside in a cave. Within minutes, the un-information is all over every channel of the news, with speculation as to who the shooter is and what their motives might be. Sometimes we even get to experience the hostages dying in real time! Isn’t that exciting?

    The news has become more info-tainment than information. Every time we hear someone on CNN say, “It’s not the terrorists," what we really hear, what they want us to hear, is “It’s the terrorists." And every time there’s another shooting in a school somewhere, it’s played up to such a great extent that other dissatisfied youths and the occasional milkman start getting ideas. When something like Hurricane Katrina comes along, it makes sense that the news will be dominated by that event – it was catastrophic, it affected a huge number of people, and it’s the sort of once-in-a-lifetime tragedy that is unmistakably something that we should know about, as it speaks to human fallibility through the neglect of the levies. But when a small plane hits a building, it’s more an event to mention occasionally and give relevant updates on. This sort of story shouldn’t overshadow all the other events of the day. When a plane crashes into a building, shouldn’t the reporters refrain from flooding the news with their incessant jabbering, especially before they have any relevant facts? And when some unhappy person decides to take out a bunch of kids, shouldn’t we report the news and let their families and communities grieve in peace?

    Of course not. That doesn’t make for good TV.