March 2008 – The Bad News

When I was in high school my favorite movies were horror flicks.  At FSU, I participated in a lot of film projects for both the Communication School (News) and the more artsy Film School.  I came to realize that as a goal, what I really wanted to do was edit a horror flick because no other genre elicits the primal reaction from the audience.  Sure – comedies are fun, but the laughs aren’t created by the medium, they’re written.  Romance: same thing – those stories can be told equally well on stage or in books.  But there is something more powerful and unique in scaring people with the juxtaposing of frightening moving images.

Why am I writing about this now?  Simply to point out that we have become a nation that loves to be scared.  I’ll try not to let this become political, but doesn’t anyone see a slight problem with the fact that our fears led us into the War on Terror?  (Can a war on an emotion ever be won?)  And who helped feed these fears more than our U.S. News Media?

Granted, the news isn’t always doom and gloom.  In fact, I remember about two years ago reading about a tattoo artist with a high school education who made an easy 200k in one year just flipping houses.  And while this is wonderful for the tattoo guy, when the media starts getting overzealous about such stories, as they tend to do, it begins to amplify what was a semi-isolated event into an unrealistic expectation too irresistible for a lot of dreamers out there to handle.  Soon, stories about that friend of a friend of a friend who just sold his house for double what he paid three years ago starts to resonate with what you’re hearing about out in, say,  the Las Vegas suburbs and before you know it, fantasy seems to merge with reality.

Some of us understood the real estate boom was bound to come to an end, but as long as the news was good, who cared?!   Rapid appreciation soon came to a halt when someone finally asked, “Wait a minute!  What is this actually worth?”  vs. what they could maybe sell it for.  And suddenly poof! no more incredible stories on the news about real estate entrepreneurs.  The media goes back to showing war images, because those got high ratings and were relatively easy to cover.

Fast forward to last august.  From that point to the present, all we’ve been hearing about in the news is a constant slew of gloomy news about our economy, and/or maybe the Democratic Primaries (isn’t there anything out there worth actually investigating anymore?)  Now those same people who told us how easy it was to make money are telling us its worth less and less every day, without much explanation as to why.  As if they themselves had nothing to do with the rampant real estate speculation and subsequent decline.  It’s a bad situation when we find that our economy is dictated by consumer confidence while at the same time, we’re basing of confidence on information gathered from a source that prospers by scaring people into staying at home watching the latest news reports.  I’m not saying things aren’t scary in the financial world.  In fact, I think they may get worse.  But that’s in part because we have multiple TV news channels broadcasting around the world 24/7, featuring wannabe actors and models speculating non-stop these days about whether or not we are in a recession.  And when those are 90% of the stories we hear – those become 90% of the stories we tell, and soon enough our fears become self-fulfilling prophecies.

A little bit of fear, caution and skepticism isn’t being unrealistic, (in fact a little more of those the last couple years  might have helped)  The key is to not let your imagination run wild with those fears, and try to understand that what you see is grounded in a larger context that cannot be contained with the camera’s frame.   And please, when the talking heads with their ticker symbols and random shocking headlines are flashing across your screen, take them with a grain of salt and remember that they get paid to keep you glued to the screen, and not go out and find out for yourself why these things are happening, lest they too get the boot.

As some old dead guy once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   That seems like pretty relevant advice right about now, doesn’t it?

by Andrew Dixon