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Lost In Hollywood

Posted by Brandon McKoy on July 28, 2009

It’s only July and we can already tell what the most important topic of 2009 will be; health care. I didn’t say most popular because things that are popular have to have a certain degree of entertainment value to them. The issue of health care is the most important topic of the year because a great deal of America’s future hinges on how we deal with it in the coming months. A lot of important conversations need to happen as we figure out all of the intimate details that need to be included in such legislation. Deeper issues like payment, late-life treatment (at some point you can’t keep spending money to keep those who are a lost cause alive, grim but true), doctor’s salaries, and much more need to be discussed at length so we can figure just how this thing is going to work.

Tonight I watched a good debate about health care on the Daily Show between Jon Stewart and noted conservative William Kristol of the New York Times. The interview was so long that they couldn’t show all of it within the allotted time for the show, so I had to go on-line to watch the whole thing. Afterwards, I wanted to catch up on any new developments of the issue from today; how were the negotiations going in Congress, were the conservative blue dog Democrats still holding firm, etc. In my search for this information I turned to CNN. My television guide showed me that Campbell Brown’s program was on at the moment, so I became confident that I’d get what I was looking for. After all, Brown is a good reporter who usually delivers the facts without much personal bias. Not long after the commercial break ended and the program returned did it take for me to become extremely pissed off. Not only was Campbell Brown not talking about health care, but she wasn’t talking about any sort of important political issue at all! Instead the story was that the Los Angeles police and the DEA raided Michael Jackson’s doctor’s office in search of evidence. “WTF mate!”

Let’s set one thing straight here. I am one of the biggest Michael Jackson fans you will ever meet. From the age of 3 years old, I carried around my little Fisher Price stereo and played cassettes of Off the Wall and Thriller, memorizing each song without fail. Michael Jackson not only introduced me to the magic and creativity of music, but he showed me that it could also be a powerful force for change with songs like “Heal the World” and “Will You Be There.” I have every single song Michael Jackson ever released in my iTunes library. I also have a poster of the cover of his album Dangerous, with his autograph in the upper right hand corner. The man was a musical genius and I will always be mesmerized by his ability. You get the point…

The King of Pop died on June 25th, 2009. Today is July 28th, 2009. There is not a single reason, absolutely zero, why a self-respecting news channel should be running a story having anything to do with Michael Jackson over a month after his death during prime time (at least until the toxicology reports come in). Not when our country is in the midst of a shaky financial recovery. Not when our younger generations have a very expensive financial situation in their future, and can’t even get a job at the moment. Particularly not when serious health care reform has a real chance of coming to fruition for the first time since Hilary Clinton gave it a go! As a friend who took playing Halo way too seriously once yelled at me through his microphone, “This ain’t no game! This is real mothafuckin’ life!” For the past couple of weeks all I’ve seen on the news are stupid, sensational stories about Michael Jackson, John & Kate plus 8, and this “controversy” over President Obama characterizing a police officer’s stupid actions as being just that, stupid. Of all the important conversations we need to have in this country at this critical time, we’re talking about completely useless and frivolous nonsense!

Don’t take this the wrong way. I understand that there’s all types of news; entertainment, sports, financial, world, etc. However, there are dozens of channels on television tailored to each of these specific categories. When I want to get my sports news for the day I go to ESPN, not CNN. That’s the way it should be, and it should be that way across the board. A terrible chill goes down my spine when I go to cnn.com and see headlines that read “‘Bachelorette’ Jillian Harris makes her pick” and “Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush call it quits.” You can go to the website for People magazine and find out this information, that’s what they as a news source cover and no one expects them to cover anything else. The fact that such ridiculousness is now commonplace at CNN disturbs me even more so because I can’t think of any other 24/7 new channel that at least portrays itself as attempting to be fair to all sides. I can’t watch MSNBC because it’s all liberal talking points, and I can’t watch FOXNews because it’s all conservative (and seemingly demented) talking points. You know that’s exactly what you’re going to get when you turn to those channels so why even watch? All it’s doing is reinforcing your current opinion, not challenging it. That’s the problem I have; the news is supposed to present the story not so that it coddles you into believing what you already thought to be so, but in reporting the facts so that you are challenged to reaffirm your stance in face of those facts.

Everything is about entertainment and sensationalism now, it’s as if no one cares about substance or objectivity. I wish I lived during Walter Cronkite’s hay-day. With his recent passing, everyone and their mother has lauded him with praise for his amazing ability to do his job with deliberateness and honesty. He was the most trusted man in America because of these qualities, and clearly is dearly missed by his colleagues and contemporaries. I will never know what it’s like to have such a person deliver the news to me. In my life, I can’t think of a single television news anchor (other than Dan Rather, who was fired for doing his job) that embodies even half of the qualities Cronkite held. The best anchor I can think of right now is Brian Williams. He is certainly a good news anchor in that he delivers the story in a clear and understandable manner, but I’ve never seen him grill a politician on an important question. When I watch Campbell Brown discuss issues of actual importance, she certainly gives her best effort to give all sides of the story a fair representation. When I watch Chuck Todd ask tough questions during Presidential news conferences, it seems as though he’s looking more for a sensational response instead of a fair one, trying to create a story rather than reporting it. Of course it’s not only news anchors and journalists who are responsible for th
e decline in quality. Producers choose the stories that their anchors will discuss, they themselves have become less concerned with important stories and more worried about demographic ratings.

So I find it sad that in turning from Comedy Central to CNN, I was turning to a lower quality of journalism. I mean, Comedy Central has only two “news” programs on each day, CNN is an all news, all the time channel. Yet, today I learned a great deal more about the important issue of health care by watching Comedy Central than I did by watching CNN. It’s no wonder why Jon Stewart is now the “most trusted man in America,” he has interesting guests and talks about pertinent issues. The rest of his journalistic colleagues are all too concerned about entertainment value and have clearly become lost in hollywood…
Now playing: System of a Down – Lost in Hollywood
via FoxyTunes


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All The Little Birdies Go Tweet, Tweet, Tweet

Posted by Brandon McKoy on May 14, 2009

Yea, I Twitter. “Big whoop, wanna fight about it?” (Family Guy reference, I couldn’t resist) But seriously, I do use Twitter to follow people that I find interesting. I follow ?uestlove (Drummer of the Roots, my favorite band) to find out how work on the group’s new album is coming along, or what funny things happen behind stage at the Jimmy Fallon Show (I also follow Jimmy Fallon because he’s just silly). I follow Shaq because really, he’s a pretty funny dude. I also follow a few of my close friends, who most of the time don’t have anything more interesting to say than “I’m at the library, it’s so quiet. Shhh!” (A lot of the time we just tweet funny YouTube links back and forth to each other)

But there’s a whole lot of other people I follow as well. I follow Meghan McCain to see how a young, progressive, female Republican is trying to reshape her party for the future. For someone who’s been quite the topic of discussion as of late, what she tweets has the potential to get mentioned in the morning news. I also follow CNN and BBC so that I can keep abreast of breaking news at all times of the day. The bottom line is, I use Twitter for straight information. I like to know what’s going on, who’s thinking/saying it, and what others think about it. The service launched in March of 2006, and I’ve been using it for well over a year, but it has just recently really taken off. Rick Sanchez of CNN was the first person to really take advantage of Twitter on television, using it to interact with his audience and get their opinions. Since then, Twitter has exploded everywhere. I can’t think of a single television program or network that doesn’t make use of it, and the vast majority of celebrities have already jumped in, embracing the service as a way to reach their audience without a filter. Included in this group are politicians, many of whom even tweeted during President Obama’s first (unofficial) State of the Union address. The danger of politicians using Twitter isn’t so clear, but I’ll get to that point later.

I consider Twitter to be, for the most part, an incredibly useful tool to share information, opinions and ideas. Twitter is changing the way people share information, and furthers the instantaneous, yet alienated way in which people now interact with each other (E-mail, texting, instant messaging, you know, all that jazz). People use it to network, market their products and themselves, and notify their followers of future prospects. Twitter has a huge potential to become a main source of news and information, helping to eradicate the newspaper industry and possibly other media sources. However, it is this very authority that Twitter seems to have which makes it so disconcerting.

The Swine Flu outbreak and subsequent overreaction are the perfect example of how Twitter can be used to spread misinformation and foster a panicky environment. There is even a Swine Flu Panic Twitter page that is still being updated. The incredibly wrong notion that one could catch Swine Flu from contact with a pig was being thrown around and Twitter assisted in spreading the idea. Misinformed and panicked people with the ability to broadcast their fears are likely to only create more fear. Despite reputable news sources tweeting accurate information about the flu outbreak, people’s fears overrode pragmatism, helping lead to unnecessary panic. Some say that the Swine Flu example is a single event that showcases no more than the effect that an extended, global community can have on public opinion; but there’s more than meets the eye to the influence that Twitter has over society.

The basic premise of Twitter is a platform where one can follow people that they find interesting in an attempt to know more about them. The very ability of being able to follow those, and only those, that you want to creates a source of information that is biased to fit one’s viewpoint. I mentioned before the danger of politicians using Twitter. What I’m inferring is that, since Twitter inherently has a genuine connotation to it (most people really use it to open themselves up to the world, talking about things that they really think and feel), politicians and authoritative figures can use the service to send out tailored messages with an agenda. Yes, there are some politicians who seem to genuinely tweet what they feel (Senator Claire McCaskill for example), but it’s entirely possible and probable that politicians send out messages that are edited and tailored to evoke a certain reaction; it helps them put forward a faux visage if you will. Followers of these people will take what they say as factual, and won’t even consider the opposition’s position because they won’t be looking for it.

What I’m saying is that liberals follow Democrats, conservatives follow Republicans, and people rarely if ever follow someone with whom they disagree or don’t find to be appealing. Yes, it is certainly everyone’s right to pursue information at their own discretion and decide who they listen to. The problem is that the service Twitter offers helps people shut out the opinions of the other side. For example, let’s say that I don’t like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele. Though right now he seems to be a Democrat’s best friend, I’m sure he has sincere and good ideas for the future of this country. However, I won’t listen to them, because I can choose to not hear what he’s saying. Instead, I’ll just continue to follow Obama, Biden, and the White House to get my information. I’m choosing to segment myself so that I don’t have to hear what the opposition has to offer, in effect not even giving them a chance and severely reducing the variety of information that I expose myself to. How can one make a sound decision or come to a proper opinion if they only use information that doesn’t challenge their current position(s)?

I haven’t been able to decide if people treat the information they receive through Twitter with authority because of who it’s coming from (if you’re following someone, it must be because you admire or are interested in them right?) or because of the platform itself. I’m leaning towards the former, because I can’t see why Twitter would be deemed to inherently be a source of factual information. A friend of mine put it best, saying, “I think because people have the option of choosing who they want to follow,or who they think they are following, they are going to view these people as reputable sources that wouldn’t deceive them; they trust said twitter as much as they would trust a friend.” Not only do people choose what information they want to be exposed to, but they treat that information with a higher degree of authority because they hold the source in high regard. This certainly can’t be said to be true for every person or situation, but I think that
many users of Twitter fall under this description.

The influence of Twitter (at least the technology) is growing and will only continue to do so. Now people can tweet videos from the internet (VidTweeter), or videos of themselves (BubbleTweet). There are also programs that help people use and navigate Twitter in an efficient and customizable way (TweetDeck, Twhirl, just to name a few). You can even use Twitter on your cell phone, making it even easier to keep up with breaking developments while on the go.

Maybe I’m just being a nervous pervis; it is true that my arguments here can be applied to just about any information medium. The thing that worries me about Twitter is the user’s ability to choose the information they receive. This is different from other forms of media such as newspapers and television in that one cannot choose what information is delivered to them. Sure, people can choose to not read a certain article or change the channel when something they don’t like comes on, but at least the information is presented to them. By choosing who to follow, Twitter allows users to choose what information is presented to them, and I think it highly probable that people will use that ability to create a biased information pool for themselves. In a time where different ideas and opinions need to be heard more than ever in order to come to proper solutions that will work, giving individuals the ability to completely block out information that they don’t agree with doesn’t help. We shall see how this technology evolves, and how society’s use of it changes overtime. For now, all I wanna know is what hilariousness Michael Scott will get into next.

P.S. To the 4 people who read this (if even that many :-P), please let me know what you think! Leave a comment below!

Listening to: Michael Jackson – Rockin’ Robin
via FoxyTunes

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