As you all may have noticed, I haven’t written here for some time. It wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to write about, but because there has just been so much, and I am just *so* lazy :). Where on earth do I begin? In January, the last time I posted here, the world was only talking about bombing Iraq to smitherines; now they are “liberated”. In January the infamous Bashir interviews with Michael Jackson were only talked about and not seen; now, we are aware of what an absolute freak he is — and how thin a line there is between a documentary and tabloid journalism. In January 70% of people in Australia and in America opposed war on Iraq; now public opposition is less than half of that. Oh, and of course, “freedom” fries are the new side dish at McDonald’s. Try swallowing those without gagging!
So, with such huge issues unfolding before our very eyes, where can I begin? What can I write about? All of these issues are rant-worthy in their own right. However, as unrelated as Michael Jackson may appear to be to the war on Iraq, there are elements that are eerily similar. And no, its not about both Saddam and Michael being weird recluses or even a joke about Michael Jackson hiring Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf (the Iraqi Intelligence Minister) as his publicist, its about our obsession with entertainment: our ability, through the media, and as a society, to detach ourselves from tragedy and turn it into entertainment.
Watching Michael Jackson’s interview gave me an uneasy feeling, and yet I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. At first I thought it was because I felt undecided about his “involvement” with children (and I am not prepared to speculate, as far as I am concerned he has not been found guilty by a jury) — or that I felt he was just such a sad, tragic figure that it broke my heart. But I realised that it wasn’t any of that. It was the fact that this man had been propped up as entertainment for the millions of people that watched, even though he is clearly in need of help (what sort, I don’t know, but I believe he’s mentally ill). The spectacle that was made of his life and his problems, through this documentary, did what the media does best. It detached us from the very real tragedy of Michael Jackson’s life. An arguably brilliant man who has been destroyed by his family and by the media. And what did people talk about after the interview aired? Not whether it was moral to interview him in the first place, nor whether it was responsible to portray Michael that way (in my opinion, ‘trial by media’ should be a crime). They talked about — you guessed it — whether he raped some kid with cancer. Its this obsession with gossip and innuendo, and of course, celebrity, that desensitises us from the issues we should be thinking about. The issues that really should matter, such as media morality, or the concept of “celebrity”.
I don’t think I will ever forget how I felt the morning (Australian time) that the first bombs were dropped on Baghdad. All of our television networks (with the exception of the ABC) brought live footage, uttering buzzwords such as “shock and awe”, “dazzling display”, and “light show over Baghdad” — like it was some sort of pretty fireworks display for all the loyal viewers. The 24 hour coverage, complete with sexy footage and advertising revenue, reiterated and repeated the same information over again. It had a two-tiered effect: Firstly, it perpetuated that culture of fear that has dominated America for the better part of this century, and secondly, it reduced the war into yet another ratings bonanza. For those that supported the war it was great seeing the “fireworks” around Baghdad, and journalists reporting with gasmasks, struggling to breathe. It was, first and foremost, quality entertainment. People were being fed simplistic ideas in a simple way — and we wonder why they now support the war? Of course, because we don’t get to see the hundreds (possibly thousands) of Iraqi women’s bodies, impaled, limbless, clutching the corpses of their newborn babies. We don’t see Iraqi children who are in hospital with shrapnel wounds. No, that would be too confronting for prime time. But that, my friends, is the reality of war. The reality that we are not seeing, because we only see what “they” want us to see. They want us to see advertising. They want us to keep consuming. They don’t want us to see the gritty reality of war, nor do they want to see real debate about the legality or the moral justification for it. So they trivialise it. Make it pretty. Make it seem like a distant problem, that is only happening to “them” in Iraq. Well, unfortunately, the more we detach ourselves from tragedy, the more we create a real problem in our society, because we allow our leaders to get away with brainwashing, greed and corruption.
And then, instead of actually debating the issues, we do idiotic things like renaming French Fries to “Freedom Fries”. They’ve really done their job well when you think about it.