Sheep in a couch potato flock?

Cheyenne Geysen
Op-Ed Editor

A quick Google News search for “2011 Oscars” brings up 285 news articles for an event that has yet to happen. If the search is refined to “2011 Oscar nominations”, 915 articles are retrieved. The Queen herself apparently approves of The King’s Speech, up for 12 Oscars. Controversy over Christopher Nolan (Inception) being overlooked for best director is splashed throughout the search results.

The Golden Globes, already over three weeks ago, are still being mentioned in major media outlets. The Washington Post ran an article on Feb. 2, clarifying the one they’d run the day before, saying that host Ricky Gervais was, in fact, asked to host the award show again next year. The end of the article reads, “And with that, we’ve managed to talk about the Golden Globes again, even though they took place more than two weeks ago and we all should be focused on the Oscars right now.”

A Google news search for “Golden Globes 2011” brings up an astounding 8,642 news articles.

The 17th annual Screen Actors Guild awards received similarly intensive coverage.

According to Joseph Epstein, “Without celebrities, whole sections of the New York Times and the Washington Post would have to close down.”

What are we missing in favour of the star-studded awards season?

Here in Regina, thankfully, it doesn’t seem like much. The city’s major paper, the Leader-Post, has kept its front page award-show-free in favour of more city-relevant news. Perhaps we learned something after the “Bieberization” of our newspapers in September, when the teen star put on a sold-out show. Coverage started in the form of previews in mid-August, and the week of the show Bieber took over the front page of the Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Journalist Amanda-Lynn Williams wrote an article on that very phenomenon.

“There were things going on [at the time of the Bieber concert] that were big things,” she said. “Stories about people losing their lives.”

These stories were pushed to the back of the A section, or reduced to a small front-page sidebar that was hardly noticeable amongst the huge photos and block-letter headlines about Bieber’s visit to the Queen City.
“Since when is Bieber worth more than a human life?” Williams pondered.

As consumers of media, most faithful news followers know that there is a difference between hard news and entertainment. Hard news is typically considered the sometimes grisly, tough-to-stomach happenings in our lives – murders, car crashes, human trauma and suffering. Hard news can be positive – it’s just more difficult to come by. A well-known saying in the journalism world, “if it bleeds, it leads” is disturbingly true.

So why is the idea of “celebrity culture” becoming more and more common and accepted as part of our everyday news coverage?

Andrew Napolitano, author of the book Constitutional Chaos, said he thinks it is a way that today’s society chooses to distract themselves from a very real, very frightening life. He points to examples of the horror of the tortures at Abu Ghraib and in CIA prisons worldwide. When the revelations of the inhumane acts perpetrated by guards at Abu Ghraib came out in April 2007, they received a flurry of media attention.

“Even when the information is widespread and available, many Americans would rather change the channel and distract themselves with the contrived drama of reality TV,” explained Napolitano.

At the end of the passage, Napolitano describes the phenomenon of celebrity culture and society’s obsession with it best: “The sheep don’t want to take time out from lazily grazing in their couch potato pastures to consider the turmoil outside the flock.”

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