As many of you know, I’ve spent the better part of the past few years away from the US. The experience has given me perspective – and a desire to keep staying away. One example: media style and pacing.
After you’ve seen how the rest of the world communicates, the speed American media uses to state things that are both obvious and worthless is shocking. And it’s not just confined to the Murdoch empire, which is pretty much the same across the planet.
I haven’t done a formal study, but I’m pretty sure that the number of stories covered in an American television or radio newscast is significantly higher per program than what we’ll see and hear in Europe and Latin America. This lack of depth is compounded by the type of stories in a program. Working on the audience-titillating premise of If it bleeds it leads, American newscasts tend to be dominated by location-heavy, frenetically breathless stories of disasters, accidents and crime. Reportage and discussion of anything significant is relegated to talking heads who read a headline before introducing the next photogenic adrenaline-rich catastrophe. The presentation tempo, high vocal volume and story selection have turned off the brains of those people who still haven’t turned off their televisions. The approach is physically and psychologically exhausting to absorb. In their search to provide eyeballs for advertisers, have American broadcasters created a full-of-fear zombie society that believes it’s surrounded by uncontrollable mayhem? It doesn’t matter that the rates of crime depicted in many of these stories have actually gone down. In the fear-filled mind of the audience, there’s still a crime wave washing through their doorways.
You don’t get a feel for how devastating this approach is until you return to it after a long period of seeing local, national and global issues presented and discussed in depth in regular programming [not just local equivalents of America’s Sunday morning shows].
For the moment, forget the media-enhanced polarization of American society. I’m concerned with the media-driven ADHD that appears to have infected America. Years ago I came across valid studies linking ADD and ADHD with television consumption habits. The results were rather depressing. You don’t get a feel for how devastating the American media approach is until you try to have a conversation with someone about an issue that will affect their community, their job or their future. It’s not like I’m moving in different demographic circles in different countries. People everywhere have varying degrees of interest in local sports and other lifestyle issues. It’s the ability – or the lack of it – to address public policy issues that’s the visible difference.
The contrast is shocking. And depressing.
And I really don’t see much hope for change.
I hope I’m wrong.