OP-EDS

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February 15, 2011

White noise

Fluff displaces insight and substance in American media

Two events happened over the weekend that displayed the dismal state that this country is in regarding popular culture and mass media: the news reporting of the Egyptian revolution, which saw Hosni Mubarak step down as the president of Egypt, and the 53rd annual Grammy Awards, which aired on Sunday evening.

American popular culture and mass media have become a jumbled mess of mediocrity, making the task of winnowing what is actually good evermore difficult. I knew this already, but watching some of the coverage of these events cemented this viewpoint.

While their colleagues were reporting from Cairo, journalists and pundits back in Washington, New York, and Atlanta were all too fascinated by the conversations surrounding the protests on Twitter and Facebook. David Gregory couldn’t sign off from Meet The Press before showing his viewers what was happening on TweetDeck—a Twitter client—and the incredible importance that social media served in Egypt.

I immediately wondered what was gained by having a giant screen display Twitter activity. There was hardly any substantial explanation of what was being posted, and the cameras had not zoomed in to the point of readability. Gregory himself seemed dumbfounded by the number of posts appearing and rapidly disappearing, allowing him no time to actually read what people were discussing.

When protesters in Tahrir Square told CNN correspondents that they were witnessing a Facebook revolution, there was no problem, because those were live reactions from protesters. But when anchors in Atlanta repeat this declaration without separating the emotional response of those witnessing the events from the facts of the matter, there is a problem.

The Egyptian guests on many of the news programs that reported on the revolution fought hard to clarify that although Facebook and Twitter were important tools, they were not the cause of the revolution. Dubbing what happened in Egypt as a “Facebook Revolution” not only insults the incredible effort and sacrifice by so many Egyptians over the 18 days leading up to Mubarak’s departure, it is also bad journalism.

What happened in Egypt was not a Facebook or Twitter revolution. It wasn’t even a social media revolution. It was just a revolution.

However, those in power, whether cable news producers or anchors, were all too eager to elevate the importance of the American inventions of Facebook and Twitter in motivating the Egyptian revolution, tainting much of the coverage of Egypt for domestic viewers.

On a more superficial but equally telling note, the producers of the Grammy Awards were also too eager to elevate what is popular over what is important in honoring the best music making of the year.

The awards included performances by mediocre Americans, mediocre Canadians, mediocre pubescent Canadians, and even some mediocre performances by icons (sometimes we just need to say goodbye).

Then there was Cee Lo Green, dressed in a full-feathered costume, along with Gwyneth Paltrow on top of a piano. I didn’t realize starring in a movie about country music qualified you to perform at the Grammys. The person who started this crazy costume rage, Lady Gaga, emerged from a giant egg to perform her single “Born This Way,” with horns on both forehead and shoulders. Unfortunately, Gaga’s fame is founded on her freakish persona rather than any talent that she may actually possess.

At the end of the situation in Egypt and at the Grammy Awards, what was most saddening was what was lost by the inclusion of fluff and circumstance. The time spent on Facebook discussions could have been replaced by more debate about Egypt and the changes that the Middle East is going through. Instead of putting mediocre talent on stage at the premiere awards ceremony for the music industry, Grammy producers could have simply included good musicians.

Hopefully American audiences will realize that quality media and entertainment make for a quality existence. Unfortunately, it seems like America still has a long way to go.

Lloyd Lee is a fourth-year in the College majoring in Political Science

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