Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thoughts About News Covering the News of the News

Since being made public by Everything is Terrible, the video in the post below has received more than 140,000 views – in just over a week! Furthermore, said video was aired by one of the featured network affiliates that covered one of 2008’s Jesus sighting stories: news covering news of the news.

The tendency for media outlets to cover these stories comes full circle in the news covering news of the news, and it is within this cycle that the real power of these visual manifestations summons its bewildering cultural strength.

What we see is relative, right? Looking at a Jackson Pollock canvas, some see sheer genius, others quip that their child could make the same kind of chaotic mess and still others examine the tangle of lines and detect algorithmic patterns. How we interpret what we see is a direct result of what we have been taught, shown and exposed to during our lives. Various combinations of parents, friends, schools, religions, philosophies, television, movies, books and individual perspicacity influence our individual views. That’s why I’m so inclined to ask, What do you see? This is what matters because it is the collection of all our individual views that comprises this grander phenomenon, which is so acutely documented in the video montage.

Human beings share the need to explain what they see. That’s the function of language – to communicate internal thoughts externally. An intrinsic human trait, in this day and age of internet immediacy such explanations, whether on a blog or the news, swirl all around the world, are re-posted and re-appropriated, all in the name of explaining what someone sees, or claims to see.

The authenticity of these images is often called into question, but never by the news (as I’ve blogged about before). Sometimes reporters will include a quotation from a bystander with a different opinion (Jane Doe sees Jesus, John Doe sees Charles Manson) but they never really track down the facts about how the image in question came to be. There is often speculation, but very rarely is anything proven.

Of course, proving that a divine hand caused an image to appear would be tough, but these stories – human interest stories – rely on what the individuals saw and what they told reporters, not what actually happened.

So what’s really happening? That’s the big question. There isn’t a definitive answer, but if you weed through enough of my older posts, I think some answers begin to take shape, though they might be as hard to decipher as some of the images. There is no doubt that technology and its acceleration plays a role. How else could the frequency of these sightings explained in light of reports of religion being less and less popular?

Technological advances also permit us to know more and more about the world (for better or worse) so as more and more about science is revealed, we tend to think that EVERYTHING can be explained, can be given meaning.

Take this recent story from The Scottish Sun about a woman who claims to see her dead father in this ultrasound. She claims that her father is holding the baby, a sign that he will always be with them, looking out for them. Yes, ultrasounds provide invaluable information about a baby’s natal development, but they also are yet another image for people to stare at and look for meaning that may or may not be there.

It is this speculative quality of these stories that draws people to them and the reason why the media never shies away from such stories, no matter how little news the news might contain.

Want to read more about this? There’s always the book!

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