Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Bread and Circuses

Take Cameras Out of Courtrooms:

As a courtroom junkie since my early reporting days, it is at great personal sacrifice that I suggest the following: It may be time to get television cameras out of the courtroom.

Or at least, judges might be encouraged to exclude electronic media from high-profile trials.

The excessive coverage and commentary we’ve watched in recent years may be good theater but bad for justice. Most recently, we’ve been witness to the carnival trial of George Zimmerman, charged in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.
I've had several inquiries into why I haven't written more about this story or trial. Don't I feel like I'm missing this generation's "O.J. moment" as one student put it? As a criminologist, shouldn't you be giving insight into this trial or Casey Anthony's or Amanda Knox's or (fill in the "trial of the century" dujour)?

Uh, no. Beyond the fact that I don't make it a habit of commenting on "true crime" stories (they are a dime a dozen and the media is saturated with them on a daily basis), the lurid spectacle that these cases always end in (wall to wall cable television coverage) does nothing to educate the public about the inner workings of the criminal justice system, or justice as a whole.

As Parker notes, they are covered only because they are entertaining. And while she gives the media the proverbial "hey, we're just giving the public what it wants" excuse (she is a member of said MSM after all), she does admit that ratings and money are the bottom line.
Meanwhile, the notion of the public’s right to know every detail of what is essentially a show trial suffers a paucity of veracity. If our concern were truly to better understand the machinations of the judicial system, as some have argued, we would record and broadcast all trial proceedings rather than only the ones that involve key elements of modern tabloid storytelling, namely sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — and race.

The Zimmerman trial is riveting not because two men got in a scuffle and one of them died or because one was a teenager and the other an armed adult. It is that one was black, the supposed victim of a profiling vigilante, and the other white.

VoilĂ : We have a potboiler.
She does, however, ere in the next statement.
Imagine if Martin had been white under the same circumstances. Some might argue that Zimmerman would not have found Martin suspicious had he been white, but we can’t know this. We can debate the point until we’re all blue, but meanwhile, we can be fairly certain that the trial would not have attracted a single camera if not for the race element.
Actually, if the victim had been white, the trial would have been even bigger. And had the assailant been black and the victim white (preferably a blond, white female or child from the middle class) we would have had a tsunami of coverage, the likes of which we haven't seen since the Juice back in the 90's.

But mostly Parker gets it right.
The point: Media are only interested in stories involving tension, whatever its underpinnings. And, inarguably, the media are providing what people, too, most care about. One Google trends chart “of interest over time” shows that people are more focused on the Zimmerman trial than they are on Egypt or the fate of Mohamed Morsi.  
I was surprised to learn (since I don't watch cable news shows ever) that CNN, MSNBC and Fox News all kept live at the Zimmerman trial when Morsi was overthrown. Well, surprised for just a second. I would have thought something like societal revolution at least merited a break in coverage, but apparently all three stuck with the trial and completely missed his overthrow. So why did they deliberately miss it?

The media didn't exist when Marx was around, but I would guess he'd feel the same about it as he did about religion. The mass media is the opiate of said masses, drugging and diverting and distracting us from very real social problems and keeping us entertained and in a coma with the trivial. The media are owned, after all, by the capitalist class. Why bother covering something truly "dangerous" like revolution when we can force-feed you the Zimmerman trial, localize racial problems at the individual "bad guy" level, and keep you distracted from the fact that the power-elite keep picking your pockets and screwing you all the way to the bank?

We (being the power-elite) want you to think the "problem" in society is the Zimmerman's or Martin's of the world; that those (fill in the blank: "vigilantes," "thugs,) are the real danger in society. That keeps the spotlight on "those people" and off us. And it keeps you from having a revolution of social change in the meantime.

Game, set, match...the power-elite.

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