Back With Thoughts: NBC News and Music

I stopped blogging because I didn’t have anything to say, and didn’t feel like being a useless, pedantic blogger, or worse, a pedestrian one. But now I’m back, and plan to keep the focus on the media.

Two thoughts: First, I agree with NBC’s decision to show the Virginia Tech killer’s video, but disagree with how they went about it. I wouldn’t have shown the kid posing like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, or whatever, because we don’t need to glorify him, or be tacky just for ratings. (And NBC destroyed their rivals in the ratings that night, because we Americans love being tacky while criticizing others for being tacky.) But I would have run 20 or so seconds of him talking to the camera.

The news is still news, whether or not it’s comfortable. A major part of the story is, why — as in, why did he kill 32 people. Answer: He was crazy. It may seem obvious, but most criminal experts, I think, would tell you that most killers are actually perfectly sane, albeit exceptionally callous, people. So it is news that he was crazy. But could NBC — and other media outlets, including newspapers — have told us that without splashing the kid all across their screens and front pages? Yes. In a situation like this — using 9-11, for example, as a guide — I think you show only as much sensational material as you need to, in order to get the point across, and nothing more. Anything else is just exploitation for ratings, and it’s the absolute wrong call.

Second … in the wake of the whole Imus deal, there’s been a lot of discussion in the media about whether we’re debasing our culture and values with certain content in the entertainment industry. Maybe part of the problem is, we disagree on, or are too lazy or greedy to consider, what those values should be. Let’s be clear: As a writer and journalist, I fully support the First Amendment. But with rights come responsibilities. It is legitimate to say things that are edgy or controversial, if those words serve a reasonable public interest. It is also legitimate to question whether such an interest exists. For example, does calling the Rutgers basketball players “nappy-headed hos” further a reasonable public interest, or is it simply an exploitative, irresponsible use of free speech? Do we really want, or even need, to place it in the same protected public status as say, an anti-war protest?

Here’s an observation: The American movie and music industries have never, in the history of their existence, taken about a major reform that wasn’t forced upon them by either government action leading to economic harm, public pressure leading to economic loss, or the serious threat of either. And that’s not going to change — the industry just doesn’t self-regulate. It’s not a benevolent industry. It doesn’t really care about its impact on society. Money is king, and trumps everything.

So if you hate what Viacom or Time Warner or one of their subsidiaries are doing, consider your options. Pressure your public officials, and don’t let them up for air. The 2008 election cycle is a good time for that, because a small percentages of votes this go around will determine who runs the government. So politicians will scour the land for every vote they can get, based on whatever issue they can pander to. Sure, they might lose out on contributions from Hollywood moguls if they get too tough, but politicians would rather have votes than Hollywood dollars, anyway. This issue in particular would suit Al Gore well, given his and his wife’s outspokeness on the issue. I hated them for it at the time, but in retrospect, they — and let’s not forget C. Delores Tucker either, she was more outspoken than the Gores — were probably right, to some degree.

Also, if you hate rap videos, or lurid pop songs, or movies and music featuring dumb, oversexed, self-misogynist pop tarts, don’t just stop at not buying those products. Viacom, for example, like Time Warner, is a vertically integrated, diversified company — they’re not going to give a damn if you stop watching BET or MTV. They’ll just sell you something else. But if you stop watching BET, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and stop watching movies distributed by Paramount Pictures, and stop buying your kids toys and theatre tickets tied into their shows (Blue’s Clues, Dora the Explorer, etc.) and stop going to Paramount theme parks, and let them know it’s because of the filth they distribute, that will hurt Viacom, and a similar model would be true for Time Warner, CBS Corp., Disney, Sony and others — but if, and only if, enough people do it.

Publically traded companies get real antsy when their stock price drops (which is why I bet GE — not NBC, but GE, their parent company — and CBS Corp., which owns CBS Radio, had to let Don Imus go). Remember: Hurt their stock price, save the world.

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~ by Hi-Lo Tone on April 27, 2007.

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