Sunday, February 18, 2007

Op-Ed: Anna Nicole Smith's Obituary Vs. Palestinians in Mecca

Jeremy Schlangen

By Cameron Paine-Thaler

When did tragedies become trends? I’m always amused to see celebrities throwing relatively large sums at the latest tragedy, helping bring the news to popular culture and boost their image because these celebrities are doing good for humanity. If George Clooney and Angelina Jolie support aid to Darfur, then you should too!

I’m tempted to stop and ask people wearing hip Darfur t-shirts if they discovered the genocide through the MTV campaign. I don’t want to say that raising youth awareness of issues beyond the latest celebrity breakup is a bad thing—but what happens when the media latches onto the next international tragedy? We’ll see new pictures, death tolls, some benefit concerts, and soon thereafter forget Darfur’s troubles, which continue regardless of whether the news continues to cover it.

Remember Tibet? Still controlled by the Chinese. Did people just forget once their “Free Tibet” bumper stickers peeled off their car? There is no longer discussion about it because other tragedies have usurped the role of good-to-support-cause in popular culture.

Most Americans have the attention span of a gnat, and our media outlets recognize that it’s impossible for the vast majority to focus on more than one catastrophe. As soon as the initial shock fades, every news outlet searches frantically for the next ratings-boosting tragedy. Do you remember what came before Darfur? To name only a few, there were tragedies occurring in Rwanda, Somalia, Israel, Kosovo. Most of these countries are still facing the same tragic events as when we had benefit concerts and quirky pins to remind us. People seem to only grasp what the media, with its strategic use of celebrities, propaganda and shock value, tells us to care about.

The hidden tragedy is that most Americans will forget to care about an issue if it isn’t headlined on MTV or CNN. I question the earnestness of people who may not have even noticed had they not been told to care.

The media has become manipulative to elicit a viewer reaction. They carefully place eye-catching pop-culture news headlines into the real news that goes un-noticed. After all, last Thursday, I heard, saw and read more about the death of former-Playmate Anna Nicole Smith than the national unity agreement Palestinian leaders of Hamas and Fatah signed that same day. This momentous international meeting didn’t even make the CNN headlines while Smith was the lead story on every nightly news program.

Evidently, while we spend time mourning an important figure like Anna Nicole Smith, we can simply look to celebrities and their charity dollars to take care of the rest. Let them be the activists of the world!

It still leaves a conundrum: Which is worse, dropping tragedies like trends or having half of the population not getting the information at all? Tackle that one, Angelina.

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