Sunday, May 12, 2013

Extreme Everything


I love Weather.com ... it's just so fascinating to me to watch a storm roll through in real time.

Apparently watching actual thunderstorms and tornadoes wasn't cutting it for the marketing and editorial teams over there ... because in the last few days there's been quite a weather.com website revamp.

Here's just a small sampling of content from the alternating headlines on today's home page:

Locusts could wipe nation out


Watch: Man sucked out of a plane


And, Before the Bikini: Rare Vintage Beach Photos


And here's a screen grab from the right hand side; the left hand side has a dozen more tabloid-style stories:

So What?

Why do I care that the go-to weather website is now half weather, half grocery store checkout isle magazine?

I'll let Neil Postman explain my concerns here, as he literally wrote the book on why this is scary. Postman's book is concerned with TV; however, he wrote it pre-Internet, and these underlying concerns are only intensified with the Internet's advent.

When all subject matter is presented as entertaining:

"…We will become a trivial people, incapable of coping with complexity, ambiguity, uncertainty, perhaps even reality. We will become, in a phrase, a people amused into stupidity ...

"The light entertainment is not the problem. The least dangerous things on television are its junk. On television all subject matter is presented as entertaining."  Postman isn't concerned with the trash, comedy or even vulgarity - though I suspect he'd be shocked how far adrift prime time's "family shows" are, at present.

He continues, "How serious can a bombing in Lebanon be if it is shown to us prefaced by a happy United Airlines commercial and summarized by a Calvin Klein jeans commercial? When newscasters say, “Now…this,” they mean to indicate that what you have just heard or seen has no relevance to what you are about to hear."    Back to Weather.com - "There's a serious flood and dozens are dead and homeless - but whoah ... look at these creepy abandoned churches!"

Postman wraps up this particular passage from his prophetic 1985 book with, "When a people become, in short, an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then…a nation finds itself at risk and culture-death is a clear possibility."

Culture death.

I frequently challenge my students to think about this question: Every culture in the history of the world rises, peaks and then declines or crashes.  So, where exactly are we at, on this universal trajectory of nations?

Clearly, if and when America falls, it will be for incredibly complex, deep-rooted reasons.

All I'm saying is that this weather website nonsense doesn't help. This general corruption and dumbing down of seemingly everything, all the time, has real consequences.

If you do go ahead and check the weather today, make sure you take a sec and see the "Huge swamp rats that are eating Louisiana!"  

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