I recently watched a film called “Ace in the Hole”. It was made in 1951 and has a profoundly contemporary subject – the exploitive nature of media. In the movie, a cave collapse in New Mexico traps a man, and while the man’s life depends upon being rescued, Charles Tatum (Kirk Douglas), a failed newspaper reporter, thinks the situation is a way back to his former days as a top journalist and to get out of a small town.
The exploitation of tragedy for personal gain is nothing new, but in these days of instant news and 24hr coverage, we are subjected to the competition between news outlets on a massive scale. Occasionally a headline appears that exposes the quality of the bottom-feeders working in many media outlets. Think I exaggerate? Here is one that prompted me to write this post:
Baboon mauls gazelle in Kenya nature reserve, shocking photos show
No, I am not going to link it nor tell you which media outlet published it. They are all capable of such despicable attempts to lure us into reading their violence laden websites.
How on earth is a baboon killing a gazelle somewhere in Kenya even remotely newsworthy? How, in this time of a major, cultural shifting, change brought on by a pandemic along with toxic politics is it possibly worthwhile to capture our attention with the promise of “shocking photos”?
It’s just a way to compete with other media by finding something to titillate the blood-lust that lurks within many people, which itself is something cultivated every day with the tribal warfare called politics. We are fed a constant diet of anger, hatred, and “us vs. them” stories which serve to grab us as viewers to visit their websites and justify charging advertisers for ad space on the sites. A headline like this and its accompanying story and, of course, pictures…oops, shocking pictures…is so blatant in its purpose that it’s clear that the decision-makers behind are without shame.
There was a time, seems like several lifetimes, when this kind of thing would be referred to with the sanitized word “sensationalism”. I recall lamenting the tendency to take a relatively unimpressive story and focus on any aspect of it that would be thought to stimulate the senses of the reader, hence the name.
I saw how embedded it is in our culture when I watched “Ace in the Hole”. It tells the story of a man trapped in a mine and the efforts of a reporter to “get and own the story” so he and all the participants in the rescue could become famous. His primary motivation is to garner favor with a big city newspaper so he can prove what an exceptional report he is. The life or death of the trapped man is merely a backdrop for the reporter’s ambition. The supporting characters such as the police chief are equally contemptible.
The movie is a devastating indictment of journalism that falls into the sensationalism trap for personal gain, at the expense of an innocent victim. The story is morally brutal.
Here is the trailer:
What impressed me most about Ace in the Hole is how prophetic it has turned out to be. These days media, especially what is referred to as mainstream or legacy media, is the moral equivalent of this film on a massive scale. Even so, the tactics to get our attention has sunk even lower by, in the case of the headline mentioned, simply promising “shocking photos” of an animal tearing apart another animal. Oh, by the way, it’s a baby gazelle. Didn’t think they could get lower, did you?
To say I am disgusted is an understatement. And I’m reminded that media is supposedly a reflection of the larger culture. Really? Is our culture one that thrives on images of baby gazelles being torn apart by baboons?
I do wonder how many views the article has had as compared to more benign and, in my opinion, more interesting and relevant stories. But I’m not going to check.
I don’t actually want to know how popular the story is.