I surf through more than a dozen news sites every day, often just reading the headlines and summaries in order to find anything substantive, and skipping over the trivia which seems to be taking up more and more space. Two trends, even on what might be considered serious sites, are the increasing prominence of “news” about television shows and celebrities, and the sensationalization of just about everything. I’m tempted to call it pandering, but that wouldn’t be polite.
Two examples that typify these trends are on the internet today. The first is the oh so necessary coverage of a shocking episode of a popular tv series and the thousands of responses to it on Twitter. This series seems to have become a national obsession, with serious amounts of space devoted to serious analyses of the plot, the characters, and the “meaning of it all.” The same attention is being paid to other distractions from the real world, so it isn’t unique, except in the apparent obsessiveness it seems to have bred in its followers
The other is the treatment, on Salon, of a beautifully written essay by Lewis Lapham. The essay, published originally on tomdispatch.com, on June 2, and titled The Ocean as Desert, was republished on truthout.com, on June 3, and titled The (Less Than) Eternal Sea: The Poet’s Metaphor and the Styrofoaming of the Waters. Both titles convey some of the sense of the essay, since it’s about the history of Lapham’s relationship, since childhood, with the ocean. That’s more than 75 years of reading about the ocean, studying it, experiencing it, and watching what humans are doing to it.
The same essay was published today by salon.com. Let me say here that it’s an essay worth reading. But would you take the time to check out an article entitled I Lost My Virginity in A Waterfront Brothel? Somehow, this reminds me of all those stories of youngsters hunting through forbidden books for the “dirty” parts. We can’t know whether this is how Salon’s editors actually responded, or whether they consider their readers more likely to click on stories that appeal to the juvenile desire for the “dirty” stuff.
Of course, Salon isn’t the only site guilty of trivializing subjects that deserve to be taken more seriously. It happens often enough that it’s sometimes difficult to know whether it’s even worth clicking on an article. And it’s very difficult for me to read the articles that mutter darkly about the closing and/or privatization of schools and the general decline of education, without being very aware that these sites are making their own significant contributions to the decline.