Cheap spectacle

Those of us who had high expectations of the post-Olympic period have come down to earth with a bump. The manner in which our local television channels tackled the dramatic affair of the Chinook helicopter crash, as well as the more recent allegations of nepotism against the government (after a minister’s son was transferred to a respected university on highly controversial grounds), leave no room for doubt that the TV screen remains the unrivaled protagonist in the world of politics. Asking questions and sharing out the blame with respect to these two serious affairs was both welcome and necessary. What was not necessary was their degeneration into subjects of petty politicking. In democracies, any controversies that emerge should be treated as an opportunity to curb power and to draw useful lessons about the proper functioning of institutions and the ways in which we can improve the quality of our public life. In our television democracies, on the other hand, any issues are quickly transformed into cheap spectacle, like food thrown into the greedy mouths of the media. This is how a dominant media discourse is born. It’s a slippery slope. It can be seen in the ruthless, unprincipled competition among channels. News items are ranked according to their ability to stimulate curiosity and the emotions of the viewing public. Our television channels keep setting new lows in the trivialization of public life, as they exert a powerful influence on social behavior and shape public opinion on all aspects of politics, including the individuals involved. Character assassination has become the sexiest part of the show – and what is more alarming, at a time when values and morals are laxer than ever and when easy gains and social climbing, regardless of the cost, tend to be rewarded. In this context, a sea of lower-middle-class viewers are faced with two choices, both of them poor. On the one hand, they admire all sorts of «success stories» which they imagine it would be easy to emulate. At the same time, however, the box gratifies another instinct, which is the other side of the coin – the fact that admiration in society is always accompanied by a subtext of envy. Given the opportunity, people will turn on the «success stories,» even when these involve moral offenses that we would have few qualms about committing ourselves. There is no paradox here, especially when some TV journalists have proclaimed themselves moral guardians of the masses.