Oh, the Drama!

Over the course of the past few months, discussing 'the news of the day' had become a frequent pastime for my mother and I. Being that we keep different hours, each of us generally had a tidbit or two of boob tube-imparted insight that the other had missed. Invariably, the primary topic of our 'daily news briefings' was always somehow related to Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL) or The War Against Terror (TWAT). While I didn't notice it at the time, in retrospect it almost seems as though our little talks had the characteristics of a twisted fan club meeting, like devotees of some bizarre TV series dutifully ensuring that everyone was kept up-to-date on the storyline should one of us miss an episode. Why was that?

It occurred to me just how dramatized and Hollywood-like coverage of current events has become. Of course I already knew better than to expect any real images of war to be shown on state-sanctioned TV; what I'm talking about here is something a little more insidious than the mere sanitizing and censoring we've all come to expect. I'm talking about the high drama of it all, how the reporting is done is such a way as to suck us in to the storyline. I'm talking about spiffy computer generated graphics and satellite pictures interweaved with exciting cut-scenes of helmeted reporters shouting over explosions and moving with the troops. I'm talking about the never-ending sagas, The Hunt for Osama, The Hunt for Al-Qaeda, The Hunt for Saddam, and the gripping soon-to-be TV movie, Saving Private Lynch.

(To the disappointment of fans worldwide, The Hunt for WMD's is currently in hiatus while writers fine-tune the script for the season finale, but rest assured our clever programmers will concoct a suitable ending soon enough.)

Currently, one cannot leave the TV on for any length of time (not that you should want to, anyway ' it rots the brain) without being exposed to a barrage of sound bites, imagery, 'news trailers' and various other advertisements for the storyline. The reports and commercials are all professionally packaged in a flashy, catchy manner and designed to keep you interested in the story. And why would this be? While two of the more obvious reasons are distraction (from pertinent social and economic issues) and desensitization (to prepare us for a more militarized Police State/Security State), I believe one of the principal underlying agendas of this hyper-dramatic reporting style is a fostering of empathy for the State ' it is in effect a form of brainwashing.

If you've ever found yourself engrossed in a really good novel, you'll understand what I'm talking about. Literary drama revolves around a protagonist (the main character) and some type of conflict. In dealing with the conflict, the drama which makes for an interesting story is created, and even if the protagonist is a less than likeable character, the reader will often begin to identify with him as he struggles through and against the conflict. State-TV docudrama works the same way--our protagonists (police, soldiers, etc.--the implementers of the Will of the State) are locked in deadly conflict with wily terrorists, criminal thugs, ruthless dictators, and any other boogeymen the Producers can come up with. Along the way we're shown various hardships (both genuine and contrived) that our heroes must endure. Through a constant bombardment of entertainment-savvy 'news' programs, John Q. Public soon finds himself caught up in the storyline and empathizing with the protagonists (and thus by extension the State itself.) The goals of the State become John Q. Public's goals, and suddenly 'WE' are at war (and must support the troops by not speaking out!) 'WE' are fighting TWAT (and must do our part!), and most importantly, 'WE' must all pull together under the benevolent guidance of the State, because only the State knows what's best for us all, and how to protect us from the boogeymen.

So . . . while the State sends its goon-squads out in your name, with your money, to perpetrate acts that will make you and your family potential targets for retribution, John Q. Public thinks everything is fine and dandy because he's getting a good show. And besides, anyone familiar with the storyline knows that 'WE' are the good guys.

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Andy Henke's picture
Columns on STR: 11

Andy Henke is 27 and lives in East Tennesse.