Everything Is Entertainment

I took a few philosophy classes in college and one of the things I remember most is reading Jacques Derrida.  I remember thinking how useless this was.  Why did it matter whether an actual horse, the word horse, and a picture of a horse were the same thing or not?  As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to understand what Derrida was actually getting at.  Another case of reading something at the wrong time in your life to understand or appreciate it.

We do not see famous people as people.  Take Lindsey Lohan.  Most people see Lindsey Lohan as the image you see on a television or movie screen or the name or photo you see in a tabloid newspaper or website.  So, essentially she has multiple existences in the collective conscience of the world.  Unfortunately, only one of those existences is of an actual flesh and blood human with a myriad of emotional issues.  The other existences, the most prevalent of those existences in our collective conscience are used purely as entertainment.  She isn’t a person, she is a character in this live action play we are watching and we in the end don’t care whether she lives or dies as long as we are entertained.  That is until she dies then all the writers who made fun of her and took shots at her will decry the industry that enabled and ultimately killed her without taking any responsibility for the part they play in that industry.  The most destructive part of this however is when the people we treat like characters begin to think of themselves as those characters and not as a human being.

It is not just Lindsey Lohan, however, most famous people on some level are not thought of as people.  Through tabloids and reality television, we have turned people (particularly famous people and people we do not know) into characters in some never ending play.  Our constant and insatiable news cycle has created a world where anything that happens to these people is abstracted to the point of not being real and not really happening to a human being.  So much so, that moments in these people’s lives are critiqued and commented on like a sporting event.

Two things have occurred in the last week that are made more disturbing and/or tragic because of the reaction of people.

The first is the death of Kevin Ward, Jr.  I say the death of Kevin Ward because lost in all the sturm and drang surrounding Tony Stewart, Kevin Ward is the one who actually died.  That is one of the things that bothers me about this incident.  Almost immediately on Sunday morning this started to become about what Tony Stewart did in this incident or in his past and what did it mean for his team and career.  To be clear, this isn’t about the actual man who had a part in a tragic accident that led to the death of another person, but about a character named Tony Stewart who is a hot-headed race car driver.  The other thing that bothered me was that even before the news cycle started to completely obscure the person most harmed by what happened Saturday night, the death of Kevin Ward, there were people talking about this like it was a football game and saying this Tony Stewart character should go to jail for manslaughter like they would say a quarterback should be benched after throwing three interceptions.

All they knew was Tony Stewart was involved in an incident where he hit a fellow driver and that fellow driver was dead.  By the way the name of the fellow driver didn’t matter.  Kind of like how in a television police procedural/murder mystery, the name of the character who was murdered is almost forgotten completely by the beginning of the second act.  Everything is about catching the killer at that point and the reason for the preceding is incidental.

For many people the character Tony Stewart was a murderer who needs to go to jail.  Once they decided that, it was time to move on to the next story to entertain them.

In this case the next story was the death of Robin Williams.  This is interesting because Robin Williams almost became incidental in the coverage of his own death.  As soon as it happened people started Tweeting and posting on how his death affected them.  How sad they were they would never get to see any new work from him.  Too many of these public expressions of condolence become about the person doing the expressing and not about trying to comfort others.  Once that vein collapsed, everyone had to weigh on with their thoughts about depression.  At that point, I turned off my computer and started reading.  It had completely stopped being about Robin Williams and his death and started being about people entertaining themselves with how they and their friends thought about Robin Williams and his death.

Because of the ubiquitous coverage of these events, the people involved and things that happen become entertaining abstractions.  Everything becomes almost meaningless wallpaper that we kind of notice as we pass from room to room with the television or computer on giving us updates.  That’s a dangerous way to live for a society.

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