From Chevy Chase’s first impression of President Gerald Ford, to Tina Fey’s famous Palin cameos, NBC’s Saturday Night Live has has enjoyed poking fun at politicians and news events for the past 30 years. But this past weekend, the sketch comedy show satirized not the stories in the news, but the way that such stories are being told. And I venture to say that news buff everywhere got a good laugh.
The fictional commercial, staring Vanessa Bayer and newcomer Beck Bennett, featured a couple who were promoting CNN’s newest technology–a pregnancy test. The test is advertised as the most informative of its kind, much like the cable channel claims to be as well. Like other pregnancy tests, the stick is meant to update hopeful parents on what could potentially be the biggest news of their lives.
But, to this couple’s annoyance, these updates, like those CNN has been broadcasting for the 6 weeks following the “disappearance” of the Malaysian flight, have been incredibly frequent but completely lacking of substance. At one point the test read, ” BREAKING: CNN more confident than ever that it will soon know if you’re pregnant.” Sound familiar?
In my opinion, the sketch was the perfect metaphor for what I (and I know classmate’s of mine) have found frustrating throughout the entire coverage of the missing plane. It has been constant coverage of the same facts, merely to draw in viewers under the impression that they will receive news important news, which ultimately (though I’m sure many CNN viewers forgot this fact) relates to human life.
Recently in discussion, we explored the concept of astroturfing. By using this tool of framing, an idea or movement can appear as populous and local. This emphasis aids in forming a grassroots movement amongst the audience. However, these movements generally find funds from elite means.
This concept rings true in this Politico article regarding ZunZuneo, an online social networking service on Twitter “masterminded” by the U.S. government. The communications network, meant to heighten dissent amongst young, Cuban users, drew thousands of viewers waiting for a motivation. The U.S. government denies claims that the plan was “covert,” but the Twitter was able to destabilize the Communist government existing in Cuba. ZunZuneo began in 2009 after the Washington-based Creative Associates International gained thousands of Cuban cellphone numbers.
The funds spent on ZunZuneo, an estimated $1.6 million, were earmarked as projects in Pakistan. The elite means driving the Twitter page were hidden by a trusted organization known as USAID, which disappointed many Cubans who were interviewed upon learning the truth.
ZunZuneo meant to start local, populous outrage amongst young, open-minded Cubans, but the secrecy of the ties with the American government seemed to backfire. The Communist regime in Cuba is still in place, and the twitter page disappeared in 2012.
There is an increasing trend in the United States for celebrities to weigh in on politics. This can be an issue since they are obviously not experts on pressing policy matters but their fans will still listen to their opinions. People who are not interested in politics may give an unnecessary amount of weight to celebrity opinions. This can be beneficial and harmful to democracy at the same time. Celebrities have the unique ability to raise awareness to certain policy issues among hard to reach audiences. The celebrity political experts can become harmful to democracy when they are misinformed or just plain stupid.
Politico recently published an article documenting singing sensation Pharrell Williams’s thoughts on the upcoming 2016 presidential election. In the article he equated political parties to the infamous street gangs “the Bloods” and “the Crips”. He also accused the Tea Party of being racist and learning how to do the “dougie” while their daughters are “twerking”. Essentially Pharrell managed to ramble about politics as incoherently as possible. The singer believes that Hilary Clinton will win the 2016 election and bring equality to women.
This Politico article begs the question: Why do we care what Pharrell Williams thinks? He did not present any logical or coherent argument in favor of any issues, nor did he say why he even supports Hilary Clinton. Despite these facts people will still listen to his opinion. He may even manage to influence people to vote for Hilary Clinton with his odd statements. Needless to say, this Politico article serves as a great example of news outlets reporting on celebrity opinion not because it’s real news that serves a valuable democratic purpose, but because it catches a hard to reach audience’s attention.
Despite very entertaining comments about this Politico article in the comment section, the article itself is a perfect example of some of the stuff we talked about in class regarding media coverage via television and, more specifically, results and effects of having such prominent coverage via cable news. “Conventional wisdom has it that cable news doesn’t have much of a future: The audience is old and getting older, the television landscape is growing more and more fractured…this version of events often ignores the incredible revenue gains made each year by Fox News (like a rocket) and CNN (far more gradual, but we’re still talking billions)… MSNBC isn’t seeing that growth, and it’s not clear how it will”
I think part of what this article hints at is the partisanship and necessity to be compelling within that partisanship of the news… and actually… that is exactly what the article is saying.
I think such a view is unfortunate. I think it is unfortunate that a news station can more efficiently gain revenue through polarizing audiences and potentially “dumbing down” the electorate.
But I especially like its acknowledgement that many don’t believe television has a future. Such a view is not true. Professionals like Vincent Harris, believe television will continue to play a major aspect in political campaigns. I think that’s an interesting aspect when we discuss future political targeting and campaign outreach to the electorate, and that people who believe tv ads will go away are simply underestimating the longevity of television in thisage and that television will continue to be around for a very long time and continue to be a part of politics.