Thursday, March 12, 2009

The new pornographers

Well, we've got Food Porn on the Food Network, and Weather Porn on the Weather Channel. People can get their rocks off on the fetishistic presentation of food preparation or storm fronts. But the economic downturn, recession, depression, collapse of the global economy, whatever you want to call it, has spawned a new sort of pornography: Misery Porn.

Misery Porn has actually been around for a while. The Weather Channel pretty much had that market cornered through their "Storm Stories" series, where weather comes along and destroys lives and properties - and, if the poor schmucks who happened to be in the way were holding a camcorder at the time, you can watch it as it happens!

But now you can turn on CNN or NPR anytime they are broadcasting news and you will be likely to get stories of - are you ready? - how horribly this economy is affecting people's lives!

I don't know what the percentages are. But I think there are actually some people to whom this is news, for whom the recession is happening somewhere far, far away, to other people. But for the rest of us, the rest who are dealing with unemployment and underemployment and mounting bills and looming foreclosures and all the other fun stuff - well, speaking just for me, I want to say OK, I get it. I know. I'm already there. Could we please talk about something else for a while?

But no. Every day CNN trots out more "experts" to talk about how people can deal with looming layoffs. Their typical advice: Make sure you have been setting aside a portion of your paycheck each week! Be the expert on something at your place of work, the "go-to guy", the person who people can't live without! If you're looking for a job, be sure to conduct a search online! All...very un-useful stuff, depending on your situation.

And every day NPR runs more human interest pieces on how miserable people's lives have been made, complete with crying babies, crying adults, creaking doors, people making phone calls. All very sad. And mostly unhelpful.

So to whom is this being targeted?

I can't speak for CNN. For the life of me, I think they're just scrambling to fill time, trying to put something on the air other than somebody just saying "We don't know, we don't know, we don't know..." And I often get the feeling that the anchors are wondering how long it will be until CNN decides it needs to tighten its belt, and starts asking itself Why pay some guy in Atlanta to sit at a desk and read the news when you can hire someone young and sharp in Bangalore or Mumbai to do the same thing in perfectly accented English for pennies on the dollar?

But NPR...well.

I've been a listener to NPR for many years. Decades even. I was a member, back in the days when I could afford it, even slightly beyond.

See, NPR is funded by grants and sponsorships. Some from the U.S. Government. Some from corporations and foundations. A lot from people who pledge contributions.

NPR has long been accused of appealing to the latte-sipping sushi-eating Limousine Liberal set, the members of the monied class who nevertheless embrace populist left-leaning causes. And you know what? That's fair. NPR knows who its audience is, but they also know which members of that audience are most likely to open up their wallets and contribute - and which members are most likely to have money to contribute. If that means doing some programming that appeals to them, the occasional story that covers a topic that interests them, so be it.

These people, like many members of the monied classes, are not touched by the recession in ways that us regular folks are. Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme? Absolutely. The collapse of Bear Stearns and Merrill-Lynch and the other old stalwarts of Wall Street? Certainly. Unemployment figures hitting record highs? Ehhhh, not so much.

I believe that the stories of everyday suffering by the working class, the Misery Porn stories, are not being targeted towards members of the working class. I think they are being targeted towards the members of the monied class, who listen and intone solemnly "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." And then, perhaps, call their accountants and arrange another contribution for the fine folks at that radio station that keeps reminding them of how good it is to be them.

Maybe. I don't know. Or maybe NPR just has no idea what to cover, other than daily stories of human suffering.

On the whole, I'd rather not hear any more Misery Porn. I'm living it. My friends are living it. And for me, that's plenty.

Now, can we please talk about something else for a while?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think many people know times are tough, but they really don't know just how tough they are. A couple of my white collar peeps are now out of work and they never thought it could happen to them.