Alot of things were happening on Sunday September 13, 2009. Iranian rebels were being slaughtered in Tehran, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was finalizing a purchase of nuclear missiles from Russia, and thousands of American citizens rallied in Washington DC, protesting health care reforms. Oh yeah, and Kanye West stole the microphone from Taylor Swift at the Video Music Awards.
Come Monday morning, West’s rude interruption was talked about all over the USF campus. Some people were enraged, others were amused, even the people who had never listened to either artist’s music knew all about the scandal. Clearly, our passion for news is there, but is it misdirected? Whenever I used to pull out my cell phone or get on the computer around my grandfather, he would make comments about how “kids these days are so high-tech” and imply that our abundance of media forms are distancing us from reality. I used to laugh off his little quips, but now, several years after his death, I’m starting to think he made a valid point.
It’s safe to say that, collectively, college students across the nation have the most access to media outlets and most likely use media more than other generations. But if this is the case, why do we often choose to tune into gossip about celebrities, rather than investigating the conflicts in Iran, Venezuela, and even our own capital? My grandfather, and much of his generation, would claim that younger generations are simply disinterested in news or don’t care about the happenings in other parts of the world. This simply is not true.
Particularly at Jesuits schools like USF, the focus of our college education is based on applying academic concepts to better the world around us. Students are probably at the point in their lives when they are learning the most about politics, foreign wars, and international diplomacy. Yet Kanye West dominates our breakfast table conversations. This is not a product of apathy, nor does it reflect the priorities or beliefs of the general student body. This simply reflects the continuously increasing role of mass media in our lives.
When we turn on the TV, log on to Facebook, or listen to the radio, we are bombarded with pop culture. The media, as a whole, has figured out the best way to rope us in. My grandfather was right; media does distance us from reality. Turning on a news station generally results in finding out about negative things, from conflict in the Middle East to school shootings, the news seldom reports occurrences that make the audience feel particularly good. When they hear about the genocide in Sudan, it’s hard for the average college student to relate to poverty, starvation, or civil war. This is not to say that younger generations don’t care, but it seems that often times we distance ourselves from the conflicts of reality because the media offers us an alternative reality.
When we see Taylor Swift on stage, embarrassed by Kanye West, we can automatically relate to her. Most people have been embarrassed in public before and the media latches on to that notion, building our relationship with Taylor Swift. Our ability to relate to her emotionally makes this pop-cultural reality very real and with so many media outlets, it’s nearly impossible to avoid exposure to the media’s emotional ploy. As a result, we know that global issues are important, but the media ties up all our emotions, distracting us from actual reality.
Our passion is there, our interest in world affairs is great, and our desire to gain more knowledge about the surrounding world is growing. The media, however, has become omnipresent, posing a roadblock between reality and our generation. Older generations are quick to assume college students’ apathy when, really, a flawed system of media coverage is more to blame. For now, Kanye West still infiltrates our every day conversation, but hopefully in time, society will stray from the lure of mass media and pop culture will become only a blip on the radar of world affairs.