Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sex sells, but so does fear

"Could your family be in danger from this new threat? Our reporter has the exclusive story tonight at 11, tune in to keep your loved ones safe." Tune in to almost any cable news channel, and you'll hear some variation of this. We're scared, so intoxicated and addicted to being afraid of something that when one perceived threat is gone, we freak out if there isn't another to take it's place.

We've become so accustomed to a 24 hour news cycle of salacious headlines and the fear cranked up to 11, that we are almost unable to digest anything other than junky, addictive "information". Tap the remote or touch your smartphone and instantly, there's a slew of fear and controversy tailored for your consumption.

The thing is, fear sells. The cliche statement is that sex sells, but so does fear. Sex appeals to our basic reproductive instinct (and ego), but fear preys on our survival instinct. You can use fear to keep people hooked on your product, your political party, your TV channel, your news-aggregating website, etc.

Then there's the slow news days and the need for filler stories to keep the ratings up in order to get the most money from advertisers. Instead of an insightful and thought-provoking story about some cool but obscure topic like you'd get on NPR, it's a hyped up story on some urban legend or political spin that has been debunked repeatedly by or Why? Because a 15 minute bit about a remote village in Peru isn't going to drive traffic to a website where people might click on the ads. A short documentary on what global warming will do to a fishing community in the South Pacific isn't going to cause viewers to run out and buy Life Alert systems or stock up on guns and ammo.

It really has become an addiction, and addicts to sensationalized information that is easy to digest and require no analytical thought just keep coming back for more. Why do you think it is so hard to convince viewers of Fox News of anything contrary to what comes out of the mouth of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, etc? To be fair, there's a ton of progressives and liberals who do the exact same thing when asked to back up their claims, and it's just as maddening to me.

How do we stop the madness, the constant manufacturing of a newer and greater outrage? Simple solution, refuse to buy into it. If someone tells you share a story from a rarely heard of website to "spread the truth about" (insert wacky conspiracy theory or bogus news item here), take the time to read it with your bullshit filter on extra high alert. Fact check your friends when they post stuff you know is completely false and/or manipulative, and for the love of god, stop being afraid of everything.