Friday, October 6

All Hail the Losers

Might Fall Down Go Boom!

Importance of Cultural Continuity

Keeping It Real

Why does today’s media put their very costly and influential focus on losers? And, not just losers but sore losers, the playgroundbully-type-loser that uses threats and violence to dominate the contest. Today’s “free press” no longer tells people about the who, what, when, where, and why of news. It must create a feeling, an emotional connection to the person, place, or thing under the spotlight to keep readers and viewers coming back. Years of consumer and voter research reveal that strong emotions, especially anger, fear, disgust, sell. The emphasis on selling emotional news vs. reporting factual news has created a vital instant “clickbait” readership that is good for algorithms and marketing but bad for trust in America’s Fourth Estate. The media manipulators labor daily to hook consumers and voters into their sphere of influence without spending millions of advertising dollars.

How much does an average 30-second advertisement cost on American TV? The answer varies, but each ad is estimated at $100,000 or more. How about print ads? What’s the average cost of a full-page print ad in a national newspaper? Again, the answer is hundreds of thousands of dollars. Both forms of advertising are one-time-only events. So, repeated paid promotions of the product or brand can cost millions of dollars over time.

Realizing the high cost of just two forms of traditional marketing, I understand why producers of saleable items use relatively free press outlets and digital social media platforms. Daily rants on X (Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, etc., and the relentless press reporting of outrageous behaviors of politicians and celebrities are worth hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars.

Marketing and its sister, “branding,” is king in today’s political world. Getting free press and thousands of “likes” on social media is the goal of campaigners everywhere. Informing voters of their plans and goals for bettering the communities they seek to represent are secondary if they even exist. These media outlets are hungry for sizzling stories that sell the products of paying advertisers and will slant the messaging to create drama, outrage, and addiction. Yes, addiction to fear and anger. Russian troll farms, who have cultivated a wide range of online media sources from the least prestigious “influencers” to respected pundits, influenced the approach to reporting information. The internet trolls and flamers dominate by repeating the same spin and lies until the messages resonate in mainstream media outlets such as Fox Corp., News Corp.,  Comcast, and high-circulation newspapers. A recent example of this fear-mongering is the slanted report of the  “disappearance” of Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs. Misinformation trolls created a frenzy, which turned out to be her one-day attendance at a Washington, D. C. meeting about the border. Other examples include the constant spotlights on 2020 election losers and deniers such as Kari Lake and others in the republican party too hideous to name.

Advertising philosophy has always been to ferret out the habits and proclivities of consumers. The internet and its privacy sieves deliver mountains of valuable information, and now Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms parse the info so almost every person on the planet has a marketing target on their backs. Despite the many categories each human falls into, there are consumer categories that override all others. Convenient labels slot each of us into how much we can spend, how much we influence others, and how easy or hard a seller has to work to make us part with our power, otherwise known as our time and money. Who has power over us, and what can be achieved by convincing us to give up our power? Sellers try to gain power by convincing us they have something of value we want. In the past, sellers expected consumers to want goods and services that have value, are available, and are priced right. One other component was recognized in the late 90s and early 2000s: authentic experience.

According to author and business consultant Joseph Pine, consumers have transformed from seekers of commodities to seekers of experiences. In his 2004 TED presentation titled “What Consumers Want,” he explains that we still need necessary, reasonably priced goods with value, but our overriding desire is to experience such things authentically. He clarifies this concept at the 12:10 minute mark by using the Starbucks approach to selling coffee. Pine even co-wrote a best seller titled Authenticity. Earlier in his TED presentation, he delves into fake experiences that are often lies and how betrayed consumers feel when saddled with an item or event dishonestly promoted. He refers to such events as “fake fakes” but explains that people are less upset when an item or event is advertised as fake or not authentic up front.

So many popular reality TV shows are now featuring “authentic,” deception, backstabbing, and “hookups” that used to be far outside of common decency and reasonable behavior but are fake enough to reassure watchers that “no people were killed in the making of this movie.” I’ve watched one episode each of the reality TV shows, “The Apprentice,” “Survivor,” and “The Amazing Race”. What struck me was the harshness of the overall experience. Many manufactured dangers throughout each competition and an unpleasant emphasis on winning at all costs create fierce antagonisms. Good sportsmanship lessons are jettisoned for a general every-man-for-himself-winning mentality. Millions of viewers accept that the dirtiest game players do what it takes to win. Buying unethical and corrosive behavior makes it easy to swallow and dismiss Trump’s political and business losses. His supporters like watching train wrecks and waiting for the fantasy of Trump’s losses to turn into wins.

With the news and entertainment media promoting cutthroat popularity reinforced by AI algorithms, consumers and voters are herded into pens of familiar and comfortable content. When a Fox News pundit pushes his opinion as fact, viewers accept that he is promoted or “branded” as a  “straight shooter.” Viewers are influenced by his persona, not so much by the facts or lies of his reporting. He is the authenticity being sold, so viewers crave him, not the news he’s reporting. Although Fox is the most prominent media outlet for opinion-backed news vs. fact-based news, most of our media continue to put the very costly and effective spotlight on the dysfunction of the republican party headed by loser Donald J. Trump. Somehow, beating the drum for the losers is becoming the norm in our news media. It is especially galling to witness so many news stories about hypocrites getting paid by the US government to represent, not rule, their constituents, who then turn around and tear down the government institutions that support these voters.

Reality Bites

In a recent PBS Nightly News interview with newspaper editor and reporter Marty Baron, he said,

 “The problem now is that people can't agree on what's a fact, that we don't share a common set of facts. We can't even agree on how to establish that something is a fact.”

The old “Who, What, When, Why” fact-finding journalism needs to be reborn. Opinions are often found in our algorithm-reinforced bubbles and should not overtake truth. Fantastic opinions, projections, and conspiracies only promote losing. Staying in touch with reality, keeping a critical yet open mind, and breaking out of our comfort bubbles can only help support the winners in this world.

 May all beings know love, peace, and truth.