Thursday, January 6, 2011

Five Things We Should Resolve To Stop Doing In 2011

It is that time of years again when, with the turn of the calendar, we decide we should make overly hopeful changes in our lives. Most of these New Year's resolutions are things we feel we should start doing more often - like exercising, reading, or paying child support.

But what about the things we do everyday that we should probably halt immediately?

Here are my suggestions for stuff we should stop doing in 2011 to make a better life for all:

Stop Making People Into Celebrities for Doing the Wrong Thing

One of the most appalling things that has risen from the glut of reality TV is how we place people who have screwed up on a proverbial pedestal. We seem to have a need to watch everyday folks that make big life mistakes, possibly to make us feel better about our existence. ('Well, at least, I'm not THAT big of a screw-up!') Through this attention, these personalities become unnecessarily famous.

Question: When your kid writes on the walls with a marker, do you reprimand them by restricting them to their room or do you invite the neighbors over so he can re-enact the same stupidity for them?

Amber Portwood's mug shot
A great example of "celebrification" is "Teen Mom" notable Amber Portwood, who is currently separated from her child after being arrested for felony domestic battery and child neglect. During last season, she had an on-screen confrontation with her former fiance which led to the charges. Putting the spotlight on a girl, especially one who has had no notoriety before, makes no sense what-so-ever. At a time when she should be completely focused on her life and current situation, she is not. She is more concerned with whether the camera is getting her good side (if there is one.) It also leads me to ask if there are any teens out there who see her as a role model, that think if they do something irresponsible like teen pregnancy they could get their own show too.
Rob Blagojevich, former governor of Illinois who was impeached by the state congress after federal officials brought him up on corruption charges, is another prime example. As governor, not many outside of the state could have told you his name. But by becoming infamous for his removal from office, Blago received book deals, TV spots ("The Celebrity Apprentice" and pistachio commercials) and even appearances at comic book conventions, selling autographs for $50 and pictures for $80. Why? Because promoters knew that it all would sell to the public-at-large.

Stop Giving People Attention for Being Outrageous

Ever seen the person who makes a huge fuss at a restaurant? The parent who complains too loudly to the referee at his kid's ball game? The whack job at the parade with a bullhorn, body paint and sparklers hanging from his earlobe gauges?

Ever been that guy?

We have a fascination with lifting up people who scream, "Look at me! Look at me!" The louder, the crazier, the better.

Cast of Jersey Shore, Season 3
Best case in point: Jersey Shore. They dance, drink and fight. With excessive tanning and extreme work-outs, the cast looks like Oompa Loompas with gym memberships. They get drunk and take a swing at whoever looks at them (or their lay of the week) in the wrong way. And for this, we have given them a TV show.

Last week, conservative TV commentator Tucker Carlson said that Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback convicted of financing a dog-fighting ring, should be "executed" for his crime. My question: did Carlson think he hadn't been in the news enough recently? Is he gunning for a regular Fox News show by making ridiculous statements? Probably. It's not like it hasn't worked before.

Stop Caring About Celebrities Personal Lives

Okay, I know your life isn't the greatest. Mine isn't either. Most people aren't leading the life of Riley, Ace of Spies.

But wouldn't your time be better spent trying to improve your own life instead of obsessing over more famous people's trials and tribulations?

Admittedly, I do "celebrity gawk." I click on the trending topics of Twitter or Yahoo News to see why a celebrity is listed. I feel a wave of self-loathing when I glance at the tabloid headlines in the grocery store check-out line. Our obsession with private lives - proven by the popularity of shows like Entertainment Tonight and TMZ - has become so pronounced it has become a cash cow for photographers, "journalists" (yes, I put that in quotes) and news publishers and producers.

Dr. Drew Pinsky
One of the most egregious examples of this long-standing trend is the VH1 show "Celebrity Rehab." Former stars in entertainment appear with Dr. Drew Pinsky to work out problems of substance abuse. It used to be that Pinsky was the voice of reason on his show "Loveline," chiming in with solid advice for anonymous radio listeners after the jokes about the question subsided from Adam Corolla and his guest.

But these are real people trying to work out deeprooted problems in the limelight of a television show and I can't see how Pinsky sees this as a good idea. While some celebrities use the show (now in its fourth season) as a possible stepping stone to a return to popularity or a straight-up grab for attention, other obviously need deeply personal help - the kind of help that doesn't need to be broadcast to the masses as entertainment that helps sell soda and chewing gum and toilet paper.

Stop Being Distracted By Everyday Tragedies

Aerial news coverage
of a house fire
I was a journalist for several years. Eventually I left because I saw the growing trend of sensationalism in the news. Switching sides of the fence, I started a business as a public relations specialist, helping charities get the word out on their programs and needs. It was these important stories that were being drowned out in the din of sensationalism.
 Let's be clear here. While a house fire is certainly a tragedy, it is not news. In a large city there can be half a dozen or more house fires in the day, but your local six o'clock news isn't going to report all of them. You only are going to see:

1) the one that the station got on film
2) the one with the most dramatic-looking flames

It's all about ratings and TV stations don't get them with anchors who just read copy. Fire, smoke and twisted metal are all just tools of the business to distract the masses with everyday death and destruction. It doesn't matter that it's the twelfth time this winter someone has left a space heater too close to the curtains. It still means ratings if everyone watches.

An arsonist starting house fires in a neighborhood is news; one house fire isn't.

Stop Supporting People Who Screw Us Over

It's difficult to keep up with everything in a world with so much information. But why is it people insist on taking "facts" at face value or giving people the "benefit of the doubt" when overwhelmingly given evidence that they aren't working in our best interest?

Case in point from last year: A study at the University of Maryland found that a large portion of voters were misinformed on key voting issues during last year's elections.

People voting Democrat had believed that President Obama had not increased troop numbers in Afghanistan and Democratic legislators had not mostly voted for TARP (the banking and car manufacture bail-out enacted during President Bush's last year.)

Even more appallingly, regular viewers of Fox News (both Democrat and Republican, though moreso the latter) showed a disproportionately greater gap in their understanding of the facts as they applied to health care reform and the deficit, improvement in the economy, and tax cuts during Obama's first two years.

So explain to me why is Fox News the most watched news source on cable?

Another case in point was this study showing the inequity of wealth distribution in America.

In almost every case, Republican-backed policies benefit the top one percent of people in the U.S. However, more than 30 percent of Americans identify as Republican. Republican voters still choose to believe that wealth trickles down even as the gap between the top 10 percent and everyone else grows. They also choose to believe it though studies show corporations are currently saving more than one trillion dollars in reserves, money that could be used to provide needed jobs.

And just so you don't think I'm just focused on conservative blindness, here are more examples. There are people who unexplainedly still follow and support Democrats like ex-Governor of Illinios Blagojevich (whose tale has been told above) and U.S. Representative from New York Charles Rangel, recently censured by his collegues for 11 ethics violations.

Remember: Education is the key here. And no one is going to do it for you. And if they do, they probably have an agenda.