TV “News” And the “Raw Emotion” Of the Tragedy

Anyone who makes the mistake of trying to investigate issues on YouTube will find soon that the bizarre tabloid journalism in print looks like sober realism compared to some of the video montages that are available. One will find that there never were any planes anywhere near the World Trade Center the day they fell to the ground and that Hollywood deaths are aligned with secret rituals because they are disguised human sacrifices of the Illuminati.

So likewise, Robbie Parker’s statement on national television has been parsed by conspiratorialists to make him out as an actor and the whole thing a fake. While this is an incredibly stupid thing to believe, akin to the flat earth society, it does give us a chance to reflect on the way TV News is presented to us, and how it is often inherently deceptive.

In the video, Robbie Parker can be seen walking out of a building and stepping up to the microphone to speak on camera. The volume is low, but he seems to be asking if he is supposed to read the card—perhaps referring to some notes held below the level of the camera. He is smiling to some extent and then, as he gets ready to speak about his murdered daughter, his face changes to become sad and somber.

Conspiracy? No! The problem was that Parker was in a bizarrely artificial situation. I’ve been at funerals for babies and I know it is virtually impossible to weep the entire time. People fluctuate between appreciation for the presence of family and friends, alternating with waves of agonizing grief as the tragedy hits again. Add to this normal human condition the presence of microphones and TV cameras and you have a recipe for sudden switches in emotion. All the world’s a stage, especially on TV. I don’t think it is hard to understand why Parker appeared to change as he did.

There was a time when one grieved by ripping one’s outer clothing into ribbons and throwing dust and/or ashes on one’s head. Frankly, we might be emotionally healthier people if we still followed such rituals. Instead, we almost always strive to “present” ourselves to one another, even in grief. And even when grief does overwhelm us, it only does so as a choked and temporary lapse. We strive to get back into presentation mode the whole time.

And so we serve agendas. Parker, as a faithful Mormon who had national attention, saw it as his duty to extend compassion and portray hope in a way that would impress “outsiders.” I think most committed orthodox Christians would feel the same compulsion. It might even feel therapeutic to him (I think it would to me) to be able to find, in this unspeakably evil tragedy, a call to serve one’s god. I think it might have been a better choice if Parker had simply released a written statement. That way he would get his own agenda across without serving the agenda of the Television industry—the agenda to gain viewers by pretending to capture spontaneous reality.

Because TV’s pretense is that it can give us “the Truth” without an agenda. It can give us a real look at reality as if we were really there. And what is the point of that pretense? The point is 1. To attract viewers; and 2. To advocate whatever agenda happens to be the liberal cause of the day. Thus many will report on the footage of Parker speaking as if every word was spontaneous and unscripted and every facial tick was raw emotion. (And when some people realize that this portrayal isn’t really accurate, they start manufacturing conspiracy theories.)

The quest for emotional connection is one of the reasons TV can be so devastatingly effective in making events serve an agenda. It can even turn a tragedy involving people who are disarmed by state policy and thus vulnerable to murder into a call for more people being disarmed and left vulnerable.