People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on
Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher
Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation
Ball of Confusion – The Temptations (released 1970)
How did the world become so confusing? From my perspective, it’s a chaotic mess. Sure there’s a lot of bad stuff going on throughout the world, most of which is out of our control. This article is less about the events and more about how we learn about them; how the information is conveyed. Americans are inundated and overwhelmed with talking heads expressing their opinions and sharing far-flung ideas on how to make the world a better place. Often what they share is factless; pure conjecture.
Who remembers these fine upstanding young men?
Simple, Straight-Forward Information
Most Boomers recognize these guys. On the left is Chet Huntley and on the right is David Brinkley. They combined as anchors on the NBC Evening News back in the 60s. My parents watched these dudes like it was their job. They trusted them to provide the day’s news in a manner that was direct and to the point. As Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday would say when interrogating a crime witness, “The facts, ma’am, nothing but the facts.” Apparently, the Nielsen Ratings didn’t mean much then. Whether it was coming from the newsroom or Donna Reed’s bedroom, there was not a hint of sensationalism in what was shown or said on television in the 60s.
The Cultural Revolution of the 60s
The cultural revolution in the 60s changed everything. The events that took place during the decade are well documented — Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, Kent State, the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, and much more. Bob Dylan wrote and produced a song called “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” This was one of many songs of the 60s that represented the thoughts and feelings of many young, restless Americans. They were disgusted with Vietnam, the violence in our cities streets, and tired of being misled by the government. They didn’t want to be a pawn in the game anymore and were compelled to have their voices heard. This was the beginning of the confusion.
The technology boom took the chaos to a new level in the following decades up to the 2020s. The internet became a thing in 1983. In the 90s, it exploded, growing from 130 websites in 1993 to over 100,000 at the start of 1996. By that time, the world wide web had around 10 million global users. Ted Turner made his contribution to the madness when he launched CNN with its 24/7/365 news programming. Cable TV subscriptions peaked in 2000 with 68.5 million subscriptions. Instead of 3 national networks and a couple of local stations, we now have hundreds of channels from which to choose.
The stakes have become extremely high for network executives. Ratings are paramount to success. Through experience and research, the leaders in this industry have learned that the more controversial, sensational, outrageous, and opinionated, the better. This type of programming attracts viewers. The more viewers, the higher the ratings, the more attractive for advertisers, and the better revenue and profits for the network.
Around the year 2000, social media started to gain traction. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other platforms, anyone can express their opinions on anything, anytime. It can eat you up if you choose to partake in social media. If you are not selective, it is simply too much. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that mini-computer we carry in our pockets and purses. The cellular revolution took hold in the 90s. In 1990, the number of mobile users was around 11 million; by 2020, that number had risen to a whopping 2.5 billion. If we don’t have the appropriate filters set on our mobile devices, hardly a day goes by without messages that seem legit but are junk, spam, or a scam.
A little stroll through 6 decades refreshed my memory of how we got into this mess and what caused it to explode. While I believe these factors have a lot to do with it, we Americans have to take our share of the blame. It’s evident that many of us add fuel to the fire. We crave sensationalism and enjoy a good train wreck whether it’s a movie star’s divorce or a politician’s indiscretions, it’s like a feeding frenzy. Could you imagine if the news was still reported in the same manner as Huntley & Brinkley? Their show would be off the air within a week. The real tragedy is all this misinformation has left Americans scratching their heads, not knowing what to believe.
I am at a loss on how to clean up this misinformation mess. I have several questions for you before I wrap up. Is this a problem that needs fixing? Is it even fixable? Are you okay with the situation getting worse in the future? Back in the day, we used to say if something on TV violates your moral code, change the channel. The problem today is that you’ll find similar bullshit on every channel. It’s like the Temps said, “You can run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide.”
Off the top of my head, I can’t even begin to think of a viable solution. Is anyone out there (besides Trump) in favor of terminating parts of the constitution? We could get rid of the part about freedom of speech! If hunting, killing, and gutting your dinner every night is your thing, I suppose we could go off the grid. Or, I don’t know much about lie detector technology, but we could hook all the talking heads to a lie detector to let the audience know when it is a lie and the truth. That may clear things up a bit. When I haven’t a clue, I resort to sarcasm (part of my Jersey upbringing). I’d love to hear your ideas, serious or sarcastic – there’s no such thing as a bad idea! Until next time…