Sunday, October 24, 2010

Chicagoland Syndication 10-24-10: Have we become a culture that enjoys tragedy?

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Have we become a culture that enjoys tragedy?
By Ray Hanania

One of my favorite TV programs is America’s Funniest Videos hosted by Tom Bergeron, one of the funniest hosts on television.

It’s also one of the country’s most popular TV programs, too. But isn’t that the problem?

America’s Funniest Videos features videos taken by members of the public of “funny” moments. Moments like when a father tries to tumble like his four year old and ends up kicking the girl in the face. Or when a bicyclist crashes in to a wall. Or two girls on a trampoline, flying off and falling on their backs.

And these examples are not the worst.

I watch these video snippets and while I laugh, I wince, too. They have to be very painful. So why am I laughing?

Maybe that is how our culture has degenerated over the past few decades. We’ve become a society of cruelty, but we will never admit it.

Wiki Leaks recently published thousands of classified documents it obtained from a source in the military and it turns out that some of the things that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney told us about the war were in fact lies.

Far more innocent civilians were killed by our soldiers than we want to admit. But we were so excited to cheer on the war and criticize and even demonize those who had the courage to speak the truth. That our mission wasn’t to free anyone in Iraq. It was to extract revenge and to control Iraq’s oil.

We wanted to profit.

That’s very funny, too, of course.

We’re a society that drives down the expressways and only slow down to gawk at accidents. These gapers’ blocks as they are called, slow down our society but provide the kind of entertainment we have come to enjoy.

Tragedy sells. Just ask the professionals in the news media that spend hours and weeks of hard work to uncover the latest scandals. The news media motto is “If it bleeds it leads.” That means the more tragic an event, the more horrific and the more frightening, the more it pushes its way to the front pages of our newspapers and our TV news.

Is this something we should be proud of? Accepting lies rather than the truth because the lies are more entertaining?

It’s more complicated than that, of course. The truth is we sometimes prefer the lie to the truth because as much as we love tragedy and pain, we don’t like it when it involves ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we have done wrong. Just others.

So we chose the lie as the answer to complicated problems that range from the Middle East conflict to local politics.

Television is filled with programs that involve drama. Recently, while waiting for a doctor to check my back at the emergency room, I sat for about four hours at Palos Hospital with about two dozen other patients and watched the FOX Network and a series of programs involving “judges” who detail the ugliest of relationships in our society to show who is more wrong.

It took that emergency room visit to realize two things. I need to do something about my computer-driven posture. And, I have to stop enjoying the suffering of others.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all did?

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and morning radio talk show host. You can contact him at

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