Drew Curtis is the CEO of Fark.com and one cool dude. Not only did he introduce me to horseracing and Woodford Reserve four-grain bourbon, but he is -- in my opinion -- the most brilliant media observer and trend identifier in the U.S. On top of that, one thing was glaringly obvious when I crashed on his couch just outside of Louisville: he is happy ALL THE TIME. This is highly relevant to the advice he gives here in our little Q&A about the ridiculous games mass media play:
1. What is "news" now vs. in the 50s? If different, why?
There were certain things that respectable journalists wouldn't write about in the 50s. For example, JFK managed to keep his affairs under wraps even though most of the White House press corps knew about it. They refused to write stories on it because it wasn't respectable. Not that it's a great idea to have affairs or anything, but at least there were standards. Those are being slowly whittled away. When Saddam was hung, illicit camera phone footage ran on every major network for three days. We've crossed the snuff film barrier; all we have left is hardcore pornography as a limit to what media won't portray.
2. Which media patterns do you find most annoying, and which media patterns do you think are the most dangerous without being obviously so?
Equal Time for Nutjobs. It's all funny when you talk about people not believing in moon landings, or who think an alien crash-landed in Texas in 1897, or who believe that there was once an ancient Mediterranean civilization in Florida. It's another thing entirely when people start to believe that denying the Holocaust is a valid opinion.
3. If you had to limit your information intake to less than 30 minutes a day (excluding email), what would you consume/read/watch?
Nothing. I'd wait until my friends asked me "Did you see that?" and then say "No, why do you ask?" and see if their response is interesting. You can always catch up later. Oftentimes when news breaks, it's hours or days before anyone knows what actually happened. Wait until next week for the summary if it's that important.
4. What was the specific incident or realization that inspired you to write this book?
Initially, I noticed that a story about German condom sizes being too large would reappear occasionally. Then I noticed other stories that re-appeared on a regular basis, like Seasonal Articles that come out every year ("There Will Be Traffic on the 4th of July", "People Procrastinate When Filing Their Taxes," and the inevitable combo article of "Where To Get Your Halloween Candy X-Rayed -- By the Way, It's a Hoax"
Then I noticed other patterns like Media Fearmongering, Out of Context Celebrity Comment, and so on. But the kicker was noticing that when actual news does occur, all of these types of stories vanish completely. Until the event ends, and then media returns to its old ways
5. What advice would you give to someone who feels guilty if they're not keeping up with the latest "news"?
Take two weeks off. Don't watch any news, don't read any news, don't listen to any radio talk shows. Then tune back in. Did you miss anything? Nope. It's the same old crap, different days. That's what I'm talking about in my book -- the media patterns that are used to fill space. It's 95 percent or more of the content of any given news show.
For you low-information diet aficionados out there, as well as anyone who wants a snort-milk-through-your-nose funny read, go grab a copy of Drew's awesome (he has blurbs from Stephen King and CNN producers) new book, It"s Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News. Reclaim real life from the "news" and be merry.