Once again, I thought, Americans have been driven by the media right into a tree. But I might have thought too quickly. It may in fact be more symbiotic than I imagined and it horrified me to consider how much we might be driving the media. But I had to consider the possibility that it was in fact true.
This morning a friend called and with barely a howdy spun into a rant, "Did you see that?"
"See what?" I asked. I assumed a plane had gone down, or there had been another terrorist attack, or some child had been abducted in Santa Fe. (There had recently been two serious and frightening attempts.)
"The news. Obama sends 30,000 men and women into Afghanistan...and everybody's all over that." He wasn't particularly left or right wing, so I wasn't sure where it was going. He continued after a moment.
"And, then, within less than 48 hours, Obama's on page 10 and all our soldiers and perhaps the fate of the free world takes a backseat to Tiger Woods' sex life. That's insane!"
"It is insane," I agreed. As a psychotherapist in private practice, I knew how insane it really was. For him, that realization was the real news.
He couldn't understand the shallowness of it. "How the hell can Americans do that?"
Who's Moving Who?
Being a computer and internet expert, he decided to check whether the shift in attention was driven by calculation or it was organic. And what he found was disturbing.
It turned out to be organic. People were simply searching for anything that had anything to do with Mr. Woods' sex life. They were salivating for even the smallest salacious morsel on him, his drinking preferences, his female dalliances, any negative attention, his wife's pain, the ripples it would cause in his finances. An icon was being ripped down by the very people that had created it. It had become too big, too pretty, too successful. Time to bring the overblown idol back down to size.
But, for my friend, the big issue was that we so easily shifted our attention from an escalating military conflagration in a part of the world where nuclear weapons are considered sacramental objects and babies are bomb delivery systems to fixating on Mr. Woods' wood.
Is that the media or is that us? Who's moving who?
In my experience, once a system is self-perpetuating, the question becomes somewhat moot. The question is how to stop it. Where can we break the cycle?
But my friend was infuriated. I was disturbed and dismayed, but not surprised.