The television screen was filled with images of thousands of Egyptians joyously celebrating in the streets of Cairo. There, on the left side of the screen, in large cap letters, were the words "MUBARAK STEPS DOWN".
I knew I was witnessing a moment in history. Moments such as these happen only a few times in our lifetimes. I wanted to soak it in.
But while the Egyptians were celebrating their historic moment, other important news was fighting for my attention. My eye kept going to the endless crawl on the bottom third of the screen. There, in slightly smaller type, I was informed of several momentous events happening right here at home:
Lady Gaga releases highly anticipated new single, 'Born This Way"
Kid Rock defends decision to perform in snowy Arkansas
Lindsay Lohan tweets "I would never steal"
Donald Trump to consider running as GOP challenger in 2012
Scarlett Johansson representative knocks down rumors that Scarlett is dating Sean Penn
Thank you, MSNBC, for interrupting coverage of a major world event with headlines ripped from The National Enquirer. As always, you managed to trivialize important news with total trivia.
There was a time when crawls were reserved for major breaking news, sports scores and emergencies. Today, that batshit crazy crawl is with us all the time. That's bad enough. But now, the steady stream of headlines moving along the bottom of our tv screens includes an increasingly absurd mashup of legitimate news and "Showbiz Tonite" gossip.
The line between hard news and entertainment is now blurrier than those nighttime scenes of Cairo's Tahrir Square. And there is no going back.
How I yearn for those halcyon days before the crawl. The days before broadcasters decided to treat the audience as if we all suffer from A.D.D. and need a 24/7 drip of inane celebrity gossip to hold our collective attention.
When the Apollo 11 moon landing happened in 1969, millions of us sat mesmerized for hours in front of our tv screens. Can you imagine if Neil Armstrong's first step on the lunar surface had to compete with a news ticker announcing the entertainment headlines of the day? Picture, if you will, Walter Cronkite narrating those grainy, black and white shots of Neil Armstrong emerging from the lunar module, while a ticker along the bottom of the tv screen read:
Eddie Fisher and Connie Stevens call it quits
Disney's "The Love Bug" highest grossing film of 1969
The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" tops the charts for 4th consecutive week
Twiggy celebrates 20th BD
"The Dating Game" begins fifth season
Would the moon landing have seemed half as riveting with the day's pop culture headlines dragging us back down to earth?
Now, no event – no matter how significant – is important enough to merit our total focus. And no pop culture tidbit is too trivial to be deemed unworthy of our undivided attention. I never thought I'd see the names "Hosni Mubarak" and "Lindsay Lohan" sharing the same screen. But in today's world – where we no longer distinguish between news and nonsense – those kinds of juxtapositions are the norm.
Just once, I'd like to watch the news – or any program, for that matter – without that crazy, "Trivial Pursuits" crawl parading across the lower third. Maybe the crawl should be optional, like closed captions. That would be an improvement (I wonder how many viewers would choose to keep the "crawl" option turned on?).
Or maybe the so-called news media will come to their senses and decide to focus just on the news. Now, that would be truly revolutionary. And completely unlikely.
God forbid if World War III breaks out anytime soon. Just as the missiles are headed towards our shores, we'll look up at our television screens for the last time and gasp as we read:
WORLD COMES TO AN END!
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