Headline ADD


I have this concept that Americans (and perhaps people all over the world) have, what I call, “Headline ADD”. Often, there’ll be a huge event, and people will become hysterical over it, panic, or just talk about it a lot. The event will take over the airwaves 24/7, and dinner conversation will become, “Hey, what do you think of ______?”. If it’s a natural disaster, people will start to give money, or organize fund raisers. If it’s a human tragedy, people will make their Facebook status’ “RIP ___”, or forward mass e-mails about the event. But then– almost always– Headline ADD kicks in. Clearly, people are influenced by the news stations and papers who stop covering the story after it loses its appeal.

It happened with Katrina– people watched what played out in the south, held some fund raisers, and forgot about it. (I even remember having a lemonade stand in front of my house “for victims of Katrina”.) It happened with the Swine Flu “epidemic”. It happened with the earthquake in Haiti. It happened with the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in iceland. It happened with the car bomber in Times Square.

To an extent, it even happened with 9/11. In a response to the worst human tragedy ever to take place on American soil, people became patriotic, put American flags on their cars, and started saying the Pledge of Allegiance. But, again, people began to stop talking about it (until George Bush reminded them of it when he invaded Iraq and Afghanistan) and other things became more important.

Headline ADD. It’s real.

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3 thoughts on “Headline ADD

  1. Isn’t it human nature to only be interested what is happening in the moment and not dwell in the past? What about brain space. How much information/sympathy can we expect humans to be able to hold? If we remembered or kept on donating for the genocide in Sudan, we would not have not money or time to recognize the Haiti earthquake. But, if we just forgot about Sudan, then the money that we gave them then, would help, but slowly swell down.
    While, in a sense, ‘Headline ADD’ can be beneficial because if people always remembered every tragedy and constantly thought of it, we would have a world in chronic depression. As conscious creatures, we must be able to constantly reassess and re prioritize our efforts, resources, or simple brain activity.

  2. First of all, thanks for commenting! I hope you’ll continue to. It’s an interesting thought. I think that what I was originally getting at was not whether the “Headline ADD” was a positive or negative thing, but rather that it exists and shapes society in opaque and unclear ways.

    Also, it doesn’t only apply to tragedies. It can apply to national euphoria, something that is universally agreed upon as GOOD. Remember Sully? The pilot of the flight that crash-landed on the Hudson River? He was a pretty big deal…until the world moved on to other things. And that’s not a bad thing! It’s just a statement of fact. The world doesn’t wait around and dawdle on one story.

    Say what you will about air travel and the transportation industry, but the Eyjafjallajökull volcano eruption wasn’t a tragedy. No one died. No one was injured. Unless you were an airline executive, it was a neutral event. However, the world became obsessed with it for a week. My hebrew teacher showed my class a powerpoint about it! The international mainstream media fed on this story…and then, in the blink of an eye, everyone moved onto Faisal Shahzad.

    It’s not about whether it’s an event is black, white, or shades of grey; the process is always the same.

  3. Ami,
    I love your writing. I have a feeling you’re going to give Josh Marshall and Markos Moulitsas a run for their money. I know what you mean about media ADD. Tuesday marks 30 years since the big eruption of Mt. St. Helens (there were several smaller eruptions, but the May 18 blast killed dozens of people). The mountain “came alive” around March 1980, and reporters started chasing the story. I’m not sure anyone imagined what would happen May 18, but it was a media frenzy that lasted months. That was before satellite trucks and Twitter, which would have magnified the disaster even more. Others followed — Hurricane Gloria in Boston in 1985, the crash of the space shuttle (the Challenger), the Iran-Contra scandal, bombings in Oklahoma City and the first World Trade Center, Elian Gonzalez, OJ Simpson and more. As Hurricane Gloria approached New England (I was a sophomore in college), my roommates and I hunkered down with enough beverages and food to wait out the storm and declared ourselves “hungry for news.” We watched hours and hours of reporters heading out into the wind and rain to talk about the weather. The hurricane turned out to be not so bad, but it provided us endless entertainment. I suppose that as we become better equipped to gather and share information, we also become hungrier for more and grow our belief that the more we know about a story, a tragedy or an event, the better we might be able to respond to it. But maybe what we’re really becoming is a world of “observers” who are forgetting what’s it’s like to be a world of “doers.” Keep doing what you’re doing — I look forward to many more good posts from you!

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