Monday, December 9, 2019

News of the Random

I was browsing through the BBC News wbesite, and came across this video story of a man stealing a woman's wheelchair. The woman is in the chair when the man approaches her, and he puts a fair amount of effort into dumping her out of it, before attempting to make off with it. Other passengers swarm out of the train after him, and reclaim the wheelchair for its owner.

My first thought was "Wow. Must have been a slow news day in Britain." But I'll admit it. I clicked on it. I think I was expecting something more substantial than some random guy attempting to steal some random wheelchair from some random person in a random part of the United States. After all, this is the BBC that we're talking about. Surely, there's enough important stuff going on in the United States and/or Canada that something this trivial wouldn't have made the newsworthiness bar. While there's a part of me that responds to that with "Silly me," I will admit to being somewhat disappointed. But I suppose that I shouldn't be. New of the weird is popular everywhere, now that I think about it.

And while odd stories like this are effectively harmless, I wonder what role they play in that fact that, as Pew Research Center puts it, "public perceptions about crime in the U.S. often don’t align with the data," something which seems to be a recurring phenomenon. I was recently reading an essay on the Web (one that I'd neglected to make note of) in which the author observed that her overall mood and opinion of humanity tracked negatively with her diligence in keeping up with the news. And it wouldn't surprise me if the culprit was, at least in part, this habit of holding up random crime stories as if they were somehow important.

But I guess this is a side effect of the fact that most of the public at large, the day-to-day news isn't anything that they can take action on. So while news is often billed as informative, I think that it's often more useful, if that's the right word to use, as a form of diversion and/or entertainment. And I suppose that the ability to "tsk, tsk, tsk," at events happening elsewhere counts.

No comments: