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Jewish World Review July 23, 1999 /10 Av, 5759

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Emotional orgies --
BOTH IN 1997 AND IN 1999, the tragic death of a young public figure has set off an unbelievable amount of media coverage, around the clock, day after day. Then it was the death of Princess Diana and this year the death of John F. Kennedy, Jr.

It is understandable that seeing the lives of such attractive and popular young people suddenly cut short in a wholly unexpected way would have a widespread impact. For their families, it must be devastating and our hearts naturally go out to them.

But, when all is said and done, the kind of media coverage their deaths have received has been comparable to the kind of coverage given the assassination of a president, who is, after all, a major international figure whose acts directly affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world-- and, potentially, everyone's life in a nuclear age.

Neither Princess Diana nor John F. Kennedy, Jr. had that kind of power or responsibility.

That young Kennedy was a likable and decent human being is attested to not only by those who fawn over the Kennedy family, but even by such a critic of the Kennedys as Rush Limbaugh. Whether this young man should or should not have flown the plane when he did is something that need not be hashed out now, so soon after the raw fact of his death. Nor can we ever know what his potential might have been had he lived.

In short, what is there to say that has required saying over and over, on channel after channel and day after day?

This is not an argument for forgetting. His family will never forget him. Nor do the rest of us forget our loved ones. I have shed tears over members of my family who died decades ago. These are things you never really get over. The most you can do is move on.

But this intense family grief is very different from media exploitation. If anything, a media extravaganza can only add to that grief.

What is more disturbing than the media's actions is that these actions would not have been taken, or continued, if there was not a public willingness or eagerness to watch and become part of an emotional orgy. Nor is this wholly explainable by the individual or family fame of people like Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr.

In between their deaths, we had a national emotional orgy over the killing of 15 people at Columbine High School. That too was milked for all it was worth by the media -- and by a public primed for emotional self-indulgence.

Here again, there is no question that these deaths of so many young people were shocking and newsworthy. Nor is there any question that their families deserved everyone's sympathy. But media events in the wake of these killings months ago were still going on when young Kennedy's plane was first reported missing.

What is more disturbing -- indeed, frightening -- is the possibility that years of dumbed-down education and debased popular culture have left us in a mental condition where unbridled emotional responses are all we have left. Perspective, logic, self-discipline -- these things seem to have faded away.

What is truly scary is how dangerous it is in a democracy to have an easily emotionalized populace. Many of the unprecedented mass horrors of the twentieth century were the work of charismatic political leaders who knew how to manipulate people's emotions. Lenin, Hitler and Mao each cost millions of people's lives and debased and dehumanized millions of others, who were in their merciless power because of these leaders' mastery of the power of words and emotions.

Yet this bitter and traumatic history is largely lost to today's generation of Americans. Neither our schools nor our elite colleges make history a top priority. There are Ivy League universities where you can get a college degree -- or even a Ph.D .-- without knowing anything about history.

If there is anything worse than living through the horrors of this century once, it is needlessly living through them again because our national memory has been erased and replaced by "exciting" fads. A gullible people cannot indefinitely remain a free people.

That is the real danger that is far worse than going overboard about particular individuals. Our extravagant emotionalizing is just a symptom of that larger danger.


07/20/99: What's politics all about?
07/16/99: Politically incorrect heroism
07/12/99: Cutting edge California retreats to old, failed ideas
07/07/99: A quagmire and a vision
07/02/99: The Fourth of July
06/29/99: "Urban sprawl" and liberal gall
06/18/99: A famous victory
06/14/99: A victory in Chicago
06/10/99: Mass shootings and mass hysteria
06/08/99: The other side of affirmative action
06/03/99: Childish labor laws
06/01/99: Demonizing for dollars
05/27/99: The real public service
05/24/99: Income, taxes and demagoguery
05/18/99: Random thoughts
05/14/99: Aborted knowledge
05/10/99: The new "fairness"
05/04/99: Holding parents responsible
05/03/99: Exit strategies
04/28/99: Tragedy and farce
04/26/99: Guilt and cop-outs
04/21/99: Choosing a college
04/16/99: When success fails
04/13/99: A photo-op foreign policy
04/09/99: Russia and the Serbs
04/06/99: Random thoughts
03/31/99: Irresponsible "experts"
03/29/99: Another Doleful prospect?
03/23/99: Random thoughts
03/22/99: Loving enemies
03/19/99: Naming names
03/15/99: Undermining the military
03/10/99: Joe DiMaggio -- icon of an era
03/02/99: Facts versus dogma on guns
03/01/99: Losing the cultural wars
02/22/99: "Saving" social security
02/18/99: Too many Ph.Ds?
02/8/99: A national disaster
02/8/99: Economic fallacies in the media: Part II
02/5/99: Why economists visit dentists so often
02/2/99: Warning: Good news
01/29/99: What is at stake?
01/26/99:Moral bankruptcy in the schools
01/22/99: Who is going to convict Santa Claus?
01/19/99: Seeing through the spin
01/13/99: A trial is a trial is a trial
01/11/99:Trials and tribulations
01/08/99: Rays of hope
01/04/99: Random thoughts
12/31/98: The President versus the presidency
12/29/98: The time is now!
12/23/98: World-class hypocrisy
12/21/98: The spreading corruption
12/17/98: Politically "contrite"
12/16/98: Polls and partisanship
12/14/98: The "non-profit" halo
12/11/98: Corruption and confusion
12/03/98: The health care "crisis"
11/30/98: Knowing what you are talking about
11/23/98: The impeachment legacy
11/23/98: Random thoughts
11/19/98: Tales out of bureaucracies
11/16/98: Scholarships based on scholarship
11/12/98: Forward march
11/09/98: Moral outrage
11/05/98: Will the Republicans ever learn?
11/02/98: A voter's duty
10/30/98: The poverty pimp's poem
10/29/98: Random thoughts on the election
10/27/98: "Partisan" and "unfair"
10/23/98: Ed-u-kai-tchun
10/21/98: McGwire, Maris and the Babe
10/16/98: Lightweight Boxer
10/14/98: A strange word
10/09/98: Impeachment standards
10/08/98: Alternatives to seriousness
10/07/98: Heredity, environment and talk
10/02/98: A much-needed guide
10/01/98: Starr's real crime
9/24/98: Costs and power
9/18/98: Are we sheep?
9/16/98: Judicial review
9/15/98: Hillary Rodham Crook?
9/14/98: Taking stock
9/11/98: Moment of truth
9/04/98: Random thoughts
8/31/98: The twilight of special prosecutors?
8/26/98: "Doing a good job"
8/24/98: America on trial?
8/19/98: Played for fools
8/17/98: A childish letter
8/11/98: Hiding behind a woman
8/07/98: A flying walrus in Washington?
8/03/98: "Affordability" strikes again
7/31/98: Random thoughts
7/27/98: Faith and mountains
7/24/98: Clinton in Wonderland
7/20/98: Where is black 'leadership' leading?
7/16/98: Do 'minorities' really have it that bad?
7/14/98: Race dialogue: same old stuff
7/10/98: Honest history
7/09/98: Dumb is dangerous
7/02/98: Gun-safety starts with
parental responsibility
6/30/98: When more is less
6/29/98: Are educators above the law?
6/26/98: Random Thoughts
6/24/98: An angry letter
6/22/98: Sixties sentimentalism
6/19/98:Dumbing down anti-trust
6/15/98: A changing of the guard?
6/11/98: Presidential privileges
6/8/98: Fast computers and slow antitrust
6/3/98: Can stalling backfire?
5/29/98: The insulation of the Left
5/25/98: Missing the point in the media
5/22/98: The lessons of Indonesia
5/20/98: Smart but silent
5/18/98: Israel, Clinton and character
5/14/98: Monica Lewinsky's choices
5/11/98: Random thoughts
5/7/98: Media obstruction of justice
5/4/98: Dangerous "safety"
5/1/98: Abolish Adolescence!
4/30/98: The naked truth
4/22/98: Playing fair and square
4/19/98: Bad teachers"
4/15/98: "Clinton in Africa "
4/13/98: "Bundling and unbundling "
4/9/98: "Rising or falling Starr "
4/6/98: "Was Clinton ‘vindicated'? "
3/26/98: "Diasters -- natural and political"
3/24/98: "A pattern of behavior"
3/22/98: Innocent explanations
3/19/98: Kathleen Willey and Anita Hill
3/17/98: Search and destroy
3/12/98: Media Circus versus Justice
3/6/98: Vindication
3/3/98: Cheap Shot Time
2/26/98: The Wrong Filter
2/24/98: Trial by Media
2/20/98: Dancing Around the Realities
2/19/98: A "Do Something" War?
2/12/98: Julian Simon, combatant in a 200-year war
2/6/98: A rush to rhetoric

©1999, Creators Syndicate