We can refer to it as “fake news”, we can speak of a “narrative” that pervades news cycles, or use the now quaint word, bias to describe these programs, but the big picture is they are putting on plays for our entertainment or diversion.
A play has characters, a plot and a theme. Characters are protagonists and antagonists, depicting human qualities we admire, aspire to or repel us and evoke disgust.
Themes are ethical and philosophical questions or dilemmas which underscore the interactions between characters and unfolding events.
Generally, characters must be people of power and substance. No matter how much ordinary people might identify with a story about an ordinary man like himself, he’s actually more interested in what happens to people with power. We see evidence of this everywhere. It might be the single remaining reason some countries maintain a royal family, as a focal point for the masses as a personification of their national identity.
In news, the President is King. He can be a cast as a hero or a villain. Obama was a hero, W. Bush was a villain. Trump is cast as super villain of Marvel comic proportions.
Plots are never especially important. Shakespeare recognized this, and we can actually see the arbitrary nature of plot unfold before our eyes with our favorite series Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos. These serials have the luxury of never having to close-out the plot, which is the most difficult aspect of plotting, but as long as the play goes on and holds tension, the audience will not demand a conclusion. All of these stories are written on-the-fly based on real world developments. An actor gets a better role in another project? Have her die of an overdose. Another character proves better than expected, change the story to keep him alive.
In theater, the playwright crafts selected scenes for the audience to view. Of all the events that occur simultaneously in each characters’ life, we will only view a small fraction of his or her experiences. The events we don’t witness are either unimportant to the story’s plot or themes, or the author will provide more information going back in time to inform us of some crucial aspect or to reveal some twist. We can jump around in time as we have with place.
The final element theater needs is an audience. This may sound trite, but it’s an important concept to remember. Theater is a pact between players and audience and there must be an adequate balance. ( Have you ever been to a play that had low attendance? It usually fails no matter how ‘good’ it is)
The audience makes an agreement with the players that they will allow for certain theatrical conventions in order for them to convey a meta-message. This is known as “suspension of disbelief” or more importantly “the willing suspension of disbelief”.
If the play is performed well, the audience, having given the play a kind of license to pretend, becomes transported into these moments similar to a dream. It’s as real as anything to the audience in those moments. The fantasy of the play actually evokes another kind of reality, the emotions of the actors are real, we feel them as clearly as if we were there. We are there in our minds, as in a dream, we aren’t judging- just as we don’t question the occurrences and events we witness when we are conscious in ‘reality’.
In our so-called reality in everyday life, we have with us our mind, consciousness/psyche which has the ability to suspend disbelief and see things as we choose to see them. This idea is explored by Scott Adams “two movies on one screen” idea. Or watch Roshoman.
Thus, our existing list of Dramatis Personae in our preconceptions – the protagonists, anti-heroes, bit players – act, and we interpret motives based on this reference point, drive the plot we write in our own lives.
In television news, they assign roles, develop character(s), interpret motives based on character labels, select scenes to include in order to portray the themes they wish to highlight and lead us through whichever plotline that holds the most tension and drama.
The audience goes to the theater (or watches movies and television) specifically to be deceived by artful players who will use their skills to give them feelings, thrills, or to validate beliefs, or broaden ( or narrow ) perspectives.
Modern television news has co-opted these concepts. The people watching are, for the most part, addicted to TVnewsdrama like a soap opera. They want to be deceived, validated, thrilled, spooked, titillated and alarmed.
These artists in the TV news drama industry will naturally react badly to protesters outside their theater claiming “fake news”. This undermines the audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. It’s ludicrous to claim that this attacks our First Amendment. If anything, people should always question and be skeptical of reports. But it certainly is obnoxious when people ruin a dramatic portrayal we invested time, money and consciousness into. That is what really bothers them.
They are losing audience, but more importantly, they are holding on to their most fanatical believers, which is actually driving them to craft ever more fantastical plots and characters to satisfy their psychic needs.
Even the longest-running, most popular shows on Broadway have to close eventually. The cable news drama programs are about where Breaking Bad was on its fourth season. There isn’t anywhere else to go. Time to wrap it up.Published in