Americans love sensationalism. Everywhere you look you can see it. Not a day goes by without there being a headline asking us if our children are safe, a news report with footage of a fatal car accident, an exposé showing us how dangerous a certain product is, or a magazine article warning us of the latest impending environmental disaster. The reports are written for a dramatic effect, are usually blown way out of proportion, and usually only make people worry, fear, or cringe rather than inform. And we, as a culture, love it. There's nothing better than opening up the morning paper and reading about a brutal murder while you drink your coffee. News sources are the most predominant purveyors of sensationalism, but there are many other places for people to satisfy their lust for it. Tabloids like the National Enquirer are nothing but cover to cover sensationalistic articles. TV shows like Cops and Real TV show us real sensationalism in action. In Los Angeles there is even a service called Pursuitwatch that will call your pager anytime there is a police chase is on TV. This is capitalism at its best.

It seems no one has been able to capitalize on the American love of sensationalism as much as the Fox Network. Knowing that Americans just eat up sensationalistic programming, they have produced many shows like "When Stunts Go Wrong", "When Animals Attack", "When Nature Strikes" and "World's Scariest Police Chases". These hour-long specials attract views like flies to honey because they are nothing but video footage of tragic, disastrous, or dangerous events. The narrator either sounds somewhat stoic, or a little too excited, and the dialog is always very dramatic, adding to the sensationalistic effect. The whole thing is completely without taste, has absolutely no redeeming qualities, and is produced for the sole purpose of attracting viewers by appealing to their desire for sensationalism.

That said, I must admit that even though I don't really approve of sensationalism in the news, I absolutely love the shows on Fox. I don't know if that makes me no better than the average, brainless American slob, but I don't care. When I know that World's Scariest Police Chases is going to be on, I'm sitting right in front of that TV with a big bowl of popcorn. I see these shows for what they are, and realize they are completely hollow. Still I can't help but enjoy watching.

The way I see it, sensationalism is an adapted way of life for publishers of news. News has always been based upon discord, war, strife, etc. This is partly because discord, war, strife, etc are the only real factors that cause change in human lifestyles. If the president decides to lower taxes, not much happens. If, however, taxes are raised, people become agitated. Agitation means that people are going to have opinions. Opinions mean that newspapers are going to write more articles about people's opinions, using a great deal of hyperbole, causing people to have opinions about their own opinions.

Of course, all this gets the papers and TV agencies lots of $$.

Sensationalism is, as Webster notes below, the type of writing (these days, usually news reporting) that tries to invoke emotions.

Many people think sensationalism means "reporting about bad things". This isn't true. There is a way of telling about bad news without it becoming sensationalism.

The key here is stress. Normal newspapers (at least here) tend to tell about bad things in coldly objective voice, "Train collided with car on crossing, 2 dead". Whole article in the corner of the page. End of discussion.

In evening tabloids, the tone may be different - two-page article, color photographs from the accident site, comments from the tearful family members, and so on. This might be sensationalism. Sensationalistic journalism seeks to find emotions - they make accidents, no matter how insignificant in grander scale, look thought-provoking - usually trying to remind people that life's a bitch and disasters happen. Meanwhile, publishers get more and more rich.


At least one got scared

Fortunately it was just a balloon

(From Mauri Kunnas' book, whose name escapes my mind right now...)

Sen*sa"tion*al*ism (?), n.

1. Metaph.

The doctrine held by Condillac, and by some ascribed to Locke, that our ideas originate solely in sensation, and consist of sensations transformed; sensualism; -- opposed to intuitionalism, and rationalism.


The practice or methods of sensational writing or speaking; as, the sensationalism of a novel.


© Webster 1913.

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