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Bernie's Column: Jodi Arias, Cable TV, and a Nation Fascinated by Shiny Objects
By: Bernie GoldbergMay 9, 2013

There are times, not many thankfully, when I get depressed, brought down by the sorry evidence that we live in a country fixated on shiny objects.  This is one of those times.

A jury in Phoenix has found Jodi Arias guilty of first-degree murder.  That’s not what gets me down.  What I find so depressing is our collective fascination with trivia, with anything that we can follow without having to actually think.

No one ever heard of Jodi Arias until cable TV made her famous.  No one ever heard of the boyfriend she killed, you know, what’s his name. The Arias murder trial tells us nothing about anything bigger than Jodi Arias.  She wasn’t famous like O.J. Simpson before she was arrested.  This wasn’t Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial.  Those trials had implications.  The Arias trial had none.

When it became known that the jury had reached a verdict, cable news went wall-to-wall with Jodi Arias.  It would be 90 minutes before the verdict was announced in court, so anchors and pundits spent the time saying nothing – nothing that mattered anyway.  But this is a small point.  Saying nothing about Jodi Arias gets you more viewers than saying something about the national debt.

But you can’t blame cable TV news, not entirely anyway, because television is a business that gives the people what they want.  And if they want Jodi, TV executives will give them Jodi for hours on end.  Hell, if she had been found not guilty they might have even given her a show.

In Phoenix, hundreds of locals dropped whatever they were doing when they heard the verdict would soon be coming down and raced to the courthouse so they could be close by when the verdict, which had no effect on them or their families, was read out loud inside the courtroom.

Why the interest?  Sex. That’s it.  The trial was filled with tidbits about the sex life of Ms. Arias and the boyfriend she killed by stabbing him 27 times and cutting his throat.  Sorry, I’m wrong — it was about more than sex.  It was about sex and violence.  Of course if Jodi Arias weighed 350 pounds and had crooked teeth, we wouldn’t be nearly as interested (which is another way of saying we wouldn’t be interested at all, and neither would cable TV).

The Arias verdict came down on the same day the House held hearings to determine what really happened last September 11 in Benghazi and to try to find out why four Americans were killed at the U.S. consulate there.  Did then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will likely run for president in 2016, make big mistakes that led to their deaths?  Hey, who cares about insignificant crap like that?

Mike Huckabee, the Fox News host, said that the Benghazi hearings would lead to the downfall of Barack Obama, that when the facts came out Mr. Obama would not be able to finish his presidency.  That is nothing but wishful thinking masquerading as political analysis. Americans don’t care about Benghazi.  Not all Americans, of course, just most Americans.

But they care about Jodi Arias because shallow people like shiny objects.  That’s why they love to follow car chases on TV, even when the culprit is only some doofus who stole a piece of gum from a 7-11.  The chase can go on for hours.  They’ll keep watching.  Car chases are more interesting than real news any day.

So is the life and death drama of a woman who dressed up like the librarian in glasses who lets her hair down and goes wild on New Year’s Eve.  The national debt is a crisis that may some day take us all down.  But until then, we can have a grand old time following shiny objects.

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