I recently saw a new film with Jake Gyllenhaal called Nightcrawler. The actor’s chilling performance as a heartless sociopath using the misfortune of others to draw attention to himself, really struck a chord with me―and it wasn’t a pleasant one.
Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal’s character) finds that becoming a freelance news videographer is exactly what the doctor ordered for inflating his sagging ego―and bolstering his finances. Before long he is manipulating news events to suit his agenda. He forms an unholy alliance with a down-on-her-luck local TV news director, played perfectly by an aging but still attractive Renée Russo. Together, they take the meaning of sensationalism to new heights.
Here’s where that “struck chord” comes into play. It occurred to me while watching this film, that its central theme was not that far removed from the modus operandi of today’s “news” programs: generate ratings and income, truth be damned. As they say in the movie, Nightcrawler, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Most currently, the treatment of the racial tensions in Ferguson, Missouri, illustrates exactly what I am talking about. There are many other important stories unfolding every day, yet the major networks continue to fan the flames of racial unrest, pressing the story that generates the most ratings: Ferguson, Ferguson, Ferguson!
My first exposure to television news included shows with people like Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, Douglas Edwards, Roger Mudd, and Walter Cronkite. These were men you could trust. To the average viewer, they appeared to be true objective journalists, with no
particular axe to grind, nor obvious political agenda. If you saw it on the ABC, CBS, or NBC nightly news, you could pretty much take it to the bank that what was reported was true and factual.
Fast forward to present day. Television news has become big business. The major networks and their cable affiliates relentlessly spew over-produced, politically charged pieces of garbage, designed solely to enrage their audiences, maintain their ratings and enlarge their overflowing coffers―truth be damned. I used to think that FOX News (fair and balanced) was different, but lately even it seems to have fallen in line with its competitors―more than likely for the same reasons: ratings and money. True journalism is a thing of the past. The Internet was better―for a while―but it, too, has succumbed to the malaise.
Nightcrawler, while not a particularly great film, succeeds better than any news program could by doing precisely what its main characters never intended to—shining the light of truth on today’s TV news “industry.”
Note: I recommend seeing Nightcrawler, if for no other reason than Gyllenhaal’s performance, which, in my opinion, is Oscar worthy.
Joe Perrone Jr is the author of the Matt Davis Mystery Series: As the Twig is Bent, Opening Day (a 2012 Indie B.R.A.G. medallion winner), Twice Bitten, and Broken Promises (also a B.R.A.G. medallion honoree). All four mysteries are available in paperback and E-book from Amazon.com. As the Twig is Bent and Opening Day are now in audiobook from Audible.com, with Twice Bitten and Broken Promises currently in production. If humor is your cup of tea, consider Joe’s rip-roaring, coming-of-age novel, Escaping Innocence: A Story of Awakening, set in the tumultuous Sixties, or A “Real” Man’s Guide to Divorce (First, you bend over and . . . ). Both are available in print, E-book, and audio book editions.
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