In 1997 The Dilbert Future was published. One of my predictions was that the media would start killing celebrities just to generate new sensational headlines. I based this prediction on three inescapable truths:
1. The media can influence people’s actions
2. Death is the most interesting form of news
3. The news business is a capitalist enterprise
Therefore, it makes sense that the media would eventually start influencing the deaths of people who are in some way fascinating. There’s a huge financial incentive to do so.
An argument can be made that the media killed Princess Diana, indirectly, by influencing the reckless actions that led to her demise. That happened soon after my prediction was published. Lots of people wrote to tell me how spooky it was. Britney Spears is probably next.
Arguably, Saddam Hussein was a celebrity of sort, along with his sons. One view is that the government of the United States ordered the military to kill all three of them, and used the media as a tool to do it. Another way to look at it is that the media used the government to kill three celebrities. It wouldn’t have happened without the media’s view on WMDs and the national support it generated for the war.
While the media did not originate the idea of war in Iraq, the government is full of people with ideas on killing other people, and they don’t all happen. It is the media who selects from among the many ideas and makes some reality. If the media had ignored the calls for war with Iraq, or treated the WMD situation as crazy alarmist talk, the war in Iraq wouldn’t have happened. But war is big money for the media, especially with a celebrity dictator in the mix, so there was a tremendous incentive to help it along.
By way of contrast, the United States didn’t send the military to Rwanda to stop genocide. Some think racism was the reason. Others say the lack of oil was the reason. Maybe the real reason is that you can’t name a single famous person in Rwanda. If O.J. Simpson got elected king of Rwanda, and trouble broke out, the media would make it a story, and the government would be influenced by the public to order the military to kill O.J.
When I read stories of Russia’s Putin controlling the media in his country, I ask myself how that compares to my country. On one hand, control of the media guarantees that the government will get away with things it shouldn’t get away with. On the other hand, it will keep the Russian media from pushing Russia into war. Is that a good trade-off?
My regular readers know I like to toss out provocative ideas and see what happens. It’s a complicated world, and no one theory explains everything people do. But it is worth asking whether the policies in a free country favor directions that would lead to a celebrity death.