What Channel?

Posted on January 8, 2011 by

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Generation Y experiences its first assassination attempt drama online

By Meryn Fluker

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) was shot earlier today in an Arizona grocery store during a political event.

Image of Rep. Giffords courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I have nothing but the deepest sympathies for Congresswoman Giffords, her family and friends and for our own political culture. I naively thought the days of assassination attempts on American politicians were over. I was clearly wrong, and that revelation has left me with a pit of sorrow I’m not sure will ever really recede. Rep. Giffords, the other people reported dead at the scene and in serious/critical condition will continue to dominate my thoughts and I wish their families peace, solace and comfort, though I can only imagine how hard those things will be to come upon.

I hope that this tragedy serves as a learning experience. In that spirit, I wanted to note one thing, given that this is the first (and hopefully last) possible assassination drama of my (and the other ArtSTALK writers‘) lives is the way in which we’re living it and watching it unfold. I’ve been Tweeting, updating Facebook and monitoring stories on the Huffington PostNPR, Gawker and Jezebel websites. I’ve been getting news from journalists I respect, only not once have I turned my TV to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC or the like. My TV has stayed on Bravo‘s “America’s Next Top Model” marathon. This isn’t because I really want to know who wins but rather the opposite; I haven’t changed channels because I’ve been so engrossed with the web updates that I didn’t even realize Kesse had been eliminated and Robin and Shannon were refusing to do the nude shoot (I only know this information because I’ve seen the episodes before).

My point is a redundant one but one worth noting as my generation — the Millennials, generation 9/11 (a tragedy most of us watched unfold on televisions in our classrooms) — experiences our first possible American assassination. I suspect, judging by the amount of my peers who are busily tweeting, we aren’t flipping to NBC, CBS and ABC to watch David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite or who have you bring us the news as our grandparents did when President John F. Kennedy was killed. We aren’t tuned to CNN as our parents were when the Challenger disaster occurred. We’re reading Katie Couric’s tweets.

I’m not sure yet what that says about me and the rest of my 20something brethren, but it is a cultural snapshot; One in which we no longer choose to simply wait for the correct facts to trickle out through trusted newsmen, but where we rely on web caches, tweets and live updates.

A movie poster from "The Social Network," courtesy of Wikipedia.

We’re experiencing a major tragedy communally, with commentary, in a way both similar to and far different than crowding around a TV with loved ones. We’re the generation who grew up on reality shows, who believed that our opinions mattered so much that we needed blogs, MySpace pages, Facebook and Twitter accounts. Our generation’s defining movie isn’t “The Big Chill,” “Citizen Kane” or “The Breakfast Club“; it’s (supposedly and so far) “The Social Network.” It’ll be up to the future to put the Giffords tragedy in context and assess what it says about us as a generation and as media consumers. It’s yet another cultural touchstone for the MTV generation, the kids who don’t remember life before AIDS.

A number of outlets reported Rep. Giffords had died (and I was among many to tweet that information) before pulling back. A short while ago, it seems like fouling up something that major would cause embarrassment beyond recovery for a journalist. Now, we’ve just accepted that as the price of admission for getting breaking news quickly.

Meryn Fluker

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