Sunday, September 12, 2010

Fahrenheit 450: The Temperature at which Books Get Very, Very, Very Hot

"Rev." Terry Jones received enormous media coverage the past two weeks for his aborted plan to burn thousands of copies of copies of The Koran, the central holy book of Islam. Will he? Won't he? The media hyped the tension to the level of the Cuban missile crisis — or maybe an episode of 24 would be a more apt comparison.

Jones planned the book burning on the anniversary of 9/11 to oppose the construction of an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan and to honor the victims of that tragedy — and can you think of a better way to honor those victims than by inflaming international hatred of the U.S., particularly in Muslim-ruled regions where we still have hundreds of thousands of troops?

What bothers me most is not Jones' stunt; rather, it is the outsize coverage the non-event received. Jones is a fringe leader of a tiny church in Florida that only counts 50 families among its members. Yet the media devoured this event because of its apparently insatiable appetite for polarizing issues — easy oppositions such as liberal/conservative, right/left, military aggression/abject capitulation.

The news coverage reminded me of a book by The Atlantic Monthly's national correspondent, James Fallows (who visited New Trier last year). In Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, Fallows argues that the media corrupts political discussions by deliberately polarizing and thereby cheapening political discussions. Seeing the world in black and white terms sells ad space on TV and in newspapers, but it doesn't allow room for alternate opinion or nuanced readings of complicated events.

The spectacle of this pseudo-event was a media bonanza because it allowed for outlandish lead-up coverage and substantial reaction to Jones' decision not to burn the books. And worse: the coverage featured most of the same talking heads whose views have long since calcified in those same mindless oppositions. And so it goes.

15 comments:

David said...

Isn't it interesting how as you say, "such an non-event" gets a lot of coverage here and tempers flare in Arab nations. I read that recently 10,000 people attended an anti-US rally in Afghanistan, more than in years, just because of the threat of burning their holy book. Contrast this with statements by certain middle eastern leaders who want a whole people group wiped out, and burnings of holy books like the Bible occur very frequently in the Middle East, Asia, and eastern Europe. These events are barely recognized by media, (this goes back to how to get information out of the mainstream media) while a tiny event in the United States is blown out of proportion. Clearly this overreaction in the Middle East is something to think about as well.

Chloe said...
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Sam M. said...
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Sam M. said...

I understand what you are saying David, but I honestly believe that there is no overreaction going on in the Middle East. There are bible burnings going on, but the reasons behind them are somewhat reasonable. The United States came into their country and tried to completely change how they lived. I am not saying that I approve of what they do, but I am saying that the Koran burnings have a slightly more hateful significance. Most Muslims are peaceful and coexist perfectly with those around them. Muslims have no right to have their holy book burned because a religion's extremists caused havoc in the world. According to Tammam Adi Ph.D,the Director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Eugene, Oregon, "No Islamic teaching supports terrorism."

Carolyn F said...

In my opinion Terry Jones is crazy. Burning the Koran would have done nothing to resolve any issues, it just would make people more angry, as David proved with his information about the number of people attending anti-US rallies increasing. I also agree that the media blew the "non-event" way out of proportion. But to me the scariest part is that despite all of the media coverage, had Jones decided to carry out his plan, nothing would have been able to stop him. And the rest of the world could mistake it as the whole U.S. feeling that way, when in reality it's Jones and his 50 families, assuming that all of them agree with him. And that type of generalization is all too similar to the one many Americans still go by, which is that all Middle Easterners somehow represent what happened on September 11, nine years ago.

Carolyn F said...
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Andrew W said...

I think that Terry Jones is completely insane, (of course exaggerating. Probably.) but the very fact that he considering doing such a radical action AND announce it seems ridiculous, and deciding not to do it, although wise, was likely a wise decision with all of the ridiculous media coverage. It's incredibly inappropriate that Jones would do such a stunt, especially since most Muslims are not terrorists, or planting terror babies in the United States, and since that the largest amount of Muslims in fact live in Indonesia. It seems like both an act of hate and an act of ignorance

Liesel M. said...

I completely understand and agree with what you're saying, Carolyn, that it's scary that there would be nothing stopping Jones from burning the Korans. One of the great things about the USA is that we have the freedom to say and do anything we want, as long as we're not seriously hurting someone in the process. However, in this case, while it is Jones's right, he is stepping way over the line of what is moral and reasonable. Though we as people often will not be punished for certain actions, that doesn't mean we should go through with them necessarily.

Leslie Co said...

First of all, AWESOME COMMENTS. I'm a former BO'C student and this is fantastic feedback. Yes, I am in college but this is a mind-blowing blog and I still love to read it. So I'm going to comment, deal with it :)

I think Andrew put it nicely: not every Islamic person is a terrorist. To me, it is completely ignorant to even think that burning a religious text is somehow going to honor those that died. How does one even come to think of that? "hey I got an idea, lets insult millions of people because of the actions of a terrorist group who happen to believe in the Koran." It's sort of anti-productive. If you really want to protest a terrorist group, doing something like insulting their beliefs is taking a step in the wrong direction. That makes us no better than the people who create Anti-American events. Why not do something more peaceful? Is doing something this drastic the only way to protest? What is a better way, if anything?

Although, you also have to wonder who thought to build an Islamic Cultural center just blocks away from ground zero. Is it ethically moral to do that? Of all the places to build a cultural center for Islamic people, why build it a block away from the place that started a war with Islamic people? What do you think their intent was?

By the way, I'm not saying that in anyway justifies the burning of religious texts. I am simply pointing out that we should also take into account of the families and victims of 9/11. What kind of message does this send to them?

Emma said...

I think its great that plenty of people are highlighting the fact that not all muslims are terrorists, that is one of the most important parts of this news story. I'd like to go back to Sam's comment, he said "There are bible burnings going on [in the middle east], but the reasons behind them are somewhat reasonable." I totally agree with his point that Islamic countries have a right to be mad at the US, but I think bringing Christianity into the discussion might also be an overreaction. If the moral of this whole story with the Koran burning is that we shouldn't blame an entire religion for the doings of one group, Islamic extremists should not be blaming Christianity for the doings of the US. Not every American is Christian, and the United States is operated secularly.

trevork said...

News today is not so much news for the viewers to make opinions on, but rather a product to sell to the audience. I agree that topics like this get way to much attention, just because it is easy to polarize Jones' viewpoint. A story on a topic like this will have almost everyone agreeing on it. This story alone has gotten what seems to me more coverage than the flooding in Pakistan. This is because it is easy to rip people with Jones' viewpoint, and have the viewers agree with the station, rather than show topics like the flooding in Iraq where there is no one to blame, and therefore harder for the audience to side with the news. Basically, news nowadays cares more about looking good by ripping people likes Jones, and less about showing news that has more ways to look at it than right and wrong.

Q said...

I totally agree with a lot of what's being said here especially the piece about not generalizing a nation or a religion and assuming everyone is the same. However, I have to comment on something that Leslie said... I don't understand why you are questioning whether building a cultural center near ground zero is ethically moral. I know that a lot of people have taken offense to the fact that they wanted to build a cultural center near ground zero, but I personally didn't see anything wrong with it. In fact, I think if we had gone through with the plans (from what I've heard this is no longer happening) it would have shown our growth as a nation and our ability to accept the fact that we cannot change the past. We cannot change what happened on September 11 but we can try to understand the people who did it and come to peace with them so we can avoid something like this from happening again in the future.

David said...

A lot of very good questions and topics have been raised here, and I wrote a post about the planned burnings on my blog. You can find me as David L. I think that all parties involved globally should be a bit less sensitive and be more respectful, but my blog summarizes the rest well. Have a look!

Miles said...

Trevork knows what's up. The media is a business, run by Wall street "big wigs", trying to get you, the viewer, to watch. How do they do this you ask? By flooding your brains with this nonsense garbage and tricking you into caring about it. Don't get me wrong, this is an extremely important issue, but the means that the media goes about presenting it is excessive to say the least. 24/7 on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News we heard about this story and did you learn anything new? Not really, other than that he called it off... After umteen days of coverage! This, ladies and gentlemen, is the media of today. Endless. Regurgitated. Verbiage.

Miles said...

Also worthy to check out OTM's coverage on the coverage...

http://www.onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/09/10/01