U.S. minds turn to media in hard times

After the glitz and the glam, the musicals and the flurry of pretty dresses, the Academy Awards mark the end of another media awards season. As the curtains close and the lights dim, America’s grim economic and political reality begins to set in once again. As easy as it may be to avoid them, eventually we have to recognize the problems that face our country and act against them.

The idea of American escapism was most observed during the Great Depression, during which Americans experienced incredible levels of unemployment. While citizens felt the impact of a spiraling economy, American film began to emerge, producing cinematic legends like Judy Garland, Fred Astaire and Shirley Temple.

As theaters dodged problems with cheery films, even President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized the power of the media, observing “that for just 15 cents, an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

Now more than ever, it is incredibly tempting to escape to the fantasy that the media purports rather than face the real problems of our nation. On a Wednesday night, it is far less frightening to turn on the television to another episode of Lost than CNN or FOX News. It is also far easier and more pleasant to believe that even in a struggling economy, business in the paper industry of Scranton, Pa. is still booming, and that you too, America, can one day afford a home and marry the sweet receptionist that you love.

However, in the end, reality always takes over. As easy as it may be to escape the news headlines of corruption, bankruptcy and war, real life is inevitable. It is impossible to escape, and even more futile to try. In comparison to the escapist entertainment of the 1930s, however, ours is more complex, acknowledging hard times but hardly reflecting it. While in the real world costs are rising, stocks are dipping to all-time lows, and men and women are losing their jobs, the fictional world on the silver screen seems to suggest otherwise.

Even the “desperate housewives” realize there is an economic recession, but that doesn’t seem to stop them from driving around in their brand-new Lexuses and shelling out thousands of dollars for their kids’ private schools.

Although this is only fiction, the same ignorance can be observed in news media. Even after the election, American news stations seemed to be blinded by the “real” issues at hand. They chose to focus on such hard-hitting topics as what type of dog the Obama girls would be getting (Portuguese water hound or Labradoodle?) and Michelle Obama’s fashion choices.

At the same time, a war was raging and financial establishments such as Ernst and Young and Lehman Brothers fell into bankruptcy. Yet as the recession continues to dig an even deeper hole in the failing economy, the real problems still persist and will eventually break into focus.

Despite the obvious fact that film and television are indeed fantasy, one aspect of it can be taken to heart. Yes, we may not live out the fairy tale happy endings that are portrayed in movies, but people are capable of overcoming their struggles.

As imagined by the 2009 Best Picture winner Slumdog Millionaire (whose popularity can be compared to the rags-to-riches stories of Horatio Alger of the late 1800s), even a slum kid can rise from extreme poverty and achieve his dream. In the end, the underdog does not win by sitting around in front of his or her television, but rather through fighting, struggling and coming out victorious. In the same fashion, we as Americans should follow suit.

Instead of letting the nation’s problems passively go by, it is our responsibility as citizens to keep ourselves informed and involved. Despite the discomfort or unpleasantness that watching negative newscast after negative newscast means, it is a necessity for Americans to do so. By keeping ourselves informed, we will be able to act in a more educated fashion and possibly in a way that can push our country forwards rather than backwards.

Rather than spending time reporting on Paris Hilton’s latest publicity stunt or insipid YouTube hits, the media should be informing itself and acting in any way it can to deal with today’s most pressing issues. While America’s escapism may aid the film and the television industry, there are still multitudes of other places where our money and attention would help more.