“If you aren’t with us, you’re with the terrorists.”
Our dear friend former U.S. President Bush was fond of a particularly Manichean world view, leaving little room for the vast swatches of grey area that define the moral universe for most humans over the age of six. But we can’t blame W. for his penchant for reducing complex subject matter to a debate over good and evil. There simply isn’t time for anything else.
When it comes to popular media, brevity indeed rules, though wit is the exception rather than the norm. The average local news segment is just 41 seconds long. Most broadcast news stories clock in at just over 2 minutes and 20 seconds. And the most popular Youtube videos? Most are two minutes long. Videos of cats doing either something adorable or grumpy are usually considerably shorter than two minutes.
Two minutes is an ideal time period for sensational footage of gas victims writhing, or a capsized cruise ship taking on water. Two minutes is just right for images of F-16s accompanied by 30 seconds of exposition on the accuracy of their munitions.
Unfortunately for the viewers of said 120-second segments, two minutes of video can’t hope to provide analysis any deeper than a puddle. Saddam is evil. We must invade. Drugs are bad. Make them illegal!
Two minutes is an exceptionally inadequate amount of time, for example, for a layered discussion of a civil war involving regional power players and the role of international law and diplomacy in reducing violence.
So it’s refreshing at last to see that people want to slow down and think things through a bit more. A war weary populace in the United States and Great Britain faced the prospect of yet another Middle East War, this time in Syria, and said “slow down a minute.”
“Tell us more.”
People recognized the horrific violence of the recent gas attack, while simultaneously rejecting the injection of more violence into the troubled nation. Suggestions were floated that it’s possible to confront a dictator without resorting to cruise missiles. Sure, there was plenty of nonsense emanating from the pundit class, but there was a curious break from form as public opinion forced the media to confront reality: the world isn’t always black and white.
Nuance is not a four letter word.
Hopefully, this break from form marks the beginning of a blossoming of attention spans, a global resurgence of long form analysis that will topple infotainment empires and shallow reporting for good. Barring that, maybe we can push the segments to three minutes. It’s a start.