In in our families, in our friend

April 13, 2019 Media

In today’s society, we all know at least one person who talks just to hear their own voice or to simply put their two cents into a conversation. Unfortunately, these types of people are all around us, in our families, in our friend group, and even on our news channels. Most of the time we tune these people out, and we don’t hear most of what they say, but have you ever imagined what would happen if you gave these people a megaphone? The American writer, George Saunders, explores this situation in his 2007 essay titled “The Braindead Megaphone”. In the first part of George Saunders’s essay, before he clearly states any of his arguments, he paints a picture for the audience of a cordial, average party. However, this party has a twist: there’s a guy with a megaphone in the middle of the room, shouting. At the party, this megaphone guy begins talking about the simple topic of spring mornings. Saunders states that “Soon, in their small groups, the guests may find themselves talking about early spring mornings. Or, more correctly, about the validity of Megaphone Guy’s ideas about early spring mornings. Some are agreeing with him, some disagreeing-but because he’s loud their conversations will begin to react to what their saying” (2). This is the essence of the “braindead megaphone”. In this scenario, all of the guest conversations changed not because what the megaphone guy was saying was an interesting or intelligent topic, but because of how loud and intense his statements were. By including this detailed situation, Saunders aimed to explain how dominance and authority can be established depending on the volume and amplification of a source. In his essay, Saunders also makes a comparison between today’s news broadcasters and storytellers arguing that the news media is no longer concerned with informing the public and instead have turned to reporting on any story that will entertain and bring money in to the news company.
Many of Saunders’s arguments presented in his essay can be seen represented throughout pop culture and different forms of entertainment today. One of these forms is a teen drama television series created by Josh Schwartz titled Gossip Girl. This melodramatic series is focused around the lives of a few specific, upper-class teens living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As these teens go about their thrilling lives, attending exclusive private high schools by day and being escorted to VIP parties by night, an anonymous blogger by the name “Gossip Girl” follows and posts “updates” about all their activities and various scandals/secrets. Naturally, with Manhattan’s elite teens being more like celebrities, everyone in the city follows and reads “Gossip Girl” religiously making it a major source of news, and of course gossip, in Manhattan. However, as I’m sure you can infer, “Gossip Girl” isn’t as concerned with reporting the truth as it is with entertaining it’s viewers, making it much like the news broadcasters we have in our world today. If we use Saunders’s various arguments about the news/media and the influence of a “storyteller” we can start to understand a deeper meaning behind the concept of the television series which is centered around one big source of information: the “Gossip Girl”.
One of Saunders’s main concepts in his essay is about the impact a person can have if their message is amplified and if they establish dominance (i.e. the guy with the megaphone). We can see this situation play out in the very first episode of “Gossip Girl” which begins with the mysterious return of main character Serena Vanderwoodsen (Blake Lively) from boarding-school. While Serena is making her return, there is also an elaborate party being hosted at Blair Waldorf’s (Leighton Meester) house, who happens to be Serena’s best friend. As soon as Serena steps foot back in Manhattan, “Gossip Girl” is alerted and sends out a mass blog update letting everyone know that Miss Serena is back in town. Once this blog update is sent out, everyone’s conversation at Blair’s party shifts to discussing Serena’s arrival, “Oh my god! You’ll never believe what’s on ‘Gossip Girl’. Someone saw Serena getting off the train at Grand Central!” (Pilot). Soon after the update was sent out, all the guests at the party began to talk about why Serena left in the first place and why she came back. This situation is almost a perfect replication of the scenario Saunders’s described at the beginning of his essay with the megaphone guy at the party. In Saunders’s story, the megaphone guy’s voice is so loud and dominant that it becomes nearly impossible for the guests to ignore it, so they became “reactors-to-the-Guy” as Saunders would put it. Similarly, in the Gossip Girl scene all the guests, without even knowing it, became passive to what “Gossip Girl” posted and their conversations simply became reactions to what she had said, giving her all the control. With this series being centered around one leading source of gossip and information, this is certainly not the only example of Saunders’s arguments being exhibited.
Another one of Saunders’s major arguments is that of the influence of a storyteller. In the middle of Saunders’s essay, he says, “Mass media’s job is to provide this simulacra of the world, upon which we build our ideas. There’s another name for this simulacra-building: storytelling.” (9). The skill of storytelling is extremely important in the world of news media today being as it’s the main form in which news broadcasters deliver their informative reports. For this fact, it is crucial for news sources to stay neutral, without any other agenda besides informing the public. This, unfortunately, has become a problem within our news channels in society today. In the series Gossip Girl there seems to be a very similar problem as well. For almost all the teens and many of adults in the series, the “Gossip Girl” blog is the main source of information and news in the city of Manhattan which is why, when Serena Vanderwoodsen made her mysterious comeback, everyone immediately new. However, what people didn’t know was why Serena left in the first place: she betrayed her best friend Blair Waldorf by fraternizing with her boyfriend, Nate Archibald (Chace Crawford). Even though Serena tried to keep her and Nate’s betrayal a secret, “Gossip Girl” already knew, which is why “Gossip Girl” made sure both Blair and Nate found out about Serena’s arrival, causing numerous dramatic events between Nate and Blair. In this scenario “Gossip Girl” had an agenda that wasn’t simply informing everyone that Serena was back. “Gossip Girl” knew that by announcing Serena’s arrival, she would have everyone’s attention on her blog waiting for more updates. In this situation, “Gossip Girl” is the so called “storyteller” which controls all the stories the public receive. The problem, as Saunders’s would think of it, is that “Gossip Girl” is more concerned with creating entertaining stories that keep the public visiting her blog than she is with reporting on relevant and pressing issues.
The mass of Saunders’s concepts are extremely relevant to the society that we live in today especially because many of them can be related back to the new stories we see on our tv’s. In our current culture, the news media is a huge influencer in the publics conversation as they are supposed to inform us about important issues in the world. However, what happens when our news companies are no longer conferenced with informing us? Or when the stories being reported on become less about presenting information and more about creating a spectacle and entertaining viewers. Citizens today are adapting to being entertained instead of informed by our news channels and news broadcasters as they continue to report on mindless news stories which is exactly what Saunders’s was trying to point out and change in his essay when he said, “Turn that Megaphone down, and insist that what’s said through it be as precise, intelligent, and humane as possible” (19). As a society, there shouldn’t be a question of if the news media has the public’s best interest in mind or if they’re reporting on stories that are truthful and pertinent to the world we live in today. Instead,


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