Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ledger Domain

As my job largely concerns news aggregation, I spent most of this afternoon compiling pages about Heath Ledger's untimely demise. It can get a bit grim around the Mahalo News section on days like today.

Anyway, I realize that, in some ways, this implicates me in the media's saturation-level focus on grim celebrity news, whether it be Heath Ledger's and Brad Renfro's deaths, Eminem's weight problem, Owen Wilson's suicide attempt or even La Lohan's trips to the police department and/or rehab. My excuse is actually identical to the archetypal "sleaze journalist." I write pages about whatever's being searched. Majority tastes dictate my focus.

A look at Google Trends right now, hours and hours after the news of Ledger's death broke, confirms that he's the main concern of Americans at this moment in time.

Among the top searches are Ledger's name, searches for "Keith Ledger" by idiots who don't know his actual name and presumably don't know how to get to any news sources to find out, his former fiancee Michelle Williams, the term "heath ledger found dead," his daughter Matilda Ledger, his film "10 Things I Hate About You," the term "michelle williams heath ledger," his film "Brokeback Mountain," Gemma Ward (a model Ledger was rumored to have dated) and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," the Terry Gilliam film which Ledger was in the midst of filming.

So it's not a mystery why Mahalo or anyone else is covering the story so enthusiastically. That's what the public wants, and the media only exists to inform and entertain the public. Interestingly, right now, all the cable news channels are running with the story on their front page. CNN.com, MSNBC.com and FoxNews.com clearly think that's what everyone wants to see. Unsurprisingly, FoxNews.com goes with the most melodramatic, tabloid graphic, showing people crying at a Ledger memorial:

"Tears for Heath"...Wow...

I'd also like to point out that this was featured just below the Ledger story on FoxNews.com just now:

It's an O'Reilly Factor INVESTIGATION! I actually saw a bit of this interview at work today (I watch Fox News at work! Just like Dick Cheney!) and it was hilarious and awesome. I'd love to embed it here or provide you with a direct link, but FoxNews.com has apparently not updated their technology since the late '90s, so it's only available in the next 10 minutes or so on their actual website, in a shitty little pixellated box after you watch an ad. I guess they blew the entire year's website budget on Sean Hannity's Brylcreem. The best part of the segment was when the (I swear this was his caption) "Expert on Demonology and Mystical Theology" said that he has scientific evidence of demonic possession. It's like, "did he just say that on national television? Cause...that's clearly not at all true."

But back to Heath. I was intrigued that, though obviously the Google-searching public and the cable networks felt this was Top Story material, a lot of newspaper's websites (like NYTimes.com) and even web news sites didn't feel the same way. This was the headline box on Yahoo! News just now:

Heath's not even in second place! Is this based on genuine market research, I wonder? Does Yahoo! know that it's news readers are primarily concerned with politics, then economic and business news and then celebrity gossip? Is this just an editorial decision by the staff of Yahoo! News, who personally felt that the story about Bush lying was more important than the movie star who took too many sleeping pills? I'm curious...

1 comment:

dhodge said...

I heard the news first on NPR, of all places. Of course, as soon as I heard the words "Actor Heath Ledger...", I knew he must have passed away, since that seems to be the only time NPR dips its toes into the world of celebrity gossip. Kind of like a relative who only calls you when something bad has happened to someone in your family.