Coverage of party pills is interesting. The police currently talking about illegal drugs, like MDMA, being found in small amounts in BZP pills will be interpreted by the average citizen (by which I mean, the average consumer of The Herald, who is by no means the average Kiwi) in predictable ways. Predictable, vague ways. Party pills have made a progression from being a “herbal high” – which they never were – to being a “legal high” to now being a vaguely illegal high. The vague illegality is not a matter of illegal additives in some pills (which, if it is a concern, is a matter for quality assurance), but rather the association in the minds of the public. It would not be insane to suggest that “party” and “pill” beginning with a certain letter of the alphabet contributes in some way to a sporadically whipped up public imagination. Nor is their association with raves and dance parties – ironic, considering their creator was looking for an alternative to illegal drugs he considered dangerous.
It’s also interesting to note that BZP is often referred to as a cattle-worming agent, in the same way that tasers are referred to as delivering 50,000 volts. It appeals to the public imagination, being able to say, “You know what they put in those things? Cattle-worming agents!” As if alcoholic drinks don’t include a topical antiseptic and cigarettes don’t contain rat poison.
But what’s most interesting of all is the fact that the matter has received any attention at all. To whom is it a matter of concern? A small fragment of generally middle-class kids use party pills – they mostly want to keep them legal. Their parents, I suppose, are the other concerned parties. The public is not put at risk by the drugs, and the number of people who died from alcohol-related causes in the last week is many times more than the number of people who allegedly died from taking party pills… ever.
But those middle-class parents make up a sizeable portion of the “average citizen” mentioned above – the demographic that provides numbers to the news sources of TVOne, TV3, the Herald, the Post, etc.
The vicious cycle of commodified news is frustrating. People are increasingly shown what they want to see, and they increasingly see what they have seen in the past. So it is that Anna Nicole Smith’s death belongs not in the human-interest slot after the weather, but rather as international news – not just a mention, but an actual whole story from CNN or the BBC. So it is that the classification of BZP is headline news.
What is importance in news? If it was measured in the potential for human suffering found in a particular issue, every night of 6pm news would begin with a piece about alcohol, or about working conditions and pay rates. That’s for national news. For international news, Iraq would still feature strongly, but Palestine would drop down the ranks, replaced by African countries we’ve never heard of.
Instead, we are given Anna Nicole Smith and the placement of a stadium. Speaking of the stadium, 6pm news shows happily provide us with 20 minutes of sports “news” each night. This goes unquestioned.
And of course it does. It would be suicidal for either TVOne or TV3 to replace their sports news with real news, because half the viewers would switch to the competition. Because they want to see sports news. If they see one “tonight on 3 News/One News” segment promising a story about killer party pills and the other about No Child Left Behind legislation in the States, they’re going with the party pills.
Where does the responsibility lie? Tricky for me, being an anarchist. People should choose for themselves, I might say, but then, they already have, and here I am complaining about it. So should the government legislate requirements for news sources to provide actual news? Sure, Ryan, no problem there – just the government deciding what is and is not news. So we need more critically thinking viewers to come out of a situation where they’re being systematically (though not intentionally) dumbed down and numbed down by news shows that compete with their rivals in a manner identical to competition between Sticky TV and Studio 2.
And once again, who am I to say that these things are or are not news? Do I profess access to some Platonic standard of importance against which I can measure Anna Nicole Smith’s death or the stadium placement or the All Blacks’ latest training schedule?
No, God is dead and value is relative. The consequence is that the only value is consistency with one’s own values, whatever they are: the only sin is hypocrisy. The only ground for argument is values held in common. So all that’s left to say is: come on, New Zealand, you don’t really care about this bullshit.