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Fantasy Families: More important than our own?

Published: October 31, 2008
Section: Opinions


Is my family more important than yours? To me, sure. To you, probably not.

Would any of you care if my neighbor got shot? Would you read about it in the news or would I have to tell you about it first?

Now what about Britney Spears? What if something happened to her or her children? I’d be willing to bet that news of this tragedy would ooze down to nearly all of us. Maybe we wouldn’t all be glued to the TV, but I’d like to say that we’d at least be aware of what was going on.

Such is the case with the recent tragedy in Jennifer Hudson’s family. In case you haven’t already heard, the mother and brother of this Academy Award winning singer and actress were found shot to death in their Chicago home last week. Hudson’s nephew, initially deemed missing, has now been discovered murdered also.

As is the case with today’s rapidly moving media forces, there have been constant updates to the ongoing story. I was shocked when I first heard this story and as a human being, my heart goes out to Hudson and her family in this very difficult time. But as a journalist and as a student, I also find myself criticizing the media coverage of this tragedy. While this is a tragedy and is deserving of media coverage to a certain degree, it’s also a sad reality check about our cognizance of local tragedies because what about the other victims that go unreported? What about the voices that go unheard? Who’s to say that the life of one victim is more important than the next? And who’s going to ask these questions?

This latest tragedy has got me thinking about these very questions. And since two of my journalism classes discussed this very issue of media coverage of celebrity news in the same day I figured the topic warranted a column at the very least.

When one of my professors asked the class what happened to Jennifer Hudson’s family the other day, I knew. I knew not because I religiously follow celebrity news-the opposite is actually true-but because the story has been so prevalent in this week’s news cycle that it’s been hard to escape. But when she asked about a local shooting in Boston, I had no clue what had happened. I couldn’t help but ask myself when it was that the everyday person in the public decided that a celebrity or their family was more important than the rest of us. I’m not going to sit here and say that I never read celebrity gossip because I think that’d be impossible for any of us to say, and I’m guilty of it myself.

So, why do we cover so many celebrity stories and yet so many of us don’t know what’s going on in our own backyard? All at once the answer seems so simple. Sometimes it’s just so hard to keep track of what’s going in the world these days and oftentimes when scanning the latest headlines after a long and hard day, many of us will just click on something light that catches our interest.

Maybe we’re all just so wrapped up in our own lives that we need a little escape from reality and celebrity news-whether it’s triumph or tragedy-provides us with that. People often say they ‘identify with’ or ‘relate to’ certain celebrities. But after all, aren’t everyday people living miles away from us a lot easier to relate to than some far-off celebrity you’ll most likely never meet or know?

And yet it’s no lie that the people who get swept under the rug, who get thrown to the last page of the paper (if they’re there at all) are more like you and I than any celebrity.

For this very fact we should demand better from two sources: our media and ourselves. Because, as one of my classes discussed the other day, without a public desire for the type of news we really need, the news industry simply cannot provide it. And I know the media can’t cover every local tragedy but maybe we should start to care a little bit more about the deaths of our next-door neighbors rather than the celebrities we don’t even know.

This is not to say at all that a story like that of Hudson’s personal tragedy doesn’t warrant coverage because it certainly draws attention to important issues of crimes in the United States, but the fact that we have forfeited our hometown pride for fantasy seems to me to be the news of the day.