​The world is on fire: Who cares! It’s #TheDress color that matters

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
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Is it black and blue? Is it white and gold? What color is it? The Western media has been fixated on these questions this past week – questions that have dominated TV news bulletins, newspaper headlines, and news websites.

Such has been the furor you would have been forgiven for assuming they were questions being asked in the quest for a cure for cancer, HIV or Ebola. But you’d be wrong. It was much more important than that. It was about the color of…a dress?

Yes, you read that right - we’re talking about a dress.

It started with a picture of the dress being posted on social media over the question of its color. The debate that ensued went viral and was soon taken up by the media.

Think about it: the world is on fire, carnage and chaos is spreading in the Middle East, an uneasy peace reigns in eastern Ukraine, homelessness, poverty, and despair is growing across a Europe increasingly divided between the haves and have nots – but this is small potatoes compared to the color of a dress.

Another story deemed worthy of an international media feeding frenzy last week was Madonna’s fall during a live performance at the annual Brit music awards in London. Every single major newspaper, news website, and TV news bulletin replayed it, dissected it, analyzed it, then replayed and dissected and analyzed it again, as if on a quest to find some hidden meaning behind a fifty-something woman falling on her backside down a set of stairs.

Is she okay? Look at how quickly she regained her composure and continued with her performance. What happened? A wardrobe malfunction, you say? Yes, the cape she was wearing which was supposed to be pulled off by one of the dancers as she reached the top of the stairs had been tied too tightly around her neck. She couldn’t untie it in time and so when the dancer pulled the cape, he pulled her back along with it and down she went.

My God, what a catastrophe! What are we to do?

But have no fear; Madge (Madonna) was all right. Given the level of media interest, she issued a statement reassuring us there was nothing to worry about. Phew!

On a serious note, these are what pass for major news stories nowadays. And they wonder why an increasing number of people are turning away from mainstream news outlets, turning instead to social media and alternative sources for their information and up to date news coverage?

Singer Madonna falls during her performance at the BRIT music awards at the O2 Arena in Greenwich, London, February 25, 2015. (Reuters/Toby Melville )

The obsession with trivia is reflective of the general dumbing down of Western culture that has taken place over a number of years and shows no evidence of abating anytime soon. Here, the argument that this is a phenomenon driven by demand doesn’t stack up. Demand in this regard is a consequence of supply. The sheer deluge of trivia, celebrity gossip, and other such vaporous nonsense ensures that it is well nigh impossible to ignore.

I have personal experience of the celebrity news industry. Ten years ago I was briefly employed by a paparazzi news agency in Hollywood. My role within the organization involved fielding calls from ‘spotters’, people with information on various celebrities they had sighted. Spotters were paid a small commission for passing on these tips and they comprised bar tenders, waiters and waitresses, parking attendants, doormen – in other words an army of people who worked in and around Hollywood and Beverly Hills catering to the rich and famous. Upon receipt of a tip a photographer or two would be dispatched to the location to try and get a picture.

A woman sitting at the desk next to mine spent the day screaming down the phone negotiating a price for said pictures with magazines, celebrity gossip websites, and newspapers around the world. To give you an idea of what I mean: “We got the first shot of Tom Cruise with his kids after his divorce from Nicole Kidman. We got him walking through Central Park in New York. His kids look so cute. It’s yours for a hundred grand.”

It was like listening to a woman selling her soul and I lasted all of three days before quitting.

When you think that the non-negotiable ingredient in a successful and vibrant democracy is an informed and educated citizenry, this cultural malaise and process of dumbing down is no small matter. In fact, it’s about as serious as it gets.

It’s exactly as Oscar Wilde said: “By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.