Nothing sells soap like a good tragedy

Publication YearIssue Date 

"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are thoroughly alive. There are certain things we see to be beautiful and we must hunger after them."

-George Eliot (1819-1880), British Writer

It was an awkward tale as CNN presented the meat of the headline news: a missing teen in Aruba, one Natalee Hollaway between the flimsy loaves of coverage about the war in Iraq and the controversy of California's Unocal. The world was much more inclined to swallow the simplistic tale of beauty betrayed and innocence stolen that such complex issues as social security and fiscal policy were allowed to slip under the radar. Such stories don't act in the interest of ratings, upset moods, and of course don't sell rainbow-scented Tide. With the sound off you could have mistaken the footage of the Holloway tragedy as a beauty pageant taking place somewhere sunny and exotic, where the beaches are backdrops to sunsets.

Much to my dismay, a google search yielded 205,000 results and even corrected my misspelling of the new face of attention starved mass media. As I sat comfortably in the sauna of the news' hubris I could not help but wonder why such a story was so worthy of a major network's attention. I had to admit, as anyone did, that Holloway was a veritable American beauty; young, blond-haired and blue-eyed--a portrait of innocence so flawless and dripping with the allure that brings men to their knees, but was a missing teen really this hot an issue? It was surely a topic oozing with the potential of wrongdoing and foul play, but to get the same sort of coverage as a presidential assassination or Brad Pitt getting his bikini line waxed seemed a little unwarranted.

My nose whet with suspicion, I couldn't help but wonder why the news media loved Holloway to the extent of forgoing other, more relevant stories to bring hers to the world. Their narcissism knowing no depth, they must have yearned for that conception of beauty to lovingly look back at. With an audience slightly more discerning to have rinsed their palates of celebrity-spotting and tabloid gossip, who but Holloway could cleanse the palate of transition like ginger after sushi? Who were they to be aware, let alone care, that today over 150,000 children are currently missing in the United States and over 800,000 are reported missing throughout the year? These poor souls tend to be blemishes on the white face of America and are certainly not from Mountain Brook, Alabama (one of the wealthiest cities in America). Many of the currently missing had disappeared weeks before Holloway or at the same time, but their faces would not have met the strict criterion to sell rainbow-scented Tide. Who of us could endure looking at the ugly face of tragedy? Our polished moral compass needs beauty to keep us interested.

My reverence for "the most trusted name in news" would not merely crumble on the excessive coverage of an immaterial story. Tragedy sells rainbow-scented Tide, after all. The brokers of despon- dency needed a good quarter, so I gave the venerable news engine the benefit of the doubt and chalked this up to oversight in the producers room--perhaps too many nights without sleep, too many slow news days or the simple off chance that Holloway had mistakenly pene- trated the intricate filter of relevance protocol.

While the story was capable of temporarily satiating the appetite of average news viewers by playing to our need for juxtaposition, hard as I tried I could not begin to draw the flattered reasoning that this story was more news worthy than the other 149,999 missing children across the heartland of the USA.