Who Cares, and Why?

I have been traveling yesterday and today, and have therefore caught more unintentional snippets of media — blaring TV’s in restaurants, hotel lobbies, airport lounges, etc. — than usual. And the same story has been on every single TV: the astronaut love triangle. First I thought it was because I’m in Houston, where Lisa Nowak began her 900-mile diapered drive. But plainly this wasn’t a local story. I realize the story represents a sort of perfect storm of media stickiness — a female perp and a female victim, lust, revenge, NASA, pepper spray, and of course the diaper — but I have to confess that I am overwhelmed that this has become such a round-the-clock story. Who cares, and why? They were even talking about the story on the two ESPN shows I saw pieces of last night (SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption); in each case, the anchors sheepishly acknowledged that the story had zero to do with sports but … they simply couldn’t resist. But why? Forgive me if I’ve got a thick skull on this one, but can anyone explain why this story has blown up so big and so fast?


egretman

A woman in diapers pretty much does it for me. If you don't understand this story then I suggest that you are sexually dead.

phik

It's even worse than you think, Stephen.

I'm living in Perth, Australia for the winter, and it's national news here, too.

mgroves

You answered your own question, I think. It's the "perfect storm" story. People aren't interested in it because of the media, the media is interested in it because people demand this kind of non-story news junk. Have you watched your local news lately? It's a wasteland of non-news designed solely to get ratings.

Luigi Montanez

This story is so big because it involves the downfall and humanizing of people who have traditionally been held in high regard in American society -- NASA astronauts. Maybe this isn't true today, but since the 1960's every American boy wanted to be an astronaut at one point during his childhood, and in the 1980's girls were given the dream that they could be astronauts too.

This type of scandal coverage happens all the time with our society's highly-regarded people, from celebrities to presidents to star athletes. It's just now unique and novel that it happened with astronauts.

feenwager

Because we're bored. I really feel that if you look closely, Americans have so much more time than they convince themselves they do.

The fact that we get so wrapped up in silly stuff like this just shows how truly lacking in anything concrete to do we are.

But I have to admit, the diaper angle is just weird.

gcooley

People are always interested in the bizarre behavior of our elites, which certainly include astronauts. Look at popular culture's characterizations of astronauts, a professor and a soldier rolled into one. She deviates from the pattern, behaving like one of the "desperate housewives" and is therefore fascinating to many. Most information that runs counter to common sense is considered interesting. A couple guys wrote an entire book along a similar vein…

prosa

But I have to admit, the diaper angle is just weird.

Nowak must have made at least two fuel stops on the 1,000-mile drive. Why not just use the restroom then, and obviate the need for the diaper?

Jerome

The story is so huge because it's so bizarre. And you don't usually have 'crazy people' stories like this with astronauts involved. Astronauts are supposed to be 'better people'. They have too! Or how else would they be able to do stuff like fly to a space station?? ;)

cycle

National news in Australia? National news in Canada too, with coverage being about half-half between the story itself and the reasons why everyone cares so much. Of course we don't write "everyone", we write "Americans" so it's guilt-free.

EddieG5

I think it's because of the Astronaut angle. I mean, these are supposed to be some of the smartest people we have that undergo serious background and mental testing. I think people find it fascinating that someone of an Astronaut's stature would be so pedestrian.

kentavos

Thoreau said it best,

"And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter- we never need read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications? To a philosopher all news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit and read it are old women over their tea."

jb

Because they're astronauts. Who would possibly imagine that astronauts would behave so strangely? How could someone who is super-fit, super -smart and super-dedicated collapse to such bizarre depths?

That is to say - this is the classic "Oh how the mighty have fallen". Usually applied to CEOs (Ken Lay) Media darlings (Martha Stewart), politicians (Scooter Libby), preachers (Ted Haggard) and sports figures (Barry Bonds).

Now, we have an entirely new category of OHTMHF: Lovesick Astronauts.

Americans (I suspect all people, but Americans for sure) love to see superachievers fail, because it helps them feel better about their non-superachiever lives.

BobG

Everything above, plus these 3 words:

Slow News Day.

It's more interesting than talk about the snow or another bomb in Iraq.

wesleyb41

Americans are bombarded with stories that have no relevance to life every night. Reality TV has effectively ruined genuine news reporting. When Paris Hilton can lead the news because she was caught using racial slurs on video, we have reached critical mass.

egretman

Great Thoreau quote.

Economics, people! "Dog Bites Man" is now news because its cheap. Local news has covered petty crime and fires for years because it costs them nothing but a reporter to interview a cop or fireman. Covering the local town council is time consuming and expensive.

Well, now take that logic and apply it to the proliferation of cable news channels. It's a race to the bottom for the cheapest ratings. It's the FOXification of the news at the national level.

I turn to CNN and they are showing IRAQ. I turn to FOX and they are showing the lastest child molestation. Now ask yourself...which is cheapest to cover?

Worse, it's misleading. Dad's molest their daughters at a much higher rate than do strangers.

Welcome to America, circa 2006. Can't show the caskets of returning dead soldiers? Well here's a story on a crazy astronaut wearing a diaper. Enjoy.

Nolan Matthias

While the aspects of the diaper and the woman on woman violence seem to be good enough to get this story into the news, I think the fact that this has happened in a community of elite performers (astronauts) is what makes this story so intriguing to the media.

These people are in the company of those who have gone to the moon, built international research labs in space, and who will likely soon be going to mars. If someone so highly trained and respected can do something like this, what does it mean for the rest of us?

Nolan M

Glo

Purient interest sounds about right to me.

Truth is stranger than fiction is pretty good too. Could a screen writer have made this one up? I don't think so.

Finally, I'd suggest that at least a little "there but for the grace of God ..." might come into play too. Love, or something like it, does funny things to the brain: http://samvak.tripod.com/lovepathology.html How many TV viewers recognize themselves in the story of the astronaut?

emperor657

Three words, Stephen:

Astronaut Love Triangle.

trueenuff

ray

Front page of a NY newspaper I just saw at a newstand-"LUST IN SPACE"

The police report said she had "...a BB gun with the safety off.."