Here's what happens when you put a bird on it
Sometimes, you have an idea rolling around in your head, and you can't quite capture it. It hangs out in the farthest corner of your mind -- never arriving, but never leaving, either. And then a random article comes along, and it says in one sentence what you've been not-thinking-about for weeks.
That's how I felt when I read this NYTimes story, "For His Latest Trick, John Oliver Forgives $15 Million in Medical Debt." I almost didn't click the link, because guess what? Medical debt doesn't interest me! But then I read the article -- and I realized the article was reading ME.
Here's the opening:
"Would you rather spend 20 minutes reading about the hazards of predatory debt collection, or would you rather spend 20 minutes watching someone forgive millions of dollars in debt, complete with a giveaway that professed to put Oprah Winfrey’s famous “You Get a Car!” gimmick to shame?
"If you chose Option B, congratulations, you are precisely the target audience for John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” a show that understands that...
"...the best way to convey vital information in an age marked by attention deficit is to wrap it up in spectacle." - Katie Rogers, NYT
Spectacle is the medium through which so many of us experience the world, myself included. Entertainment can be a huge waste of time -- OR it can get audiences to pay attention to something important that they would otherwise completely ignore (like, say, medical debt).
This is not a new idea, of course. The Daily Show's been at it for years. But here's the thing: the people on those shows are professionals. They've spent years learning how to tell jokes and build stories. But in this day and age, the tools that entertainers use are tools that we ALL need to know how to use if we want to reach each other. It goes beyond pure entertainment, and reaches into government, education; you name it.
That's not to say we are living in the world of President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho. (Yet.) The world is still full of smart, caring, engaged people. It's just that the world is moving so fast, and we are all overwhelmed with information. It's never been more important to connect with audiences emotionally, to get them to slow down long enough to pay attention, to learn, to connect. Entertainers know how to make the magic happen.
Spectacle is a skillset worth cultivating. It's a subject, like anything else we learn in school. It's a form of rhetoric. It's one of the strongest possible way to make an argument.
A spoonful of sugar really does make the medicine go down.
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