Rethinking Discovery

The human side of the Malaysia Flight 370 story is important. It matters. It matters that 239 human beings are presently unaccounted for, and it is important to their families that they are discovered, whether that discovery entails their coming home or provides some sort of closure. Being entirely unaccounted for is sort of like the purgatory of living-the powers that be owe it to these people to have their ontological statuses determined, if they have the means. But, from all this has outpoured a steady stream of information that has nothing to do with the legitimate human story here, and the non-human parts of the story that were initially legitimate-the plane’s location, the timeline of its demise-have been warped into the worst type of sensationalism. As is true of all yellow journalism, the stories address and present the easy, thoughtless aspects of the story exclusively to sustain itself. Just as it is easy to talk about the weather, it is easy, and ultimately ego-feeding, to go to a CNN article, find out that the search area has widened by a thousand miles, and then have that comment in your back pocket for the rest of the day so that when the flight comes up you can “continue the conversation.” I say worst type of sensationalism because it has dominated the human elements so resoundingly (this is not a joke-type in “people in Malaysian flight” on Google and the headline “From ghostly to psychic, theories abound on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370” pops up first), and because it has laid itself in bed predatorily with the very honorable American notion of discovery.

I mean that in two senses. First, it has made itself a part of the process of discovery by reporting on every development, every new “theory,” every new twist. These reports are delivered according to the same mental process that occurs in individual human discovery. There are hypotheses, tests, failures, theories that are wild and unconsidered and promptly poo-poo’d-the problem is that these failures and crap-of-the-mouth theories are presented by so-called “authorities,” and because they are their product, they do not present their lesser theories as lesser, like a human would. Would CNN ever admit that their article titled “EVERY FLIGHT 370 THEORY HAS A HOLE” is completely inane? Not up to the standard its “authority” as a news source suggests? Imagine if a person truly believed his or her every thought was a relevant and legitimate “discovery?” He or she would be considered psychotic. Now, of course, the argument that news sources are far different from brains and to call them psychotic (well, it’s not like they have a conscience) is valid, except news sources are delivering their information in a manner that is consciousness-esque, that is, in a manner that is fraught with inanities and little discoveries, and it is constant. Their process isn’t overtly American, but it relates in that it sort of feels like some psychotic minstrel troupe is trespassing on our brains, and most Americans don’t treat their brains like their lawns. Overpopulation in the brain, too, is unresolved.

But the really American thing at stake here is our view of discovery in all its edifying, destructive, contradictory glory. Like it or not, aspiration for discovery is, along with city-upon-the-hill et al, one of the supporting pillars of the country. America has always been populated by people looking to discover new riches-Lewis and Clark are national heroes. We were the first nation to get to the moon, and we are damned proud of it. We thrill at being first. We are a country of pioneers. That spirit can be harnessed for bad or good, of course. In the ’60s, the race to the moon inspired nationalistic pride when, in the face of the Cold War, Vietnam, drafts, Kennedy’s assassination, and great, truly warranted cynicism, the nation needed it. Discoveries in particle physics and energy, however, and the scientists who made them were harnessed to create atomic bombs, which were perpetrators of the cynicism we needed the moon landing to assuage. So, discovery drives the boat, or perhaps is the boat. Objectively, setting aside morality and ethics for a moment, the efforts at discovery and often the discoveries themselves are profound American moments.

The grossest perversion of that honorable searching is this type of sensationalist coverage on CNN (yeah, this is mostly about CNN). CNN would have you believe that it is presenting “the experience” via its constant coverage, that this brings you closest to actually being the discoverer yourself, and it would have you believe this because, as an American, you believe deep down that that’s kind of what you’re about … and CNN wants your clicks. But it cannot ever be your discovery. You, the reader, are not actually discovering anything by definition. Reporters report their discoveries-inevitably, you are reading something someone else discovered. It gets pernicious when you realize CNN would prefer that you do not acknowledge that separation, that the CNN news-consciousness becomes just your consciousness, because once it’s there, it has you. You are discovering not with your eyes, but with its. Its eyes see thoughtless conspiracy theories-“EVERY FLIGHT 370 THEORY HAS A HOLE”‘-and strictly speculative nonsense as fascinating insight, as a “human story” to rest your eyes on. Indeed, every flight 370 theory has a certain type of hole behind it.

And this has nothing to do with truth. A journal for which truth is secondary to anything else has no credibility whatsoever as a news source. Sadly, newspapers, CNN in particular, have exposed themselves as National Enquirer-esque eye-catchers, and shamelessly so. And they’ve made discovery their bedmate in doing so. They’re standing on its honorable shoulders looking not westward or skyward or inward, but at click totals. And my god, they ignored that the Big Bang was proven in the past weeks to be almost certainly (and that’s damn good) the model for the creation of our universe. That is an American discovery to think hard about and be proud of. But CNN doesn’t want us thinking-it wants us looking at CNN.

Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.