Has it ever occurred to anyone before Alain de Botton to analyze the media, in particular the news, from the standpoint of the consumer? What do we think when we hear about Syria and their promise to decommission their chemical weapons? Should we really care about what a mess Sochi is unless we are participating athletes or plan to go there or are in charge of the event? Why is this information important to us, in light of the fact that we have no influence over these situations? As de Botton points out, only the powerful have any control over what is happening, and really the only ones who need to know about these matters are the ones who have any chance of altering them for the better. It is not as if the news report does more than indicate a problem, tell us a few facts and leave us feeling helpless and perhaps enraged.
So it's no wonder that we media consumers, having done our duty as informed citizens to know at least something about the world situation, turn to a story of celebrity tragedy, in this case the death at an earlyish age of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I must confess to knowing nothing about him and have never seen him in a film. [Oh wait. I did see him in Charlie Wilson's War but can't remember a thing about the movie, or him.]But his story is intriguing. Nancy Nall excoriates this coverage of his death, which she finds sentimental. But isn't it charming to see him with his children in this candid photo in Central Park? Children are so wonderful. How could he have left them bereft because he favored his addiction to a dangerous drug?
I'm imitating de Botton's style here, with its undertone of the kind of flat-footed irony he specializes in. But at the same time he is serious. Why do we consume all this news? We could be doing so many other things, after all.