Many of you may have recently watched the film on Netflix titled “Don’t Look Up”. It was recommended to me a few weeks ago and I finally had a chance to take in the show last night.
And, wow! What an interesting and timely theme for so many Hollywood A-listers – Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep just to name a few – to take a role in.
The movie is a satire that could not be more applicable to today’s world and especially to the state of journalism. Ms. Lawrence plays a Ph.D candidate astronomer who discovers that a comet is headed for earth. Ms. Streep is an unqualified President who rode her entertainment industry fame into the White House on the coattails of big donors who could control her actions as the Chief Executive. The Ph.D. candidate is trying to warn earthlings that certain destruction is upon us; while the “not very engaged” President is determined to down play the whole crisis – even to the point that when the comet is visible from earth, the world’s population is still uncertain of the risk of ultimate catastrophe. The reason for the lack of seriousness is that the Office of the White House popularized the phase “Don’t Look Up” through the determined and expert use of social media which sowed doubt by downplaying the role of science and frankly, common sense. The plot was intended to call attention of the state of our earth’s changing climate and the lack of emphasis being put on the scientific data by certain political groups and deniers that is right before our eyes.
The script was most likely written and the movie produced prior to the “Stop the Steal” movement so as much as the script could be applied to any number of political situations in America today, the climate crises was the looming disaster that was front and center to the movie’s production. To me, the message of the film was not a political one as much as it is an indictment on the state of journalism (or lack of it) in our country. The more concerning theme as evidenced by “Don’t Look Up” is the very disturbing ability of an individual or organization or confluence of like-minded citizens to dictate public opinion and education using disinformation that is streamed, posted, broadcast, or otherwise floated to the public by whatever digital medium that is available with absolutely no relation to the facts, truth, or common understanding.
“In simplistic terms, it seems as though the power of influence has completely overcome the notion of truth and civility.”
Society has become so cynical of traditional journalistic processes and norms that most unbiased outlets are simply being overwhelmed by one influencer with access to a smartphone. How much more scientific evidence is necessary to establish that the climate is changing in a bad way due to human activity; that COVID-19 is not the flu; that 99.9% of all voter fraud claims have been disproven or thrown out of court; that a healthy population is necessary for an economically thriving society; that big business has an undue influence in our political decision making; and the list goes on. Journalists who report these common sense views of the world don’t stand a chance in hell because we try to play fair and within societal norms. That day is over. Rational thinking, science and facts aren’t exciting enough or controversial enough to make headway against the prevailing efforts of ruthless power-mongers who thrive on clicks and views regardless of the legitimacy of their message.
“Don’t Look Up” may portrait the current power of social media and digital marketing in a light that is a bit exaggerated; but it’s a satirical look at the current state of society – it’s supposed to be exaggerated. But at least the carriers of the torch for common sense have created a platform that tried to create enough exaggeration to a credible story that it can eat away at the stranglehold of disinformation that is applied to stories with no credibility or relevance to the facts.