I’ll never forget seeing the Mona Lisa. Back in the 70’s, I was in Europe, and our Paris stop included a trip to the Louvre. Down a hallway, you rounded a corner, and there it was. One of the most famous paintings of all time. How many people had gazed on that face painted 500 years ago and wondered what she was smiling about?
I suppose to the staff of the famous museum, who see the painting frequently, the Mona Lisa doesn’t have as much emotional impact as it does when you actually see it for the first time. I don’t think familiarity breeds contempt with a work of art as great as the Mona Lisa, but I’m guessing it doesn’t rock you back on your heels when you’ve seen it in person for the hundredth time.
I consume more news every day than the typical person, so I’ll admit I get “overexposed” to stuff more quickly than most people. I haven’t actually counted the total number of times I’ve seen the video clip of Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris saying a tearful good-bye to her daddy. But as of this morning, I’m going to guess I’ve seen it 40 times.
Because I channel-hop, I’m bound to see it more times than most people. I’ll spend 15 minutes with five different TV news channels on an average weekday morning, so I’m bound to see any given news clip at least five times.
But as usual, when there’s a truly compelling piece of video, TV producers run it, run it, run it again and again. In one 15-minute segment Wednesday morning on one channel, I saw the clip FIVE times. Average: once every 3 minutes. This morning: twice in two minutes, on the first five minutes of the "Today" show.
This constant re-running of video clips is not a new phenomenon. In the weeks following the September 11th attacks, the clips of the planes hitting the World Trade Center were run so many times that teachers, psychologists, families of the victims, and media critics openly begged news producers to stop doing it.
How many times do you think you’ve seen the video clip of the houses collapsing into Lake Delton last year? The local TV stations still run it on their “news promos”, and every year on June 9th we’ll probably see it repeated another 20 times per station.
There is no such thing as tasteful restraint any more. Every one of these clips I’ve mentioned represents a personal tragedy for someone - a family member of a victim of 9-11; the owner of a house destroyed in a freak disaster; or the family of a dead pop star, seeing that little girl so emotionally overwhelmed and distraught.
I’m not saying the producers of TV news shouldn’t run these clips. I’m saying their bosses should explain to them that often, in the news biz, familiarity DOES breed contempt.