Ours is a nation that runs on visuals. To put it more bluntly, if we don’t see it on TV, it doesn’t exist.
Those of us old enough and not too high at the time to remember the 1960s recall that what made the Vietnam war so immediate was that Uncle Walter was delivering footage of dying American boys right to our living rooms.
This had never happened in any war before, and many historians contend that it was this sight that galvanized the protest movement. Of course, knowing we could get drafted and end up on that reality show ourselves helped galvanize us, too, but that’s another story.
Conversely, if an issue is too abstract to lend itself to an easy visual, it is almost impossible for the public to grasp. Take the deficit, for example. It’s some kind of bookkeeping thing, right? What does it have to do with us? You’ve probably noticed that whenever it’s mentioned on TV, they use the same lame video of sheets of hundred-dollar bills rolling off the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, because it's the best they can do.
Now, if TV news could somehow travel to the future and depict our hollow-eyed, skeletal grandchildren waiting in soup lines for a handout because the Chinese are taking every penny they earn to service a national debt that we wastrels incurred, we might work up a sweat.
It’s the same with the oil slick. BP and the Obama Administration are counting on the fact that TV cameras won’t show the underwater plumes that will plague us for years, or the consequent destruction of the aquatic food chain, because those things aren’t readily visible the way oil-covered waterfowl are.
Out of sight, out of mind.