This column will be an unexpected continuation of my last column where I reflected and celebrated my family’s and my successful story of becoming—but more importantly feeling—American without hesitation or ambiguity in a very short period of time. The possibility of becoming and feeling American, which is encouraged and open to all races, religions and backgrounds in this country, is unique and worthy of celebration.
Just recently, we missed yet another great opportunity of such celebration and reflection about who we are as a nation with the selection of Miss America 2014. Nina Davuluri’s well-deserved success in becoming the first Miss America of Indian origin is overshadowed. Instead, we see troubling controversy and xenophobia created by the usual suspects in social media and overblown and exaggerated by pretty much everyone else. Minutes after a few bigots and ignorant folks vomited their hate and idiocy through Twitter and Facebook, yet another incredible story of how legal immigration to this beautiful country works and creates wonders turned into a tale about how bad this bunch of haters and marginal groups in our midst is, and how bad we are as a nation.
Defensive and worried Muslim responses, angry liberals, embarrassed Americans and many more unleashing their frustrations over these shameful exclusive voices flooded our news resources. Global media didn’t waste time and joined the crowd, covering the “controversy” extensively in a similarly troubling, misleading and counterproductive ways. The entire story was all about these voices of ignorance and bigotry. As if no Americans were happy that another ethnic community found a way to celebrate their inclusion in the social fabric of American society. As if these few marginal voices have the final say about who is and isn’t American. Once again, a few insignificant folks who otherwise will never be known to most of us became famous, representative and in some ways authorities in such an undeserved and unhelpful fashion. Humanity’s increasing demand for sensational news keeps producing these kinds of counterproductive realities on a daily basis.
American society is in no way unique in this struggle with sensationalism. Over-glorification of crazies and increasing demand for the “what bleeds, it leads” mentality is indisputably a global phenomenon. I am not sure how many of us step back and reflect on the picture that these kinds of “controversies”—which effectively turn spotlights to a bunch of unhelpful voices in such a disproportionate way—draw of us as a society? More importantly, how many of us realize how much undeserved legitimacy and unintended recognition we grant to these marginal voices of hate and exclusion over and over by giving so much undeserved attention and coverage to them? I am also not sure how many of us recognize the unintended consequences of extending the mics and cameras to these troubling voices, who in no stretch of the imagination represent us, our values and who we want to be.
One of the most destructive outcomes of this trend is how this overblown coverage of crazies shapes our image of one another. If all you hear, read and see about an entire nation, religion, people and society are the marginal, disturbing elements of them in the spirit of sensationalism, you inevitably develop inaccurate and misleading images and information about the people around you. For example, I don’t know how many Americans noticed how this overblown Miss America “controversy” has indirectly and mostly unintentionally aided and legitimized the camp that believes America is at war with Islam and Muslims. They were quick to cover these events, saying: “Not only do they hate all Muslims, but they can’t even tolerate the presence of Muslims or anyone who looks or feels like one…” We have to find a way to break the toxic cycle of sensationalism in media. It is ultimately not the fault of these crazies; it is our fault for feeding this unhealthy situation through our consumption of this junk.
In the apparent rush to see who said what in response to Ms. Davuluri’s selection as Miss America, it is hard not to see our increasing starvation, fascination and unstoppable desire to sensationalize. We can’t stop ourselves from busying with which bigot said what, which hater said something even more inconceivably stupid and who beat the others in radicalism, extremism, shame and embarrassment. Why is that? What is this adrenalin rush, this increasing demand for bad news? What type of masochism is this? What is so unstoppably attractive and sexy about these bigots and haters that we can’t seem to have enough of it?! I am more puzzled and frustrated with normal people who continue to pay attention than with these unfortunate marginal voices themselves.
More rhetorical questions in this regard: Why is what these bigots say more newsworthy than what the overwhelming majority of sane, mentally and spiritually healthy people say on any given issue?! How did we become constant consumers of buzzing sensational news?! If aliens from other planets are observing and trying to psychoanalyze humanity in this regard, what possible conclusions might they arrive at? When will humanity at large realize how harmful and destructive this trend is and work hard to recover so that the overwhelming majority of peaceful, moderate, sane people will have their voices heard? I hope soon, because I for one am really tired of this overall immaturity of humanity. Sigh!
Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Abdullah a message on Twitter @aantepli.