BALLARD: Going against tide of sensationalism

June 22, 2014 

The other day I was traveling up Interstate 75 to Atlanta.

About halfway there, traffic slowed to a snail’s crawl. We would stop and then start again. Ease up on the gas for few seconds and then hit the brakes.

I inched along for almost half an hour. This is something that doesn’t surprise me anymore since a slowdown is almost a sure bet when approaching the Interstate 675 interchange. However, it’s always frustrating.

What makes it even more frustrating is that from where you are sitting, you don’t know what’s causing the hold-up. You don’t know if it’s wreck-related or just an influx of traffic. So you sit trapped in what seems like a parking lot of vehicles until the flow of traffic ever so slowly begins to pick up speed.

Many times there is no visible indication of what caused the traffic jam. Other times, there are the tragic remains of a wreck that always make my heart skip a beat since my mother died from the complications of a horrific traffic accident.

It always upsets me to see motorists coming to an almost complete stop and turning around to gawk at the site of a wreck. I have always heard them referred to as “rubber-neckers.” It is as if they get some kind of thrill from seeing what occurred and what was left as a result.

Anyone who has ever had a loved one involved in a car accident knows how insensitive this is. That’s why I always try to avert my eyes and drive by the scene as quickly as possible.

That got me to thinking. When did we become a society that enjoys witnessing other people’s pain? I’m not just referring to rubber-neckers on the interstate. I’m referring to the kinds of opportunities that are placed in front of us on a daily basis to entice us to become part of someone else’s tragedy or controversy. We need to look no further than television for examples.

I rarely have time to watch much television but, when I do, I have trouble finding something to watch where people aren’t being purposefully mean, petty or sarcastic, or screaming at each other at the top of their lungs or even physically attacking each other.

Flipping through the channels the other night, I was shocked to see just how many shows are totally based on sensationalism and shock value. The sad thing is that most of these shows garner the highest ratings.

It seems the more controversy there is, the more people are glued to their television sets. As long as people continue watching, the powers that be will be happy to give them more.

What happened to the days when we watched television to be entertained and uplifted? Do we have to witness someone being beat down verbally or physically for a show to get our attention?

I have enough stress and daily controversy in my real life. When I do sit down to watch a show, I want to be touched in some way or learn a valuable lesson. In short, I want a show with substance. Is that too much to ask?

Recently on the internet, I came upon one of those shows where people are judged by a panel on their various talents. The producers had chosen to share the story of one young man who was competing. He was a very sensitive guy who had been pushed down and belittled by many of his peers. He was told his singing voice wasn’t good enough to perform in front of anyone, let alone enter a competition of this magnitude. People had told him that he would make a fool of himself.

My heart broke as I saw how nervous the man appeared to be and, having been on stage most of my adult life, I certainly know the pressure that can build up inside you before walking out to perform. I held my breath with him as he approached the microphone.

The judges chatted a bit with him but after seeing him visibly shaking, you could tell they weren’t expecting much. In fact, what they got was an incredible voice coming out of this belittled man.

A tear came to my eye but was quickly followed by a smile. I had just witnessed talent winning the battle with self-doubt, and I walked away from that show happier and inspired. To me, that’s what I enjoy watching.

As many of you know, I’ve been pursuing a national television show for years now. I’ve come up against every obstacle you can imagine, but the one thing that is always mentioned is that I need more controversy swirling around my life.

The various producers want me in the middle of some kind of emotional train wreck to get people to watch.

When I tell the producers that’s not who I am, they suggest I change because that’s what sells. I’ve finally come to the realization that’s just not something I’m willing to do.

The only show I want is one in which I can use my talents to uplift and inspire people to create beauty and joy in their lives.

We are in a sad state of affairs when it takes sarcastic, backbiting, selfish behavior or people just generally being in conflict to get attention or ratings. This frustrates me just as much as those rubber-neckers who cause traffic to build up.

I don’t get pleasure from other people’s pain nor am I going to invent controversy just for ratings. I’ll just continue to be who I am with the hope that one day there will be an audience for my kind of show. All of us should have a chance to just be who we are!

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