Nightcrawler and ‘Breaking News’: could it really break us?

TransAsia flight Flight GE235 crashing into the river Taipei. (Photo credit: nbcnews.com)
TransAsia flight Flight GE235 crashing into the river Taipei. (Photo credit: nbcnews.com)

The caption following the picture above is almost made redundant since everyone knows what this despairing image shows. And we know of this image because news channels all over the world replayed this footage on a loop, over and over and over again. And we loved it, didn’t we?

Let’s face it: when we watch the news, we can often fail to consider that we’re dealing with real lives. Somewhere in the world, a plane has crashed, a natural disaster has occurred, people have been shot at gunpoint, cars have piled-up in a horrific accident or someone has been raped or assaulted. When we watch the news, it’s easy to feel detached yet somehow sympathetic to what has happened, and we often feel compelled to air our grievances over these happenings. So off we go and discuss what has happened with our friends, write a tweet or Facebook status about it or share the link to an article updating us on the latest happenings. But we never pause to think how in a really twisted (and unconscious) way, watching a breaking news feature is actually quite entertaining. Seeing despairing visuals on our TV screens showing perhaps of rows of houses that have been savagely destroyed by a hurricane, or how cars on a motorway have piled up and left people for dead have been described by some to be ‘masturbatory’. And we have to question that in a way, watching a ‘breaking news’ feature is arousing, right? It’s a spectacle, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be that in a sexual sense, but we do end up with an almost insatiable urge to place ourselves in front of the TV and allow a lens to show us images or videos of something that has gone drastically wrong.

Say 'cheese!' - Jake Gyllenhaal as demented videographer Lou Bloom in the grisly thriller 'Nightcrawler'.
Say ‘cheese!’ – Jake Gyllenhaal as demented videographer Lou Bloom in the grisly thriller ‘Nightcrawler’. (Photo credit: the Independent)

 Let’s take the recent release of the movie ‘Nightcrawler’ for instance. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, we step into the dark underbelly of the Los Angeles crime journalism scene and follow Lou, who sees an opportunity to be a freelance videographer and begins to make money from selling shocking footage of crimes to a news channel. Except this news channel has poor ratings and the demand for only the most exclusive and heart-stopping video footage is high; with Lou Bloom ready to literally bloom and make a shed-load of money, he goes out of his way to meet and exceed expectations by recording footage of crimes in the most gruesome and chilling way. For instance, he records people’s death and focuses on the gushing blood, where a person’s life slipping away becomes the focus of his monstrous lens; he even arrives at the scene of a crash before the police and drags the dead body from it’s resting position at an angle that suits him and the gaze of his camera best. In doing so, Lou begins capitalizing on footage of the dying/dead and their sorrow, simply to feed demanding audiences and ensure everything he shoots looks good for the camera, despite the immoral fixation of his lens.

And as he grapples for more and more grislier footage, the ratings of the vulgar news channel increase and Lou Bloom becomes a ‘success’. The movie simply made me think about what would happen if in the future, the audiences demand for the images and videos that accompany a ‘breaking news’ feature to be as visually stimulating as possible did indeed drive people to capture footage that was more and more intrusive, exploitative and of course, destructive. While ‘Nightcrawler’ may at first glance depict a dystopian future in which digital journalism has taken a terrifying and corrupt turn in the hands of a deranged figure, we must question whether director Dan Gilroy is predicting this as a future occurrence or whether broadcast journalism is inching towards becoming as gruesome as in ‘Nightcrawler’ itself.

Whatever happens, I do believe news channels and those ‘breaking news’ moments hold a perverse fascination for audiences to watch things destructing, and produce a huge demand for a greater spectacle. As a viewer myself, I cannot deny this.

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Photo credit: nytimes.com

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