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Thirst for sensationalism led to ‘zombie apocalypse’

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2012

Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2012 01:06

A zombie outbreak began in Miami last week, but it isn’t the kind you think.

These zombies aren’t endlessly consuming human flesh. Rather, they gorge on sensationalist stories devoid of journalistic value.

The May 26 epidemic began with reports from Miami that a crazed naked man was shot dead while “eating” his victim’s face. News outlets reported that the misuse of bath salts was the suspected cause of the man’s psychosis. But as soon as the word “zombie” was tossed into the mix, a strain of unending tabloid consumption began to spread.

Symptoms led to snacking on the occasional follow-up story: A few bites of background on the drugged up face-eater, some juicy pictures of the victim’s wounds.

Soon after, a buffet of “similar” stories detailing cannibalism and senseless violence. Then a feeling of remorse set in — guilt for having been fully enthralled in the death of one man and the permanent disfiguration of another. The truth started to make the morbid reality of the story too hard to swallow.

Still, the hunger remained.

Perhaps some helpings of hyperbole and humor to fill the void. Jokes go down nice and easy, so help yourself to some memes that compare Miami to scenes from “The Walking Dead” TV show. It’s also instinctual to spread your disease across Facebook and Twitter. One especially sick group in Miami made their own video of a prank zombie attack, which caused one person they were pranking to pull out a gun.

More than a week after the initial incident, “zombie apocalypse” was still ranked in the top 20 Google Trends hot searches.

But just as many fictional zombie apocalypses were a failed experiment in the name of progress, so too will experimental sensationalism lead to the downfall of useful information, as today’s bloodthirsty media consumers will become unable to accurately interpret the world around them.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Huffington Post, a trusted news source, that no such zombie outbreak existed to their knowledge.

We need to quarantine this pandemic before it spreads to issues like war and drug violence.

If we’re already desensitized to cannibalism via the zombie craze, what’s to stop the media from utilizing pop culture in headlines about massacres in Syria and cartel killings in Mexico? Is that truly what it takes to get us talking about something? This tactic may well be the reason you’re still reading this article.

Senseless violence happens every day all around us, yet, without some tie to a trending topic (whether relevant or not), it passes by us like white noise. We truly are sick, but there is a cure.

Consumers and producers need a definitive line between news and entertainment, between fact and fiction, between caring and rubbernecking. Without clear distinctions, we might not be ready when civilized society does come crashing down, and we might even cause it.

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