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Fluff overload: We're in it

| Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The Yahoo! homepage is on the laptop or smartphone, and you're ready to check your email. Before you can sign in, you see news of the day. You read “the latest” aloud to a friend:

“Miley Cyrus has something to say about twerking. Casting shockers (!) for the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey' movie. U.S. military action against Syria… Ooh! A Kardashian did something! Hmm … foods that naturally whiten teeth!”

“Whoa! What now?” the friend responds as you begin to repeat the offerings. “No, no, not Fifty Shades. That Kardashian thing.”

As seen on the cover of the Tribune-Review and in most other news outlets, the United States is considering military action against a country whose government stands accused of using nerve gas to kill its citizens, including hundreds of children. Such stories rarely become the most-popular or most-read on news sites these days.

One of the most popular videos on CNN is about how President Obama put his feet on his desk in the Oval Office, and it offended some people. I know, right? How could he?

Here we are, on the brink of military action, which should spur much more serious questions: Using nerve gas on innocents is horrible, but why is it up to the United States to step up? Aren't other countries with capable military forces also capable of outrage and action?

Good questions. And though it's not necessary to spend every moment reading about weightier issues of the day, at least we should show more interest in Syria than in Kelly Ripa's hairstyle.

Pittsburghers are focused on another monumental event: the Pirates dispatching the demons of 20 losing seasons. The first 10 trending Twitter topics in Pittsburgh as of noon Wednesday were about the Pirates, according to the online service Trendsmap, which tracks popular topics in real time. Topic No. 11 was Bill Nye, one of the new Dancing with the Stars contestants.

Does this make anyone else nervous? I asked Matthew Donahue, a Ph.D. lecturer and instructor at Bowling Green (Ohio) State University's Department of Popular Culture, about America's seeming fascination with fluff. He and I reviewed CNN's home page together and discussed news of the day, including a story about the reflection from glass windows of a London skyscraper that partially melted a car.

“On one hand, there is a socially conscious public out there,” Donahue said. “But what the mainstream media is throwing down people's throats is entertainment and celebrity — and it is a major distraction.”

Donahue said he thinks change will come. When people realize the seriousness of the Syria situation, for example, their focus likely will turn quickly to more important news, he said.

Right now, though, Donahue compared the major media obsession with celebrity news to the Bruce Springsteen song, “57 Channels (and Nothin' On).”

“Except now … there are now 157 channels, and nothing is still on. Yet, we are still watching.”

Nafari Vanaski is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-856-7400, ext. 8669, or nvanaski@tribweb.com.

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