Controversy Breeds Interest // Jake Crown

Wikipedia stresses the importance of factuality and lack of bias in its articles. Opinionated statements are forbidden and removed upon discovery. When Olympic athlete and celebrity Bruce Jenner underwent a sex-change operation becoming Caitlyn Jenner, ultra-factual Wikipedia became the center of controversy. Before Wikipedia administrators got involved, there was a battle between various editors.  The issue in question was whether to refer to Jenner as a “he” or “she” prior to the operation. Was Jenner always a “she” but in a male body? Did Jenner become a “she” after the operation? Did a male or female win the “male athlete of the year award”? The initial decisions that Wikipedia administrators made were fairly confusing. Instead of referring to Jenner as a “he” or “she”, “Jenner” was simply used over and over. Administrators have since decided that Jenner was, in fact, a female in gender since birth. Unfortunately this didn’t help the confusion or argument. A section from Wikipedia now reads:

“As a result of winning the Olympic decathlon, Jenner was a national hero… She was also the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1976” (Tutltle).

There were several news articles written on this “battle” on Wikipedia. When the hell did the writing process of a Wikipedia page qualify as newsworthy? Why would anyone want to read an article on the drama of wikipedia? Because controversy is present and controversy is captivating. As I discovered through my research in Critical Thinking and Writing, news media often uses controversy to keep the public interested. Controversy is simply a tool for engagement.

In the past several years, cases of police brutality have captivated the public. The details of every case, along with fundamental beliefs about police rights to self-defense, have divided the public, causing the media to continue to cover these cases in depth. As I discovered in my research of over twenty news articles, three surveillance videos, and several court documents, on Kelly Thomas, the schizophrenic homeless man that was beaten to death by police, there are dramatically different beliefs regarding how much force officers should be allowed to use. Kelly Thomas’s lawyer argued police should be given significant legal leeway in order to avoid unnecessary deaths caused from police being afraid to use force for fear of legal repercussions. Kelly Thomas’s father expressed an opposing viewpoint, explaining that extra leeway gives police the right to do whatever they want, a privilege that is abused. For an extended period after Thomas’s death, the nation was divided with some protesting for legal change and others rallying in support of police officers (Barber, E). Professional news writers did not overlook this controversy and perpetuated debate through continued coverage.

While researching an essay on American perception of shark finning and tuna fishing, I discovered that just because something is important or relevant, doesn’t mean it gets talked about. Shark finning and tuna fishing both have horrific consequences but have received different amounts of attention.

Americans have responded appropriately to modern day shark finning trends. Through four “mainstream” documentaries, countless news articles, and the banning of any shark meat in several states, Americans and American media have shown their disdain for the practice (Shark Bait, Shark Education). It makes sense why Americans are so critical. Sharks face an inevitable gruesome death after they are thrown overboard alive with their fins removed. Whether it is slowly eaten alive by bottom dwelling fish, suffocating from the lack of water movement over its gills, or brutally bashed into underwater rock formations from a strong current, the shark always suffers a prolonged death (Shark Education). Animal cruelty isn’t the only reason for reaction, either. Only 10% of pelagic (open sea) shark populations remain due to shark finning (Shark Finning).

 

 

There has been little to no “mainstream” news stories covering the similar horror of tuna fishing. When tuna are caught using nets, tuna (and whatever other creatures were unlucky enough to be inside) are often torn apart. Occasionally, fish can be pulled from the depths so quickly that they experience a rapid change in pressure. This pressure change is so drastic that tuna’s eyes will actually pop out of their sockets (Foer 192). The lack of coverage is especially troubling because only 4% of historic bluefin tuna populations are alive today (Philips 1).

While researching this paper, I had to sift through articles on “the health benefits of tuna” and “delicious tuna recipes” in order to find relevant information. Why is there a dramatic difference in attention between these parallel issues? While I explored potential motivations being based on race, culture, or food preference differences within my essay, I now believe that a lack of “opposition” may have also played a role. Every good controversy has two parties, fighting each other. In the case of shark finning, many Asian Americans have stepped forward, writing articles explaining how eating shark fin soup has a traditional role in their culture and beliefs. It plays a role in traditional ceremonies, like marriage. There is little cultural significance of eating tuna. As far as I’m aware of, the reason tuna is so popular in the United States is because it tastes good and people believe it’s healthy. What kind of opposition is that? “Tuna fishing kills roughly 3.3 million sharks, 1 million marlins, 60,000 sea turtles, 75,000 albatross, and 20,000 dolphins and whales as by-catch every year” (Foer 191). “B-but it tastes good.” Ridiculous.

American’s difference in reaction to tuna fishing and shark finning made an interesting controversy in itself. Shark finning and tuna fishing have essentially the same core issues. Both practices are causing the species populations to collapse, produce large amounts of waste, and are very cruel. The hypocritical attention to one issue over another is controversial, and it made my essay interesting. If either the issues of shark finning or tuna fishing had been presented independently in different essays, it would have been very challenging to keep readers engaged.

Within Eating Animals, the author, Jonathan Foer, exposes viewers to the dark reality of the food system in America. He makes it clear that in the case of factory farming awareness is required to cause change. Luckily, there are countless controversies within the food system that captivate readers attention. Hopefully, these controversies are enough to eventually erect change.

Strangely, a pessimist could look at the food industry and come to a depressing conclusion. How many other issues are there that require awareness to cause change? Many of these issues are probably just as complex as the food industry, if not more, and require continued attention from the public. How can writers get the average American, for example, to sit through four hundred pages on fiscal policy’s impact on international trade? Unless there is some interesting scandal, drama, or controversy, there really isn’t much chance.

 

 

Phillips, Ari. “Feds Consider Ban On Bluefin Tuna Fishing As Population Dips 95 Percent.” Think Progress. Climate Progress, 24 July 2014. Web. 03 Dec. 2014.

Tuttle, Ian. “Who Won Bruce Jenner’s OIympic Medals?” National Review Online. NRO, 2 June 2015. Web. 10 June 2015.

Barber, Elizabeth. “Kelly Thomas Case: Why Police Were Acquitted in Killing of Homeless Man (+video).” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 03 June 2015.

Shark Bait. Prod. Gordon Ramsay. Perf. Gordon Ramsay. 2013.

“Shark Education – Shark Finning Facts.” Shark Education – Shark Finning Facts. Conservation Society, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2014.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Shark Finning Puts Species on Verge of Extinction. Dir. Annaliza Savage. Wired, 2010. DVD.

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