Wednesday, January 16, 2008

media creates underage party monster

On the weekend, a 16 year old year held a party at his parent’s outer Melbourne home while they were away on holidays. The party got somewhat out of control as over 500 people attended causing minor damage to nearby property and nuisance value to local police. There this minor story would have ended up but for the prurience of the local media and a vilification campaign that served only on to cement his “stardom”. The story has proved again the difference between stories in the public interest and stories the public are interested in. Despite having no importance whatsoever except perhaps to show the disaffection of modern teens, the boy is now an international media star, but who now officially can no longer be named in Australua due to a summons to a children’s court next month. However his name is in the public domain in the Sydney Morning Herald as well as in countless other places despite his arrest.

The media have created this monster. Today Crikey posted a detailed timeline of events. Local news first got wind of the story Sunday morning as rumours of a wild party filtered though. Cameras at the scene picked up drunken youths running partially naked near the scene. Channel Nine mentioned the boy’s name in the Sunday evening news. Then the Monday talkback lines predictably rang hot with angry finger-pointing parents. But as usual it was the evening Channels Nine and Seven laughably entitled “current affairs” show that were the worst offenders of manufactured outrage. Channel Seven found and badgered the parents on holidays on the Gold Coast who worried about their son's ego. Nine interviewed the youth himself who exasperated the host with his dress code, his lack of apology and the temerity to refuse to take off sunglasses when ordered to do so on camera. He then flabbergasted the host by suggesting it was the “best party ever” and suggested anyone who wanted to host a party should use his organising skills!

The media's obsession with his sunglasses theme continued yesterday when the youth fled the studio after a radio interview host Matt Tilley physically attempted to remove them. However, the youth is clearly getting media coaching from somewhere as he later returned to finish the interview in unruffled and presumably unmolested fashion. Tabloid newspapers and talk-show hosts continued to put the boot in about the “party monster” and “puffed up teen party pest”. The story went international as British newspapers reported on it and US news programs picked up the video footage. CNN said the story was the most downloaded from their website where it is trashily listed as “Aussie Party Teen in Child Porn Arrest”.

Meanwhile the attitude towards the youth is markedly different on the internet, where the demographic is presumably closer to the boy’s own age group. Here it has been described it as a battle between old media and new media and one which old media “lost”. TV and radio hosts “had no power over” the youth. Radar called him “Australia’s hottest party boy” and commenters wrote in to suggest someone should “get those famous sunglasses their own tv show!”

Aileron also noted that not only did he use text messages and Myspace and Facebook to send out invites to the party but the social network sites were crucial in providing the momentum for the post-party story. In the part of the story barely reported, the boy told media his invited guests had no part in the melee, and that it was the gatecrashers who had caused all the trouble. But that doesn’t set news directors' pulses raising. A photogenic rebellious youth does. And so on a busy US news day of presidential primaries, Bush’s glory dash in the Middle East, and Wall Street plummeting, a story of an unremarkable party in Melbourne that went awry has topped them all. Whatever of the boy's behaviour, the media priorities are badly skewed.

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