5 Reasons Why the George Zimmerman Trial is Important to You!

5 Reasons Why the George Zimmerman Trial is Important to You!

In 1964, Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan proclaimed, “the medium is the message.”  He was not referring to the enormous influence “the medium” exerts on society, but rather the “unintended consequences” that innovation brings to society.  Over time, the unintended effects of the medium can become so great it determines how people perceive events to a much larger degree than the content warrants.  The medium can be anything that takes innovation to the next level including, in this case, the media.  The unintended consequence of the digital age, with instant news, multiple video sources, Facebook, Twitter and blogs is that it changes the way we relate to each other.  Competition for scoops, ratings, hits, clicks, likes and friends oversaturates us with information.  Consequently, the bar for sensationalism has become alarmingly high as each outlet tries to grab their subscriber’s attention so they can get more subscribers.

McLuhan’s adage was apparent in the media frenzy surrounding the George Zimmerman second degree murder trial.  Although there were obvious markers for the case –  including racial profiling, confrontational behavior and an overzealous neighborhood watch resident – no one really knows what happened right before George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin.   What is clear, however, is that the endless stream of media outlets selected this case as a lightning rod for racial injustice and an indictment of the “stand your ground” statute.  The unintended consequence of the digital age is that the media can rile people up to a feverish pitch by serving as a platform for sloppy rhetoric.  If you have any doubt, just tune into any cable show and you can see the erosion of civil discourse right before your eyes.

In an attempt to show how the medium influences the message it delivers I break down the following 5 reasons why the George Zimmerman trial is important to you!

Reason One: The Media

The enormous pressure in today’s media to generate and sustain ratings creates a self-serving loop of sensationalism that incessantly repeats itself until the viewer is completely saturated by the storyline.  For example, in the days following the shooting there were numerous videos showing no blood or scarring on Zimmerman.  The tagline was that an innocent unarmed black child was senselessly murdered by a racial profiler who was claiming self-defense even though there were no wounds to prove he was ever in danger.  The video loop of Zimmerman entering the police department without a mark on him was later refuted by photos showing some superficial wounds to the back of his head.  During the trial those superficial wounds were explained to be head traumas to at least six parts of his skull.  By the time the trial began public opinion was already shaped by the media.  The facts were completely lost in the presentation leaving us to distill what little relevant information there was from the carnival barkers who were peddling them.  Was his head beaten into the concrete?  Were the wounds small because it takes a severe blow to open up a head wound?  Was his broken nose really broken?  Even if Zimmerman was being beaten does it justify a shooting?  That was for the jury to decide, but while the judicial process was underway public opinion was being shaped by the nature of our symbiotic relationship with the media, which fuels the reciprocal thirst for sensationalism and cultural retribution.

Reason Two: Intensification

This type of agenda-driven journalism breeds a mob mentality, which was apparent when the verdict of “not guilty” was read and death threats against all involved ensued.  People tend to have their feelings stirred when they see something repeatedly over a period of time.  Sometimes it moves them to action, but it can also activate something lying dormant within them.  Those watching the trial who were profiled, stalked, or mistreated themselves would likely have a more intense reaction to what they saw than the normal outrage most people experienced by the circumstances that led up to the shooting.  Those heightened reactions, continually agitated by watching the emotionally charged reporting of the trial and its aftermath, are considered retraumatizations of past wounds.  The current form of media manipulation through overexposure, such as lingering images and charged rhetoric used to speculate about motives and methods, floods our senses and intensifies our feelings until old wounds reopen and we lose perspective.  It’s not surprising that this case turned into a racial battleground, making it more understandable for  anyone with a history of oppression to be outraged at the innocent verdict no matter how judiciously the law was applied.

Reason Three: Perspectivism

We all hold our histories differently and when we lose our perspective we risk giving ourselves over to public sentiment.  Friedrich Nietzsche, the great German philosopher, is largely credited with developing the idea that all people have different perspectives.  It’s what makes us unique.  Understanding perspectivism gives us a glimpse into why a jury, listening only to testimony and not being influenced by commentators and pundits, can bring back an innocent verdict while the majority of people watching the trial may have considered that Zimmerman was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  While mainstream society was captivated by the media, the jurors were left to apply the letter of the law to the case.  From inside the courtroom the jurors were trained to focus on the law with no outside distractions while those on the outside were dealing with cultural divides, historical injustices, personal polemics and media madness.  The jurors had a different perspective allowing for a different conclusion.  In this case, their “difference” was unacceptable because it was not met by the consensus of the media.  I’m sure if you poled the jurors they would tell you that being “different” negatively impacted their lives.

Reason Four: The Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is designed to make sure innocent people do not go to jail.  It’s an imperfect system that would rather see ten guilty people go free than one innocent person get convicted.  It’s the reason the burden of proof falls to the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt and why the defense does not have to present a case at all.  Unfortunately, in our either/or society, where someone is either guilty or innocent, there’s no room for a person to be acquitted but not innocent of the crime at the same time.  The system often breaks down by trying to protect against an unjust outcome.  It’s a reflection of our own right/wrong way of looking at the world.  There’s no room for someone to be simultaneously right and wrong so we’re forced to choose one side or the other and hope that we choose wisely.  There’s no question Zimmerman was wrong once he got out of his car after the dispatcher told him to stop following Trayvon Martin.  But whether he was guilty of second degree murder is debatable since the law allows for self-defense even if the shooter is also the instigator of the crime.  Being found “not guilty” does not make him “innocent”.

Reason Five: Objectivity

Forget objectivity.  Realistically there’s no objectivity, just different perspectives colored by personal experience.  Everyone sees the world in a different way.  Sometimes there’s enough consensus to make it appear as if there is universal agreement on some things but there’s always a faction of natural opposition that keeps consensus from being truly universal.  In the Zimmerman case, what appeared to be a criminal act perpetrated on an innocent young black man who was not carrying a gun was challenged by the perspective of the defense.  The unexpected outcome threw the media machine into a fevered state and they all but insisted that the jurors defend their verdict as if they were on trial.  By turning the spotlight on the verdict a new reporting cycle began, fueled again by media overexposure.  One positive outcome of the case was that the racial divide that still exists in our country was reopened for debate.  Unfortunately, the debate cannot happen in the media because the media is a battleground, not a healing ground.

These five reasons can serve as reminders that we are constantly being stirred and shaken by what we see and hear in the media.  With the explosion of digital age media outlets, there are now so many sources to go to for information that it can affect how the mainstream media reports its news.  We get more than information from our favorite newspaper, news channel and social media outlet, we also get distortions, repetition, and media agendas.  It’s the price we pay in the digital age.  As McLuhan would assert, the medium of the digital age is the message we should be attending to.  We need more forums for meaningful dialogues informed by facts and professional opinions, not aggressively induced by our information sources.  Once we have that, jurors of controversial cases like Zimmerman’s will be able to appear before us openly and talk about their deliberations without fearing that the violence they helped adjudicate will be visited upon them.

Five Minute Articles For Your Consideration7 comments

  1. Patrece says:

    Would that you were an anchorperson for the media! You’ve outlined and developed, wonderfully well for me, the many reasons I followed this story as closely as I did. I observed how it was reported and how mass consciousness formed a web of emotional intrigue for as many reasons as there are people. My sincere hope is that the quality of your message energizes fresh perspectives that will be integrated into new ways of communicating beginning right now. Thank you!

    • Larry says:

      Thanks for your comments Patrece,
      I try to keep my consciousness ahead of the seduction of the media but sometimes the media is just too entertaining to resist. So, I try to stay aware of the fine line that exists in the media between reporting the news and creating the news. I’m glad that came across to you in my article.

  2. Roberta York says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this about the Zimmerman case. I was perplexed and frustrated with the overwhelming attitudes of my clients in that they believed it was totally racially motivated, and open and shut. Guilty. I didn’t agree but found my perspective was a lonely one and I stopped talking about it.

    • Larry says:

      Thanks for your comment Roberta,
      You’ve clearly and simply have expressed the sentiments of many people I know. Rather than get into emotional arguments about who is right and who is wrong they end up just keeping it to themselves. Hopefully comments like yours will keep the conversation going so it doesn’t have to exclusively be about guilt or innocence but about the relevance of the discussion.

  3. Richard Edwards says:

    Great website. I especially appreciated your commentary on the Zimerman case.
    Richard Edwards

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