January 31, 2017

ALUR | Nightcrawler and the Media’s Returning Relevance

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I had Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film Nightcrawler on my watch list for quite some time. I repeatedly passed through it on Netflix, intrigued by its premise and promise as a crime thriller, and I intended to save it for a rainy day. I finally gave it a go on one of my last days of break. My spirits were low in light of Trump’s inauguration, so I turned on the movie and hoped for a distraction from our tumultuous world for a few hours.

This film is visually gorgeous. Its cinematography is vivid and crisp, and the story captures an atypical side of Los Angeles, focusing on news networks and nightcrawlers as opposed to longing starlets. While I was enamored and entranced by the film, I found it troublingly pertinent in our modern era. Gilroy’s depiction of the media, specifically televised news, is grim and gruesome. He captures the media’s obsession with gluttonous violence and its passion for chaos.

In the film, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a man fixated on filming violent crime. He spends hours on end capturing gory crimes on film and editing them for the news. While Bloom is ultimately the most troubling figure in the film, the media stands as a close second. Media feeds into Bloom’s sociopathic urges by turning a blind eye to his controversial means of obtaining footage and paying him hefty sums for his contributions. Yet, the media is not fully responsible for Bloom’s behaviors. KWLA 6 News, the fictional network in the film, struggles to grow its viewership and boost its ratings. Bloom works as a tool for them to obtain heightened success and relevancy, as they quickly become the first to report violent crimes in the area. We never see the faces of the viewers, yet they lurk in the comforts of their homes, consuming every car crash and fire with wide eyes. The media plays into the people’s hidden urges, and we begin to see the viewers as responsible for Bloom and the media that encourages him.

I, like most, have begun to question the role of the media in light of Trump’s election. His victory came as a surprise to most of us, as the news that we had read from day to day predicted a different outcome. Yet, on election night, as I sat in my apartment, as the states turned from grey to red, I was shocked at how everything changed before my eyes. I felt as though my news had betrayed me, that the aggregated polls on the NY Times website were indeed as skewed as Trump protested they were. That I, like many other Americans, had been played. But in spite of everything, I still haven’t let go of the news media. Instead, I’m depending on it more than ever.

Nightcrawler poses a disturbing truth: we create and perpetuate our media. While some publications still claim to offer fact-based journalism, the question still arises: can we trust the news we read if alternative truths exist elsewhere? The media is often a reflection of us, of our thoughts and beliefs, our desires and wants. We are able to find a whole range of truths online, ones that skew the facts to the left or right, or exclude truths that conflict with our worldviews. We can find support for our ideologies by reading the news that we choose, and now, in this era of Trump, facts are more malleable than ever. I worry that through my effort to remain informed, I’m still only seeing a portion of the picture. And, can we really trust our media when its goal is often to serve us a platter of news that we will find palatable?

The Trump regime has given the media a role to play that pushes it out of obscurity. The persistent battle between Trump and the press is one that makes reading the news and following it all the more desirable. We are turning to new sites and publications, hoping that within these sources, we will have access to at least an ounce of truth. But when the fundamental notion of truth is under attack, when any person can search for what they believe and find it in a publication of sorts, is our media truly helping or hurting?

Anita Alur is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Millenial Musings appears every other Wednesday this semester.