You may not be familiar with the idiom, but an “ambulance chaser” is someone who profits from bad news.
I dealt with a real ambulance chaser once. Although in this case it wasn’t an ambulance he followed, it was a fire truck.
When I lived in Boston I was on the staff of a church largely made up of immigrants. We had a Haitian congregation among others (the church worshipped in 5 languages). The pastor of the Haitian congregation owned a duplex. He lived on one side with his wife and four small children and he rented out the other side.
He worked another job beside being a pastor. His wife worked outside the home too. In other words, these were hardworking, frugal people. They were also good-hearted.
In my experience good-hearted people are easy marks for people on the make. They tend to impute good motives to scoundrels. This happened to him.
One day his rental caught fire. He rushed home from work to find firetrucks in front of his little two-family. Firemen were all over the lawn. And in the midst of all the confusion he was greeted by a man in a suit. The fellow said he was a lawyer who specialized in helping people get what they had coming to them from tight-fisted insurance companies. If my friend would only sign the contract the lawyer conveniently had with him, everything would be alright.
The contract, naturally, didn’t look after my friend’s interests so much as the lawyer’s.
The story ended happily though. The lawyer didn’t know that his mark had powerful friends. A few weeks later, in a high-rise office in downtown Boston, the ambulance chaser tore up his contract. After that I helped my friend get his home back into livable condition. (I’ve got a background in the building trades.) And at the end of the day the happy homeowner had a house almost like new and tens of thousands of dollars in his pocket.
How is blogging like ambulance chasing?
Now I’m a blogger, so I suppose I’m implicating myself along with the rest with this question, but is there something about this medium that is just made for bad news?
Maybe it is just news generally that’s the problem. It has to be new, after all, to be news in the first place. So we’re tempted to traffic in the ephemeral: one day men in the women’s room, the next a gorillas dies, then the Royal family turns out to be reptiles from another planet. And there’s something about the spectacle of the new, especially when it is strange, or sad, that sells.
It’s the medium that we work in too; it’s also ephemeral. Newspapers are printed on newsprint, a cheap medium that sometimes has a second life as kindling. Electronic ink is even cheaper, but without the virtue of a second life. It’s just out of sight and out of mind when you close the screen on your computer.
Commenting on news, especially bad news, or at least freakish news, can draw eyeballs to your blog. And if the burring issue of the moment burns brightly enough, maybe what you have to say about it will “go viral”.
And that’s what every blogger wants, to be a virus. You feel like you’re making a difference. You may even acquire a little fame. But is this a good thing? Ebola makes a difference and it’s sort of famous.
Do bloggers, and the social media more generally, make the world a better place, or a worse one?
“The medium is the message.”
Marshall McLuhan said that and people have wondered what in the world he meant ever since.
We live in a heavily mediated society, but we don’t understand it. Among other things, what McLuhan meant is the media we use to communicate have their own messages, and these message may be at odds with the very things we’re trying to say.
It’s subtle, but once you understand it, it’s not hard to see conflicting messages all around. Here I am, for instance, someone who tries to direct people to permanent things using a medium that shortens attention spans.
In a perfect world I suppose I’d only write on tablets of stone. But, hey, if life gives you lemons,…you know the rest.
McLuhan was a traditional Catholic and a lover of Chesterton. I think that catches people by surprise because he seems so cool and with it. But I think his Catholicism helped him see things in media others are blind to. We Protestants don’t go in for mediation, especially if it has anything to do with physical things, or, heaven forbid, the church. I remember asking a Sunday School class, “Where do we get the Bible?” One of my refugees from the Baptist world answered, “The store.” Of course. (How about monks and scholars, could they have something to do with it?)
I think this shows how impoverishing our penchant for immediacy can be.
Just last week we suddenly lost a young man to death in my church. He was all of 26 years and he left behind a young wife with a baby on the way. Naturally, grief was intense. But the eulogies revealed a great-souled man many had missed.
The following day in church one of my best laymen lamented that he hardly knew the guy. Then he pulled out his “smart-phone”. “It’s this stupid thing that’s to blame,” he said. He vowed to ween himself off of it and redeem the time he wastes with it to get to know people better.
Maybe if we stop chasing virtual ambulances around we’ll notice the real ones going by.