What the Culture Cares About


Here’s an interesting cultural snapshot, with Dan McGowan reporting for WPRI on an arrest in Providence.

According to the article, a middle-aged man was driving alongside two boys on bikes and disturbed them enough that they reported him to the police.  After a search, the cops found a couple of street-fighting weapons.

What makes the story interesting is that the headline mentions only that the guy “yelled [a] racial slur at [a] Providence cop.”  Why is that the news?

I’m not saying it shouldn’t be, but it raises questions about the purpose of journalism.  Objectively, one would think that the core benefit of reporting this incident would be to alert residents to potential threats in their neighborhoods — including, broadly, a general sense of how safe they are, particularly for children.

What’s the news value of a guy under the duress of being arrested lashing out at a cop with a racial slur?  Is it to give people the sense that racism still pervades our society?  If that were true, though, it seems to me that a single example wouldn’t be a story, because racial slurs would be so common.  (One wonders, by the by, how often white cops are called names by those whom they’ve arrested.)

Or maybe the news value is just that our society (or at least a certain segment thereof) is obsessed with seeking out signs of racism for promotion with the paradoxical stated goal of erasing it entirely.

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Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

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