Pilate says to the crowd, "it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?"
They shouted back, "No, not him! Give us Barabbas!"
We still shout this today. When given the choice between an extremist and a more rational option people too often go for the extremist. For those of you who did not get dragged to good Friday services every year as a child, Barabbas was a prisoner held at the same time as Jesus who had killed a roman soldier. When given the option the people in the crowd decided to free Barabbas. And like church goers reciting the Greek chorus of the above gospel passage we keep making this choice.
When I look at the sensational stories and figures that dominate our attention in the media I see that we still pick Barabbas. We respond to the violent and the simplistic in a reactionary way that politicians and others who rely on the manipulation of public thought exploit. That's why we end up with celebrity presidential candidates who pander to the lowest common denominator (Trump, Palin, etc.). Something in us wants the guy from the action movie to come and crush some skulls (or use that kind of totally uncompromising cowboy rhetoric), because that's how you get a happy ending in the movies.
On some level this touches all of us. We see it more in the Tea Party and amongst terrorists, but to relegate it to only these corners of society makes us demonize the opposition and promotes exactly the kind of thinking I'm criticizing in the first place. Still, it seems this kind of thinking overall is on the wane. Terrorists turn to violence because they are marginalized and can't think of any other option. While the Tea Party always had inflated numbers, now they can no longer draw even small crowds to their rallies. Yet they still get far more coverage than much larger, rational, and important movements. I could spend time documenting this, but that would bore me and you could just learn about this by watching Rachel Maddow.
Why do these sensational stories and personalities still dominate our media? This stems partly from the fact that most news organizations function more as a business than a public service, caring more about television ratings and media sales then any other duty. The sensational keeps eyes glued to screens and sells papers even if some of the more nuanced stories of the day have more pertinence.
So, what do we do? While we can't control what the rest of the crowd calls for, we can make a choice to avoid this kind of sensational media ourselves. We can vote with our dollars and our attention. In many ways the bloated egos that make their way into the media landscape resemble bullies. If you stop feeding them by acknowledging their antics eventually they stop trying and leave you alone. Imagine if we could make the Sarah Palin's of the world go away by not giving them the attention they don't deserve. We would have a more sane society, albeit one with slightly fewer spectacles to laugh at. I'm sure we would find more things to laugh about if we stopped paying attention to these characters and the foolishness that surrounds them.