By Vernon Felton
When I was a kid and my dad wanted me to burn things or destroy the peace somewhere far, far away from him, he’d tell me to go dig a hole in the yard and look for Jimmy Hoffa. My five-year old self thought this was a great idea. I liked digging holes. I liked the idea of finding dead people in my backyard. Win-win all the way around.
Those of us growing up in the `70s, knew who Jimmy Hoffa was. He was like royalty, really: America’s most famous union leader and mob flunkie, who suddenly vanished into thin air back in `75. There weren’t, after all, a whole lot of missing people who’d made the cover of Life magazine. The Where-is-Jimmy Hoffa-Buried mystique was captivating. He was like an approachable version of Big Foot, The Loch Ness Monster and La Chupacabra, all rolled into one package.
While just about everyone agreed that Hoffa had wound up with a new set of concrete shoes, Americans were wildly divided on the exact whereabouts of his remains… and the shape of the remains themselves. Depending on whom you talked to, Hoffa was buried in Giants Stadium or ground up and tossed into the swamp as alligator chow, or perhaps rendered into a pile of bone and goo in a mafia-owned fat-rendering plant.
The options were endless.
Which is why America pondered Hoffa’s whereabouts for decades. We didn’t have a lot of other things to do. There was no Internet. There were about 10 channels on TV (unless you were the lucky family with Showtime or HBO, and even then, all that got you was endless repeats of Smokey and the Bandit).
We lived in a media desert back then and this meant that we carefully chewed and savored the scraps of news we were fed. We talked endlessly about the Mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. We pondered Amelia Earhart’s Disappearance. We spent a lot of time fixated on Big Foot’s whereabouts and fitness regimen. I watched at least a dozen “specials” on each of those subjects—it was that or tune in to David Brinkley mumbling about the Iran Hostage situation.
Now, however, we are bombarded by more than a hundred channels of televised dysfunction, a million new internet clips a day, and a veritable shit-storm of absolutely inane tweets. There is simply too much information to process these days and that’s led to an interesting phenomenon: Internet-induced amnesia.
Great mysteries are unraveled every day now and no one raises an eyebrow or remembers the story more than five minutes after the Associated Press runs the story.
Example? The FBI recently began digging again for Jimmy Hoffa (this time in a backyard in Roseville, Michigan, just outside of Detroit). Did you know this? Do you even care? No and no, right?
Okay. Fair enough. But did you know that they found Amelia Earhart a couple months back? The woman has been missing since 1937—there have been countless documentaries devoted to her since then and now—and yet no one that I have met has even heard about this story.
Ten years ago, Amelia Earhart’s discovery would have been news fodder for weeks. Today, it’s a blip. It goes in one ear, gets muddled before it hits the grey matter and—poof—it’s gone. It’s hard to stay tuned or even slightly aware when Snooki has an urinary-tract infection due to butt sex, Kim Kardashian is getting a divorce, you can actually watch Justin Bieber barfing at a concert in Arizona or, hell, your second cousin just tweeted that she really likes that Fifty Shades of Grey book.
Here’s another story that would have dominated headlines and public conversation a decade ago: in February of 2011, NASA scientists discovered another 1,235 planets, including 54 earth-sized planets that could feasibly support life. This was the biggest news in space exploration since the moon landing and, again, it was received by the sound of crickets. There were other, more pressing, stories to follow: Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez had been caught kissing on camera, Charlie Sheen let go of his publicist with the memorable, “Pussy. He’s not allowed to quit, so you’re fired.” statement and Lady Gaga was photographed wearing a meat dress or a lampshade or the slipcover from my grandmother’s sofa…
Welcome to the joy of Internet-induced amnesia.
So much news. So many tweets. So many Instagrams…and nobody recalls a single iota of it the next day.
These are interesting times…if only we could remember them.