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Too entertained to be outraged

Jul 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In the 1930s, people suffering great depression from the Great Depression went to the movies for escape. They saw lavish, fantastic, ridiculous musicals. Busby Berkeley gave them fountains of beautiful girls, troupes of beautiful girls and a “hall of human harps.” Hollywood suffered less than most other businesses partly as a result.
In the zeros, the single-digit years, the noughts, where we live now-the Naughty Noughties, yeah-the irony is that we use the news for escape the way we once used Busby’s beauties. How is it possible for us to escape by using something that should be conveying to us the very realities we want to escape from? That’s easy. Make the news as happy, dopey, goofy and nutty as “Gold Diggers of 1933.” Make it so the news has as little relationship to the sad, grim truths as possible.
I think that’s why the three network morning shows aren’t news shows anymore. I don’t care whether the news divisions produce them or not. They’re entertainment shows, they’re escapism, and of course, they’re “good morning” shows. Everyone must say “good morning.” Ann Curry sometimes says “Good morning, Katie. Good morning, Matt, and good morning, everyone.” Hey, she left out Al Roker! And who’s this “everyone”? That’s you. That’s me. She seems to think she’s talking to a stadium full of people.
What’s so good about it?
She is pleasant, she is pretty, she is nice; no one could argue much with that. And so are the newscasters on the other morning shows. But you gotta say “good morning” with a smile on your puss or they won’t talk to you. Let’s say a man in the Midwest witnesses the murder of his entire family by drug-crazed, ax-wielding radical Islamic terrorists. We pipe him in from our affiliate in Chicago and first we say, “Good morning, Mr. Jones,” and then wait for him to say “good morning” back.
And if he doesn’t say it, we keep waiting. We won’t ask him a single solitary question until he says “good morning.”
Just once I wish the poor Mister Joneses who come in for these interviews about tragedies and disasters would shoot back a perfectly logical, “What’s good about it?”
The news on TV now is not just happy, it’s pretty. How else to describe the super-duper pyrotechnical displays on CNN, Fox News Channel, CNBC and, of course, “America’s News Network”-which is news to me, and news to Fox and CNN too-MSNBC? When it started out, I called it “Messy NBC” and, of course, “PMS-NBC.” Who the hell knew what it was there for? During one of the first telecasts, slumming guest and NBC good soldier Tom Brokaw was startled when a robot camera zoomed right in all the way up his beloved button nose. He saw the image on a monitor and, embarrassed, said, “That’s what we call a close-up here on MSNBC.” Maybe the “MS” was an abbreviation for “mistakes.”
Now, of course, MSNBC Presents the All-Star News with that fabulous prime-time lineup built around fabled aging sage of yesteryear Phil Donahue, a man whose glazed eyes now swim behind lenses as thick as bricks. Phil’s the spoiler out to ruin it for lovely if not exactly weighty Connie Chung over on CNN; they’re fighting for whatever part of the audience doesn’t watch Bill O’Reilly, bouncing bully pulpiteer, over on wily Fox.
MSNBC starts off the night, incidentally, with Jerry Nachman, thus apparently disproving my theory that Jerry Nachman and Roger Ailes are the same person. Darn, and I was so certain. …
Anyway, Phil has as much right to be on television as the next guy, which would be Chris Matthews in the all-star lineup, but in his first week back, Donahue kind of got lost in the clutter. The graphics were a-flyin’ high and wide and up and down, a-ziggin’ and a-zaggin’ like fireflies in heat. There was a “D” in a diamond for “Donahue” (he’s trademarked?) and then his full name would come zooming up and flip around and then a bright light would shine and more graphics would zoom in from the other direction and they would all meet in the middle and duke it out for space at the bottom, that is lower third, of the screen.
News is now not just a show but a light show. It’s like something you might have seen at Fillmore East when acid-heads were doing zonko rock there back in the ’60s. The goal, apparently, is to keep as many balls in the air as possible, keep as much of the decoration in motion as you can or viewers will think they’re merely watching human beings talk about the events of the day. And that could be such a downer.
Information is now controlled by a few giant conglomerates as we all know. It is in the best interest of the giant conglomerates to paint as rosy a picture of the economy as possible. It is really also in their best interests to sugarcoat the terrible, horrible news of the day as much as possible. So is it just a coincidence that all these so-called news channels, and now even the evening newscasts on the traditional networks, look like a deleted sequence from “Fantasia”? They’ve got as much animation going on as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” albeit less wittily.
I think the economy is much, much worse than TV news would have us believe. They’ve tended to soft-pedal the stories of incredible and widespread corporate thievery, stories of the dirty crooks who run certain corporations and their stockholders into the ground and walk away with slaps on the wrists and fines they can easily afford to pay. But of course, when your sources of information are owned by Ubercorp and Ameriglom, you end up seeing the world the way they want you to see it-gussied up, prettied up, chipper as a prom queen in a party dress.
`Didn’t they know?’
Future generations will ask, “But, didn’t they know their president was an idiot?” “Weren’t they outraged by the Enrons and the Arthur Andersens and the WorldComs and the stock-option scams?” Well we’re too damned entertained to be outraged. Remember, the news isn’t the news-it’s a show. It’s “Gold Diggers of 2002.” And the show is outfitted with all manner of distracting gewgaws and knickknacks and gingerbread as well as being populated with “stars.” The masses have their opiate. And it’s lovely.
Through all of this I keep wondering, “Where the hell are the commies?” You’d think the commies would be having a field day, what with not just the corporate criminals but Amtrak being broke, and the airlines begging for federal handouts (and of course getting them) and the cooking of books and inflating of profit pictures and so on. But of course communism is very drab and discredited and they never could come up with an even vaguely attractive alternative anyway.
Michael Moore, that fatuous fatso from Flint, makes a fortune running around denouncing capitalism. He does it with funny ha-ha movies and funny ha-ha books that earn him millions. His books are bestsellers and he gets fabulous advances from publishers owned by the giant conglomerates he pretends to be assaulting. Hey, do we have a great system or what? It can integrate even the self-aggrandizing rants of a demagogue like Moore and make more profits even from ersatz denunciations of profiteers.
Imaginary conversation overheard on an imaginary bus:
“Which news channel do you watch, Ethel?”
“Oh I watch MSNBC. I still like that old dear, Phil Donahue.”
“Please, give me a break. I only watch the Fox News Channel. Its news is much more entertaining than MSNBC’s.”
Ladies and gents, “Laugh-In” looks like the news!