I’m pretty ticked off at the media right now, and here’s why: Why should I have to turn to page A7 of the local paper before I get to the news that matters most to me and other well-informed Americans these days: the Michael Jackson case? This is the type of meaningful information many of us live for, set our watches by, make love to (I am not naming names), and, most importantly, count on to make our lives count, yet all of a sudden, we gotta dig for it?
I know Yahoo has a blurb just about every day about poor M.J.’s tribulations, but it’s invariably the last item. This means -- yep, you’re way ahead of me -- I must look all the way to the bottom of the list for it, and, you know, that’s just a little too much work.
It’s all part of a disturbing pattern I’ve noticed lately which seemed to start right after the Scott Peterson trial ended. With breathless updates of that thriller relayed continuously, the media gave us a story to die for for which two died, topping it all off in grand style with a classic front page photo of folks outside the courtroom reacting dramatically to the reading of the guilty verdict. My favorite was the blonde in the sunglasses whose mouth was caught forming an oval of gasping-but-approving surprise, presenting the perfect blend of emotion and satisfaction with just the proper hint of vengeance.
Man, that coulda been me! I mean, if only I had been there, which I wasn’t, and were a woman, which I’m not, and had blonde hair, which I don’t, and was wearing shades, which I never do.
But other than that, that could’ve been me. And I would’ve been in newspapers everywhere, famous, just like her, whatever her name is. This, of course, is one of the very special things that helps make America the greatest country in the world, or at least somewhere in the top 130: the opportunity to be recognized for just being there, right smack dab where the latest action is. We cannot afford to have our media abdicate this most sacred of their duties, which, I’m pretty sure, is in the Constitution somewhere, or if it’s not, should be, although since we don’t really use it anymore I guess that part wouldn’t matter.
Anyway, I’m (way past) old enough to remember the dreary days when reporters, years ago, used to spend muchas horas digging out serious stories and then writing long, boring accounts of, say, this president breaking the law or, well, that president breaking the law, but, thankfully, that era is long gone. (I refer to the era of investigative reporting, not of presidents breaking the law, ‘cause, otherwise, how would we even get our presidents?)
And I say: good riddance! As you know, trying to read and follow all of that information and then think about it … well, it makes my head hurt just thinking about thinking about it. Besides, if I really wanted to torque my brain, I’d pick up a copy of National Geographic, or, if I were feeling particularly “learny”, Popular Mechanics.
Unfortunately, the American media sometimes regress and start resembling their old, stuffy selves. It’s really just a tease, thank goodness, since today’s corporate “journalists” consider a White House press release to be a reliable primary source. Still, enough of this somber reportage regretfully slips past editors to where it crowds out hot news about Paris Hilton or Robert Blake (news of whose trial towards its conclusion was almost nowhere to be found; the man played Baretta, for cryin’ out loud), thus providing us with an excessive amount of lip-chappingly dry stuff about poisonous depleted uranium strewn throughout Iraq or fixed elections or phony reasons for going to war or the slaughter of 100,000 innocent people or the new bankruptcy law bringing back indentured servitude or the GOP Social Security scam or the fact that America now lives under fascist rule or the astronomically expensive Medicare prescription drug/pharmaceutical company welfare bill or our toxic water/food/air or the organized assault on organized labor or record deficits or borrowed billions given away to the wealthiest in the guise of tax cuts or the unconstitutional injection of religion into government or the attempt to set women’s rights back a couple millennia or the raging intolerance against anyone who differs from some mythical ideal of what a “real American” supposedly is, or on and on and … yawn.
You see how deathly stultifying that all is. And, really, what’s even the point of wasting time reading up on any of these items that somehow manage to end up in the New York Times or Washington Post? Ninety-nine percent of such stories are only going to go so far, anyway; look at the power structure’s targeted destruction of Gary Webb’s career and ultimately, life, for ample proof of that. The plain truth about the long-compromised American corporate media is that when names need to be named, they never will be. One must search those Internet “alternative” news sites for that sort of information, and we all know how kooky those places are.
Let’s say, though, you still insist on learning all you can about the above topics. I ask you: How, exactly, then, is that gonna help end the warring or make our planet cleaner or create decent jobs? That’s right, it’s not; you’d have to go out and actually do something to have a shot at changing anything -- with no guaranteed results, even! That would consume huge chunks of time which today’s busy Americans just don’t have, what with all the shopping and TV-watching that needs to be done, and, frankly, just between us, it sounds a whole lot more like what old Europeans would do (and probably even some of the younger ones, I bet).
No, my fellow Americans, the billions of aliens, and people from foreign countries, too, who, year after year, swim across the Rio Grande from Mexico to the south and whatever river separates us from Canada (to the west, I think) don’t do it just so when they get here, someone can then bore them out of their non-English-speaking skulls by reading to them sleep-inducing articles about torture as official American policy or the fourteen permanent U.S. military bases being constructed in Iraq (you know, just as is done with our president, also a non-English speaker). No! They are drawn by something far stronger, a principle that is as basically American as it gets: half-living vicariously through people one has never met nor ever will, which is better than not having lived at all. Or better than living but having no one knowing one has lived. Or better than people knowing one has lived but wondering exactly why.
Think about it: What other nation on Earth offers 87 different home shopping channels that not only give everyone here equal ability to talk on-air about absolutely nothing with a real-life “B-” list celebrity, but also provide the opportunity to purchase lovely Chinese-crafted “God Bless America” patriotic song books imported by the very same faded personality’s very own offshore company? There’s also the fact we are blessed to live in a land with more cell phones than cellulite (and that, my friends, is a lot of cell phones), thus making it possible for us to both grab our own personal spotlight the next time we’re at the ballpark and totally blot out the annoying tenseness of the no-hitter being played out in front of us by waving into the camera 37 times throughout the contest to all of our undoubtedly thrilled friends back home, proving once and for all to them, and to any other observers certain to be fascinated by our mere existence, that we do, indeed, know how to wave.
This, then, is what it’s really all about: to be noticed, no matter what, no matter how. It’s us shouting to the rest of the snooty world: “We’re alive, we’re Americans, we have Jerry Springer, and you don’t!”
And they call us ignorant.
Plainly, those who charge Americans with being “celebrity worshippers” (like it’s a bad thing) are simply envious of a country where a guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger can work his tail off chasing tail and end up as governor of its most populous state, all with absolutely zero political experience to his credit. Plus, just look at the job he is doing on, I mean in, California. Let no one claim it’s not an unbelievable sight to behold, for millions of Californians still can’t believe it.
Arnie and Michael and Scott (we’re all on a first-name basis here) and other stars, semi-stars, and starlings, give the rest of us hope that someday we can maybe be as (in)famous as they are, or, barring that unlikely possibility (since not many of us have unbridled ambition/can sing and dance/are willing to kill people), at least station ourselves for weeks on end outside the courtroom where their molestation or murder trials are being held, the point being that at some point in our otherwise pointless lives, we can point at ourselves and say, pointedly: “I am here, me, right now, asking for Wynona Ryder’s autograph while simultaneously keeping a very close eye on my pen, so therefore I exist.”
It’s obvious: The media need to understand who pays their salaries, other than those paid by the White House. Give us the news we crave. Don’t make us dig through page after page or click through endless channels (even if one does catch the occasional lucky glimpse of a bare breast) to get the skinny on the latest who’s who who’s gotten fat. If a celebrity’s involved in any way, it belongs on page one. Because, honestly, just how many car bombs in Baghdad can one read about? After all, in today’s age of war news censorship, you’ve not seen another twenty dead Iraqis, you’ve not seen ‘em all.
I need my MJTV. I wanna know how poor Martha Stewart really feels. I’m not fulfilled unless I read about Baretta’s, er, Blake’s reaction to his not guilty verdict. These matters matter to me, because they make my life matter, and the media need to make these matters a matter of utmost importance.
And that’s the name of that tune.*
Mark Drolette is a political satirist/commentator who lives in Sacramento, California. He can be reached at email@example.com.
* Obscure reference to the catchphrase of an old 70s TV detective show starring a former Our Gang member whose later claims to fame would be giving weird answers to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show and offing, er, sorry, not offing, his unfortunate wife.
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