Wednesday, 1 July 2009


I wrote this essay sitting in my Tampa hotel room a couple of days before the Super Bowl, numbed by the shock and awe engendered by the insanity of US television news. Writing recently about wrestling and Gale Storm has reminded me that trash TV had mutated in my lifetime, so I've grabbed this off my largely-inactive sports blog, And Over Here...

There are two Americas out there: the one that's out there, and the one that's out there on TV, and what is frightening is the sense that, little by little, the latter is taking over the consciousness of the former, especially the former of the younger persuasion (though I am prepared to admit that there is an element of the old fogey about that perception). If I were still prepared to think of the Ed Murrow speech about TV's power to educate, if I wanted to come home this week and get overcome with a sense of at least symbolic hope, fuelled by the image of regime change in Washington, well, in the nightmare world of TV news, nothing has changed.

Because it's when you're watching the news that it becomes most scary, and of course the news is what you watch first when you're in a hotel room. I use the word scary, because it is fuelled by fear; is it really as simple as wanting to keep everyone indoors watching their channel? Local news is the final resting place of hairspray, reporters and 'anchors' with the depth of cutouts reading stuff written by people who frame every story as if it were eviction night on Big Brother.

Then you go to the 'serious' news outlets, and it gets even worse. The decrepitude of the Bush regime, and the attendant success of Jon Stewart on Comedy Central persuaded MSNBC there was a little mileage in a leftish funnyman of their own, former sportscaster Keith Olberman (who proves once again that it's much easier for sports guys to move into 'serious' broadcasting than 'serious' broadcasters to move the other way), but their designated 'left' show, hosted by Rachel Maddow, reminds me of a school of minnows inviting sharks to come over for a fish fry. A sense of fairness and balance is a bad thing to have when you're competing with Fox News.

Amazingly, it seems every time I flick past that channel, the pale balloon of Karl Rove's face, evil Piglet to Bush's evil Pooh, pops up, answering puffball questions from yet another smugly screaming Irish-American. They're oblivious to the eight years of destruction they've left behind around the world, and listening to a steady stream of calls for more deregulation simply boggles the mind. In the 1930s, the failure of laissez faire left its proponents relatively impotent to stop FDR's implanting the New Deal, though their media, papers and radio, certainly tried. But imagine that magnified to the nth degree: a steady stream of political KY being spread over an electorate bending over willingly to find the remote control and turn up the volume.

I mentioned Murrow above, because the movie Good Night And Good Luck was on BBC last week, and watching Bill O'Reilly groping for his pitchfork and Sean Hannity inflating like a blow-fish (fugu you, liberals!) I remembered the thought I'd had when we saw the film for the first time, in Sydney in 2005, It struck me, watching David Straithairn's Ed Murrow battle both Joe McCarthy and William Paley's CBS,that fifty years later, in the space of my lifetime, McCarthy has not just triumphed over Murrow, he has replaced him. Were Tailgunner Joe alive today, he would never be elected to the Senate from Wisconsin; he'd be broadcasting on Fox News, scheduled between O'Reilly and Hannity, interviewing Rove, being taken seriously by the Beltway mob, and being parodied on Comedy Central for us cognoscenti to laugh about. In my childhood, such figures existed: I remember watching Joe Pyne or Alan Burke, but they were relegated to the lunatic fringes of entertainment, like pro wrestling, horror movies, and roller derby, that 13 year olds of all ages loved. Now Rupert Murdoch pays them millions, and makes millions more off their fear-mongering and hate peddling. Money talks, and in this case, bullshit walks, right along side, talking even louder.

1 comment :

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