April 30, 1998
Has anyone else noticed that nothing happens any more?
When was the last time you read a newspaper because there was something "important" you wanted to know about? When was the last time (if ever) that you made watching the TV news a priority, to keep up with a significant developing story of relevance to your life, or anyone's life?
Think about it. The last three "major" news events in the United States, which consumed hours of broadcast time and volumes of journalistic print were:
- Did the President DO IT with various kiss-and-tell women, whose combined moral character and social appeal is approximately equivalent to Bonnie Parker on a bad day;
- The death of a divorced former Princess of Great Britain, allegiance to whose now purely symbolic Crown we politely declined to renew some 220 years ago;
- The interminable murder trial of an ex-football player-turned cheap B-movie actor for committing one of the estimated 24,000 homicides that took place in the U.S. in 1994.
The public interest in each of these stories is precisely as vital as the subject matter of a typical re-run of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". Of course, there have been meaningful public policy issues arising from these highly publicized celebrity events: the question of whether Secret Service agents should be forced to testify about what they may hear going on in the Executive Toilet Stall; the urgent need for the Queen of England to increase the curvature of her lips by two degrees to convey a more compassionate image to her subjects; the proper police method for picking up blood-stained socks; and so forth.
Nevertheless, one gets the distinct impression that we have entered a nether-space of current events, a limbo of substance, an intellectual and political vacuum that is so all-encompassing, we don't even realize that it used to be, could again be, and elsewhere is, very different.
Do you think the people of the former Yugoslavia, for example, can relate to our public affairs malaise? Do you suppose the genocide trials of the Serb leaders are sponsored by "New Clairol"?
How about the people of South Africa? They went through decades of violent oppression and insurgency, then transformation, and now have daily public hearings exposing details of past atrocities, together with ongoing crime and scandal, and a neophyte democratic process in the midst of only its second national free elections. South Africans would probably rejoice if the only big news story involved an ex-jock knifing his ex-wife. ("Hey, a slow news day for a change!")
You don't believe me? Think I exaggerate? Okay, let's just do a random check of today's major news stories (April 30, 1998). We have the advantage of the Information Highway before us, and instant access to as much pointless drivel as we could ever want, so let's use it, and Get Informed:
- The New York Times:
- "Teen-Age Poll Finds Support for Tradition and Conservatism"
Oh, my God! Can you believe that?! They're saying that teenagers are normal people! This is a scandal! Next thing you know we'll be told that 6-year-olds like cookies. Who pays for these polls, anyway?
- The Boston Globe:
- "Mass, 12 other states may file suit to stop Win '98."
Another . . . <yawn> . . . antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft? Wait, let me mark my calendar so I can catch all the proceedings live on Court TV.
- The Washington Post:
- "U.S. and China to Seek A 'Strategic Partnership'"
Well, China is a big place, the Secretary of State is there, and Clinton's going in June. When President Nixon went there in 1972, that was a big story. It was the first time a President of the U.S. had visited Maoist China, in the middle of the Cold War. I think they talked about seeking a "strategic partnership" between the two countries. Then, when President Bush went there a couple of years after Tienanmen Square, it was also a big story, as the debates over human rights vs. trade policy crystallized. Bush, I believe, was in favor of seeking a "strategic partnership" with China. So, why doesn't this upcoming Presidential visit seem like a big story?
- UPI Headlines, Hourly News Summary (online):
- "IBP Incorporated of Joslin, Illinois is voluntarily recalling 282- thousand pounds of ground beef after E.coli was detected in a random test by the Agriculture Department."
Wait a minute. I stand corrected. This is an important story, especially for those of us contemplating the meaning of life and stuff like that. (See last week's column.)
- CNN Headline News:
- "Red means Stop, but that's not stopping many drivers from violating one of the most basic rules of the road."
The Secretary of Transportation has reported on a disturbing trend: drivers running red lights. "We need to be more courteous," we watch him say. I'm not kidding, this is News! I think the Surgeon General will be on tomorrow, warning of the dangers of nose-picking.
- ABC Radio News, on the half hour:
- "President Clinton held a news conference this hour, and even though the President said he wouldn't answer questions about Monica Lewinski, that didn't stop the press from asking about Monika Lewinski"
In other words, let's be clear about this, the major breaking news story of the moment is that the President didn't say anything about the 3-month old issue of his alleged relationship with an alleged woman. But the reporters asked anyway. The story is that there is no story. Am I missing something?
- Time Magazine:
- Cover Story: "The Potency Pill" The Viagra Craze
If you haven't heard about this big new development in the health industry, you will. The new drug that cures impotency, revitalizes male sex drive, and gives stand-up comics their best mother-lode of new material since, well, Monika Lewinski. Look, if this new drug is important to you, or to your grandfather, I won't make fun. (Not that it has any relevance to me, of course . . .) But seriously, I mean, c'mon (<snicker>), y'know, are we really supposed to think that this is one of the vital issues of Our Time?
Finally, there's the in-depth, hard-hitting journalism of the television "News Magazine" programs. Let's see what they'll be exposing for us in the coming week:
- Dateline NBC:
- "A follow-up report on a woman who received national media attention in 1997 after she made a dramatic 911 call from her car when her accelerator stuck."
Apparently, it may have been a hoax. So, the story is: "That other exciting story we told you last year might not have been a story, after all."
- "Report on Unabomber Ted Kaczynzski's state of mind . . ."
Hey, I did this one back in December! I believe I used the terms "loopie" and "whacko". I hate it when they steal my stuff.
- Prime Time Live:
- "Diane Sawyer interviews Ellen DeGeneres about her life since coming out of the closet."
Bigshot celebrity newswoman interviews bigshot celebrity TV star about being a lesbian. Gee, could it be Sweeps month for the networks?
- 48 Hours:
- "Getting Even: follows people seeking revenge and explores the moral implications of revenge as well as the 'art of forgiveness'; included: Dan Rather visits a man who teaches a class in how to get even."
Please, God, when you strike down our society, could you give us a little warning? Just so I can read a good book, or eat an apple, or play Hearts with my daughter, or do something remotely wholesome before Armageddon? That's all I ask.
© 1998 David N. Townsend
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