Sunday, July 5, 2009

All Celebrities--All The Time

There seems to be something going on with today's TV newscasts. It's not that they don't let us know that there are actually important and even life-altering events going on in the world, but the amount of coverage given to truly significant events is dwarfed by the coverage of people who are largely famous for being famous.

NEWS: Over the past week the following events have occurred: The administration announced that the stimulus was working and that unemployment would peak at 8% even as the Labor Department was announcing that the rate was 9.5% and climbing. There was a change in government in Honduras which leaves open the question of whether it was a democratic takeover or an intentional misreading of the Honduran constitution (I favor the former, President Obama strongly supports the latter). In Iran a fixed election resulted in spontaneous demonstrations, followed by violent and deadly suppression of the opposition. Unlike the Honduran situation, the President hastened to make a completely neutral series of non-engaging statements on the matter. North Korea launched multiple missiles in direct defiance of even more numerous UN resolutions while laughing at President Obama's "stern warnings."

The administration continues to say that the Guantanamo detention center needs to be closed, while doing the opposite. Meanwhile, Mullah Abdul Qayum Zakir, released from Gitmo, has become a major leader in the reconstituted Taliban in Afghanistan and is actively assisting in the killing of US troops and his fellow Afghans. The Obama nominee to the Supreme Court has had a significant recent ruling of hers reversed by the high court in no uncertain terms--a unanimous court chiding her for ignoring all the evidence, testimony and oral argument presented on appeal. Four of the five justices dissented anyway because they really liked the result produced by the nominee's ignorance of the rule of law and the Constitution. Several hundred thousand demonstrators took their Fourth of July holiday time to join nationwide "tea party" protests. The demonstrators in the Capital were turned away by the owners of the DC mall who are major contributors to the Obamacrats.

The queen of White House news reporters and the dean of CBS White House reporters got into a loud and heated debate with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs over Obama's alleged manipulation and staging of news conferences and coverage of the President's speeches. Meanwhile, the President proposed his cap-and-trade and health care plans which could destroy the American economy entirely (thus, like FDR, turning a depression into a Great Depression). As for the health care issue, it was considered so important for the Obama message to get out that ABC News took up residence in the White House. That was done so the event could be carefully produced and stage-managed by Obama and the gang through the mainstream media, particularly TV.

All of those events got coverage--perhaps 20% to 30% of TV news airtime. But there were more important things to cover. The remaining airtime was devoted to the truly significant events of the week.

CELEBRINEWS: Michael Jackson, former pop star and known cuckoo died under mysterious circumstances. How mysterious? Mysterious enough for the "news" stations to spend hour after mind-numbing hour talking about it. They were shocked--shocked--to find out that drugs may have been involved. They were amazed to find out that the fifty-pounds-dripping-wet Jackson may have had cardio-vascular and other health problems. They were delighted to find out that there was a hired on-site doctor who mysteriously disappeared from the scene, and after a full day of on-air but unsupported medical speculation, they were even more delighted to discover that he is a cardiologist. Well, that is strange, isn't it? Like everything else about Jackson's entire adult life. Remember, this is the guy that comedian Dennis Miller suggested was a "monkey-loving freak." An influential, even trend-setting pop star--in fact, the "King of Pop," died. OK, we get it. Can we move on?

Prior to Jackson's death, the big news was the death of Farrah Fawcett. That was sad. She had fought a valiant battle against cancer. A few minutes of airtime would have been meet and proper. But quickly, more and more airtime was eaten up by her past, her strange appearance on a nighttime talk show in which she appeared drunk or drugged, and just to make the whole thing juicier, her odd relationship with celebrity Ryan O'Neal. O'Neal is the father of her child and was supposedly both abusive and yet still planning to marry her. Give us dirty laundry.

Just when it looked like nothing more significant could happen, pitchman Billy Mays died. Again, he was a very well-liked celebrity and a highly familiar face on TV, so it would be expected that there would be coverage. But once more, the noting of the death of a TV celebrity must not go without lengthy exposition on his life, marriage, career and "mysterious death." He had hit his head on an airline flight earlier, and out came the experts on head trauma, cardio-vascular disease, airline overheads, and alien abductions. It ultimately turned out that Mays had a simple but deadly heart defect. It was a sad but non-mysterious stress-related end to a good man's life. Enough!

But the nets still had two or three hours of precious time per night to fill, and even they recognized that the other three stories were starting to get stale. Then, as if in answer to their prayers, that time was filled. Steve "Air" McNair, former quarterback of the Tennessee Titans, was found shot to death along with his girlfriend, a 20 year old Iranian woman (caption photo of crime scene from Fox News Channel). Ooh! Guns, mysterious circumstances, love affair, married man, and best of all--a celebrity. Quick, call Geraldo, Keith, Greta, the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the American Association of Criminologists, the American Association of Conspiracy Theorists, and the Flat Earth Society--we have NEWS to be talked about at length!

We can't entirely blame the media. The public seems to suck this stuff up. It's a sickness at both ends, a sort of symbiotic psychosis. It should probably be called "celebrity necrophilia by proxy." I'll have to look it up in my Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Worst of all, it's combined with the weeping and wailing, opinions, and maudlin tributes from total strangers whose lives apparently revolved around these people. Those tributes are covered in-depth and endlessly by the TV news stations. TV began to cover these ghoulish outpourings of public emotion at about the time of the John Kennedy Jr. and Princess Diana deaths. It was such a successful exercise that the nets figured if some is good, a lot more is even better. Let's hop on this gravy train.

A large proportion of Americans cannot locate Iraq on a map, or name the English Prime Minister, or name the President of the United States during the Spanish-American War (if they've ever heard of the Spanish-American War), or explain the Electoral College, or even who the major combatants were in World War II. But ask them what Michael Jackson's biggest hit was, or which TV show Farrah Fawcett was famous for, or what product Billy Mays was pushing, or how many yards Steve McNair gained in the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams in 2000, and you will get quick and accurate answers. Some may even know the name of the missile-tossing dictator of North Korea, but only because he appeared as the "ronery reader" in Team America--World Police.

I don't have an answer to this obsession with celebrity and TV's incessant pandering to it. But I do know the question. "What can we do about getting Americans concerned with things that really matter instead of listening to, taking advice from, and watching endless hours of TV about celebrities--particularly dead celebrities?"

25 comments:

Gordon Winslow said...

Well, the Michael Jackson thing was just gonna happen, although the timing was poor for the Iranians. While I was very young at the time, I recall similar coverage on the four TV stations we received on the rabbit ears when John Lennon was murdered. It was to be expected.

You've probably seen the last of that sort of thing, though--technology has splintered our listening and viewing habits enough that I don't think someone with the cultural impact of MJ, Elvis, or John Lennon (representing the Beatles) will exist again. Maybe Mick and/or Keith will get something similar to that treatment, but that'll be it.

On your broader topic, you can fault the education system or human nature (I fault both), but who wants to read about Cap and Trade or the other things you mentioned? That's boring. And where the hell is Honduras?

I know these things are important, but I understand why a lot of folks don't. I know some very smart people who have no idea that the monstrous C&T bill is about to pass or what it means if it does. Those people aren't watching Michael Jackson specials all day--they're playing with their kids, having a drink with their buddies watching a game, curled up with a good book, or going for a run. (I approve of all of those activities except for going for a run.) The fact that most folks are too busy living their lives to notice what's actually happening is exactly what the administration is counting on.

Mike Kriskey said...

There's no way to change the tastes of the viewing public. Maybe we should institute a test for everybody before they can vote. Not a literacy test, this one could be administered orally.

Name your current US senators, representative, governor, mayor, and one of your state legislators.

Mike Kriskey said...

And this is one of the reasons I called myself "the least sentimental person I know" on the Grand Old Flag post.

I literally could not care less. I'm trying to imagine a situation in which I would be upset over the death of any celebrity. I mean anything more than a quick "that's a shame."

There's definitely some sort of psychopathology involved when you have people in tears and fashioning memorials for someone whom they've never even met. What's especially disturbing to me is the extent of this mental disorder. I think it's some brand of narcissism.

freedom21 said...

Mike-

I will admit it-- I cried when I heard Michael Jackson died. Also, I cried when Princess Diana and Selena died and I am sure that I will cry when other celebrities die.

And it's not about narcissism or a mental disorder. I cried because of the memories that I have because of these people. Michael Jackson, who I had never met, created a soundtrack to my childhood. Every song that he had I can attribute a very happy personal memory. If that makes me a psychopath/narciscist, then so be it.

That said, I consider myself well versed in politics and current events. I don't feel like having emotion towards a death of someone youve never met precludes one from being a well informed citizen.

Oral tests would be a troublesome idea as well---can you imagine agents of the new state ( re: the black panthers in PA) administering tests without documentation, turning away voters--don't think that we wouldnt be the ones turned away :)

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom21, how do you you're not crazy? I hear that crazy people are usually the last to know? ;-)

Seriously, I understand why people are upset about celebrity deaths. These are people who have been involved in your life to a degree, sometimes even moreso than an distant uncle or aunt. That said, I think that a significant portion of the population is made unstable by celebrity culture. When you see people who start building shrines to celebrities or become obsessed with meeting them, etc., those people need help.

The problem I have with the media, is the one that Lawhawk mentions. Yes, Americans are under-educated and many people aren't interested in the things that will affect them, BUT the media makes this much worse because it will latch onto the "easy" stories (like a celebrity death), and will run with that to the exclusion of all else.

If I want to see news on cap and trade or the Indian elections or the civil wars in Africa, I can no longer find that on the news -- which wasn't true until CNN gave us 24 hour news. So even the people who want to remain informed are finding it harder and harder.

Anonymous said...

The only news we need is who is next to be removed from American Idol.
The rest of the stuff exceeds the mental capacity of the majority of the American public.
Or since it does not directly affect them it is just oh hum.
Our media has lost its concept of the mission of journalism. The media has allowed its self to be hijacked by the politicians. Are we doomed or is it possible that enough Americans can come to their senses to salvage the great experiment?

LawHawkSF said...

Gordon Winslow: I remember the Lennon thing as well, but we didn't have the cable channels to keep it going all the time. I wasn't suggesting that these things are not news, I was pointing out that major news affecting all our lives is pushed into the background to allow for time for silly speculation, experts who don't even know what they're talking about, news people who can't prioritize the news, and opinion people who never heard the expression "you're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts." And indeed, that is exactly what the administration counts on. Too many people think they're watching news, when in fact they're watching fluff.

Freedom21: There's nothing wrong with feeling some emotion over the loss of a beloved figure. I was a teen when John Kennedy was assassinated and a young adult when Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were murdered, and it was wrenching. The best way I can put this obsession with celebrity and celebrity deaths is that I'm all in favor of good, healthy sex. But not all the time. There's a difference between healthy sex and Roman orgies. These "news pieces" are celebrity orgies.

Mike Kriskey said...

freedom21--

I said that I couldn't imagine crying over the death of a celebrity. I didn't mean to imply that anyone who does is suffering from mental illness.

The ones who take to the streets, tears streaming down their faces, laying roses and stuffed animals on some shrine? There's something wrong with them. Probably some sort of group hysteria, but ultimately with narcissism at its root. It's clearly not about the person who died, but about the person "expressing the depths of his grief."

How about just being able to name the major party candidates for the election at hand? First and last names? Do it at the same time you check in with your ID, with both Republican and Democrat election officials as witnesses?

LawHawkSF said...

Mike Kriskey: I understand your point, and I agree with much of it. But I don't think that opinion cannot be changed by well-done news pieces concentrating on those things that are truly important. Unfortunately, the same mentality that causes people to watch hours of Michael Jackson coverage results in people voting for "hope and change." And our so-called news media are happy to give it to them. Celebrity news is fine, in proper proportion. Yet people should be hearing what they need, not just what they want.

As a civil rights activist in the 60s, I know the dangers of tests. Literacy tests in the South were a major method used to keep Blacks from voting, much as Freedom21 pointed out with the example of Black Panthers in place of the redneck poll officials. But that does not mean we can't have basic tests, equally administered. I see no reason why we can't require the same level of knowledge for voters that we do for those seeking American citizenship--and that would be along the line you've suggested.

LawHawkSF said...

Anonymous: Over the past week or so, I've had the awful feeling I'm watching a real-life version of Idiocracy. I don't feel that the American people are so much stupid as they are ignorant. And I lay that at the feet of teachers who don't teach, parents who don't parent, and news reporters who don't produce news. In the long run, oppressive governments come into power by exploiting not the stupidity of people, but their lack of informed opinion. When people know everything they ever needed to know about Michael Jackson and more, but little or nothing about cap and trade and health care reform, the news media have assisted the government in taking away the "people's right to know" something worthwhile.

And as I said in my column, I know the question, but I don't have the answer.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I have to say that I am firmly against any sort of test -- other than presenting a valid identification to prove your citizenship.

To start excluding people because we don't like the way they think smacks to me of elitism and totalitarianism. Democracy isn't always pretty but I trust the people.

If there is a problem with voters picking candidates for the wrong reasons, then it up to reasonable people to explain it to them.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: I really don't agree with you. The left has already argued (unsuccessfully so far) that even requiring proof of identity is a "test." I wasn't suggesting a test of what one thinks. I was suggesting a basic (very basic) knowledge of American government, much like a high school civics test. If one "thinks" that there are five branches of the federal government, then I'm bloody well ready to exclude that person from voting. If someone asks me if I think Barack Obama is a dangerous leftist ideologue, my answer is a firm yes, but that wouldn't be on the voting test. If I want to vote for that dangerous leftist ideologue, I should be allowed to do so, but if I "think" the President sits on the Supreme Court, I should fail the test.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, I know the left calls proof of identification a "test" but that's political doublespeak.

My problem with a knowledge test is that the content of the test will depend on who is writing the test. You may say that questions of ideology will never be on the test, but once you start down that road, how do you keep it from creeping in? After all, the test will be written by politicians and fought over in courts, and you know how that turns out.

So you really think that Pelosi will pass up the chance to inject her views into the test? Or that a compliant court would let her?

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: The danger of tests of political opinion being injected into voter knowledge tests is possible, but not likely. It isn't as if they would be slipping a 1,000 page bill with a last-minute 300 page addendum cap and trade bill down the voters' throats. Even the most uneducated person would know the difference between asking "is communism a good form of government?" and "is the President the Chief Executive Officer of the United States?" Before any tests could be put in place, they would be vetted publicly, and tested in both state and federal courts. And plenty of time and public exposure would be involved in setting up the tests in the first place.

The Constitution inhibits the federal government from imposing a national standard, so there will be fifty states producing fifty tests and a multitude of court cases to inform and protect the public. The average, unsophisticated driver still has to take a basic test to determine if he knows the rules of the road and can read street signs, and nobody thinks that is either elitist or totalitarian. But if the DMV suddenly had a test question that said "Chevrolet is a better automobile than Ford. Knowing this, would you still purchase a Ford?" Joe Sixpack would quickly discern that this was not a genuine competency test.

There is danger in every act of government, and the Founders knew that very well. But if it reached the point that Pelosi could inject politics into a civics test, and nobody noticed or objected, then we're already lost and the test is irrelevant anyway. We're both legal beagles. We know that much of law involves "balancing tests." In balancing the likelihood of a sneaky political opinion question being put into a voter competence test against the danger of a completely un-American form of government being put into place by ignorant voters, I feel the latter danger outweighs the former.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, with only a few minutes to come up with questions that would upset you, but that I bet would easily pass muster in states like California or New York, how about these:

1. Which government agency is primarily responsible for combating global warming?

2. True or false: The role of the courts are to guarantee that the rights given to the people by the government are protected.

3. True or false: The constitution includes a right to privacy.

Give me time and I can get really insidious.

freedom21 said...

AP: Hahahah. that's exactly how it would go down! I love it.

Tests, in theory, would be great but would surely be used as a way to limit the knowledgable ones from voting. The intelligencia are always the first to go...

AndrewPrice said...

Freedom21,

I agree. While I like the idea that our electorate should be educated, and I think in theory some test for voters sounds great, history tells me that it will very quickly get subverted as a way to impose a political view.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: Those are great examples, and I'm sure you can come up with more. It doesn't change my opinion that it would never fly, would not be acceptable to the voters, and would not stand up to ultimate court tests. But just for the fun of it, let's discuss the ones you did posit.

1. In this question, you made the assumption that a) the lefties would be any more capable of answering that question than conservatives, and b) that the test would automatically exclude conservatives while qualifying activists only. When only 5% of the population could answer that question (leftist elitists and informed conservatives), even the goofball ultraliberal know-nothings would be up-in-arms about being disenfranchised.

2. The left is as likely to answer the question wrong (or correctly) as the right. Thus, the same result as in 1.

3. Again, only lawyers and political scholars know what that debate is all about. So again, same result as 1. and 2.

As a practical matter, even politically skewed questions would have to be written so that the favored position is answered "correctly" by the largest number of potential voters. Simply put, the more sophisticated and subtle the question, the narrower the gap between the number of voters who can "pass" and the number who will "fail."

I can't speak for New York, but I am willing to place a bet that the California Supreme Court would throw out questions 1 and 3, and would decide that question 2 is so vaguely worded that it would have no discernible effect on voting qualifications in either direction. But it would strike the question anyway, because it would disenfranchise a major portion of the electorate as surely as a lottery. And I believe the US Supreme Court would uphold California on each of the decisions based on adequate independent state grounds.

I hope you're not making the assumption the left makes--that they are smarter and better-educated than conservatives. I'm just picturing Joe Commie scratching his head trying to determine how he could possibly be refused the right to vote when he voted for Nancy Pelosi in the last twelve elections.

So I give the nod to Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." The problem we fought in the South in the 60s had little to do with tests, and much to do with implementation of the tests. Had the tests been performed uniformly and fairly, the rednecks would have failed at exactly the same rate as the Blacks. And now we have forty-plus years of legislation and court decisions to prevent such unfair and unconsitutional implementation.

freedom21 said...

I remember learning about this particular test when I was in Highschool. We were given it as a real test...not too many people passed it.

http://www.crmvet.org/info/litques.pdf

LawHawkSF said...

Freedom21: And you are right on the money. The test was selectively given only to Blacks and anyone the poll workers considered a political enemy. As I mentioned, a test that was universally and fairly administered throughout a state which resulted in the disenfranchisement of a major portion of the state's electorate would result in a public outcry that could not be ignored.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk,

First, you are making a mistake if you think that the left (1) won't have hand outs (crib sheets) ready to assist their people and (2) won't take every one of their denied voters to court to show that they could indeed answer the test and thus should have been allowed to vote.

Secondly, the courts won't help on this one. When in our recent history have the courts ever tossed aside their political views to decide an issue truly neutrally? I give you the Florida Supreme Court or the Minnesota Supreme Court as recent examples.

Moreover, the law in most places (as in Federal court) is that regulating elections is generally left up to the legislatures. Thus, the courts are unlikely to get involved in drafting these questions unless there is an allegation of prohibited (i.e. racial) bias. Short of that, they will give the legislatures tremendous discretion. Do you think your bunch in Sacramento will put aside their partisanship and exercise that discretion wisely?

Third, you may want to exclude ignorant people, but you aren't going to be managing this process. The legislatures are. And many of those are dominated by leftists, who want ignorant people to vote. So they will simultaneously water down this test to the point of being worthless, while they polticize it as a way for promoting their agenda.

Take the global warming question. If they change it to "The Federal Government is primarily responsible for fighting global warming at the national level. True/False" then your concerns about people not passing go away. And what is left is a statement that requires you to admit that global warming is real if you want to vote.

Moreover, even subtle changes can matter. Do you think they will use the term "taxpayer money" or will they always call it "government money"?

On the right to privacy, I assure you that most Americans know that term because it's said to them all the time -- every criminal I know has cited it to me. They just don't know what it means.

Allowing a knowledge test opens the door to massive politicization of a process that is already politic enough.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew:

My, you're unusually pessimistic today, but since here in San Francisco the sun is shining and the birds are singing, I'm in a more optimistic mood.

As for "crib sheets," I don't think even the well-organized left, with all the power of ACORN, could keep that a secret for long. Disenfranchised voters would be demanding their crib sheets pdq. Any individual challenge the left can make, the conservatives can make. Sure it could happen, but I find it highly unlikely, particularly here in Sunny California (and our State Supreme Court).

Political elections are one thing, political limitations on the right to vote in those elections are quite another. Part of the reason highly-politicized courts decide the way they do is that they are convinced that the political move will either be supported by the majority of citizens, or that it will be too arcane for them to understand. Both the Florida and Minnesota Supreme Court examples fit this pattern. But when the issue is clear, and there are no arcane legal issues to cloud what the public sees, the courts tend to act the way the California Court acted in upholding Prop 8 after previously granting gay marriage equal status. A few hundred thousand disenfranchised citizens are not going to let the courts hide behind political manipulation or rules that even the court can't entirely agree on.

Of course the legislatures write the statutes, but they would be very careful about writing politically-skewed legislation which would disenfranchise large numbers of people. And even politically-dominated courts hesitate to make anti-democratic decisions where the issues are crystal clear, such as "you've taken away my right to vote." The Rose Bird Court in California made that mistake once too often, and three of the justices, including Bird, were removed from office. And quit picking on my poor State Supreme Court, will ya? The Court is moderate/conservative, and the gay marriage decision was based on fairly sound legal reasoning. Prop 8 opened the door for a reversal of that decision.

If the left waters down the test to the point you suggest, we'll be no worse off than we are now. I simply think that a decent civics test can be devised that would establish minimal qualifications to vote that would exclude only a very small portion of people who have no concept of what their right to vote actually means.

Your question on global warming is so politically-loaded that I find it very hard to believe it would ever be asked. First of all, it goes well-beyond "name the three branches of the federal government," and second it is sufficiently political that it couldn't hide under a rock for long.

I'm not quite sure where a question about "taxpayers" as opposed to "government" money would come in, but again I think Abe would say "you can't fool me."

You prove my point about the "right to privacy" question. Criminals, and a few Supreme Court justices are wrong on that answer (unless criminals know about umbras, penumbras and emanations). The question is so ambiguous and argumentative that potential voters of all political stripes are as likely to answer the question "right" as to answer it "incorrectly."

The current system is so over-politicized, in part at least, because of the utter ignorance of the general public concerning basic American republican government. I consider that to be impolitic.

Tennessee Jed said...

Great post and great discussion. I have no answers either. So, I'll just throw in my random reactions. The media does contribute by feeding the frenzy. I have been embarrassed by Fox. That is particularly troubling since they are the one "news"network that is not totally all liberal all the time. Their obsession tends to lose credibility for the network, I think, not that Fox is alone.

People are not always as dumb as they seem, though. Sometimes they use the other out of genuine celebrity culture interest and an escape from "reality."

While I would love some kind of competency test, I have to agree with Hawk, it really is tough to do. I happened to catch a couple of minutes of Dr. Luntz on Hannity talking about cap and trade. Right now, a lot of people are concerned about the current spending, but they tend to think each side uses the stats to pad their position. He thinks the Dems may get a pass past 2010 which is discouraging, but emphasized we must have a positive alternative to present. I think this must be presented by political leaders, not just guys like ourselves.

When people actually begin to see the dollars flowing out of their pockets and lack of jobs, they will eventually blame the Dems and we can make progress if we have viable alternative solutions.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, don't get me started on Fox News. :-(

I see Fox as a totally wasted opportunity. If they are ever going to be helpful to our side, they need to become much more serious about the news. They don't have to abandon the T&A that they use attract viewers, but they need to get more serious about their facts and the depth of their stories. They also need to hook up with the Washington Times and guys like John Stossel and start doing much more "hard journalism."

I agree with you about our politicians needing to start speaking out better, and that's part of what we're hoping to do here. We're trying to slowly but surely provide people (including our politicians) with the tools, arguments, and facts that they need to be able to understand and explain what they believe to people who don't already share their views.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee Jed and Andrew: Ditto on Fox News. They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As I alluded in my post, I am fed up to the neck with Geraldo Rivera and Greta van Susteren. Like the people they fawn over, they are both famous for being famous. Their fifteen minutes of fame should have been over ten years ago.

Post a Comment