If you’re like me, you’ve been watching a lot of news lately. No one can really blame us. The proverbial shit has been hitting the proverbial fan.1
In the last few weeks, we’ve had a racially motivated riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, and a presidential mishandling of the same. And then poor Robert Lee got pulled off of broadcasting the Virginia Cavaliers home opener for fear we’d confuse him for a Civil War general.
To quote the late general, “What, I say, what in taahnation?!” I assume he said that at some point. He’d also likely point the stunning absence of Asian Civil War leaders’ statues in Charlottesville as a good indication that ESPN could have taken a gamble on this one.
We’ve seen THE largest rally of human beings in Earth’s 6,000 year history in Phoenix—PERIOD—complete with one Black guy and a tease that a convicted violator of the 4th Amendment might be pardoned. And today, the President fired the event organizer because of the lower-than-expected turnout. I’m no event organizer, but getting a bunch of elderly, angry people together on a 107° Phoenix day might have been a hard sell. Should’ve hosted it at a bingo hall, that mess would have been packed. Host it between the 5 pm and 7 pm sesh. They all line up for that 7 pm coverall jackpot.
And then, as Hurricane Harvey brought its devastation to southeast Texas, the President maximized his ratings by giving an actual pardon to that guy…I mean the racist Constitution violator, not the Black guy, just to be clear. Racist 85-year-old sheriffs’ lives matter—we must never forget that. The Black guy was a nutcase, but he was actually acquitted in his murder conspiracy trial, so there’s no need for a pardon there.
Oh, and North Korea lobbed a ballistic missile over Japan.
And the Secretary of State distanced himself from the above nonsense when asked if POTUS represents American values with the old “the President speaks for himself” soft shoe.
And the Secretary of Defense told a group of soldiers to hold the line until the people of America return to treating each other with respect.
And Steve “When Will This Face Swelling Go Down?” Bannon was fired.
And (confirmed) Hungarian (alleged) Nazi (alleged) “Doctor” Sebastian Gorka was (allegedly) fired.
And the entire Presidential Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned en masse.
And several members of the President’s cybersecurity council resigned in protest of his lack of attention to pertinent cyber issues.
What a run of events! It’s almost enough to make you wish we hadn’t elected a narcissistic, egomaniacal reality show host to run the country!
I already read a lot of news and opinion articles, follow everyone under the sun on social media, and watch a lot of 24-hour news. Add all of this stuff AND a hurricane hitting my hometown, and I’m glued to the TV and my social media feeds. I’m sure a lot of you are, too.
In my relentless consumption of information, I’ve distilled some lessons about how the world works, gleaned from 24-hour cable news and the twitfacegram. I thought I’d share a few of those lessons here.
1. Everyone should be introduced by all of their credentials, every single time.
When you’re speaking, it’s important that people trust that you know of which you speak. On cable news, the network’s credibility is on the line. They can’t fact check everything that every guest says in real time, so they do the next best thing: they bring experts on to discuss the day’s events.
But how do we know that the person speaking is an expert? Easy. We introduce them with all of their credentials in tow. We read you their curriculum vitae before we let them speak. And if they just wrote a book, you better believe we’re going to plug it. They aren’t coming on your show at 10 pm on the East Coast for the hell of it, Lawrence O’Donnell.
The social media version is to start your post or comment with, “as a veteran,” or “as a mom of 14 children under the age of 4,” or “as the mighty Lord incarnate, walking amongst the mortals.” If you don’t tell us why you matter, we have to assume you don’t. #sorrynotsorry #ididntwritetherules #wellisortofdid.
Going forward, I would like to be introduced as noted humorist, dog whisperer, bon vivant, two-time Olympic gold medal ceremony viewer, lactose intolerant, prolific co-author of Mad Libs, life aficionado, and self-described animal-mating expert2 Rickey Dobbs, Esquire. That way, you’ll know whatever I’m about to say really matters. Oh, and please buy my book. Pre-orders are being taken now. Just a word of warning: I haven’t actually written it yet, but don’t let details like that dissuade you. You’re very ahead of your time, and I like that about you.
2. Consumers of TV news apparently have odd consumer needs.
The commercial choices of any network are a dance between viewership, demographics, money, and demand. I just made all of that up, but you trusted me because of all of the bullshit I told you about myself in the last paragraph.
Knowing the basics of how network economics work, it’s clear to see that there’s value in advertising certain products during certain programs. And apparently, people who watch cable news buy a few specific things.
If the commercials are a good indicator, cable news viewers need a shit ton of insurance. They are probably suffering from a hernia, and the mesh they got put in came dislodged. They’ve almost certainly been reusing their catheters, but they don’t have to anymore. They all have psoriasis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and asthma. A significant number of the viewers of this brand of cable news are also blind, which makes their viewership all the more impressive. Most suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder called non-24, and should ask their doctor if Icantsi is right for them.
I would think with all of these maladies, viewers like this would prefer something more lighthearted than a report on the latest outrage-inducing problem being caused by the outrage inducer du jour. Maybe their viewing habits are driven by a need to remind themselves that no matter how bad their psoriasis and hernias get, they could always have it so much worse. For instance, they could have daily contact with the President. That’d make being itchy and blotchy seem okay by comparison.
Makes you wonder how certified non bon vivant (maybe non vivant?) Steve “Itchy And Blotchy” Bannon made it seven months in the administration without walking face-first into the tail rotor of Marine One, doesn’t it?
3. We cannot understand human emotion or danger without being a virtual eyewitness.
Apparently, we’ve devolved as a society. In the past, if you wanted to understand a situation in far away lands, you had to “read” about it in a “newspaper” sold by an “orphan” with a cockney accent. Journalists used descriptive words, sentence structure, tone, and maybe a picture or two, to transport your mind to the event.
Today, everything is televised; some of it is shown on the actual television networks, but much of it is broadcast via social media. Either way, life is televised instantly.
Our taste for instantaneous, amateur, gonzo “journalism” started as a little empty calorie snack while dinner was cooking. It has since subsumed dinner outright, and has become our main source of nutrition.
No one wants to wait for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, we can just eat gummy bears and Pringles right now.
The networks, feeling like ignored meatloaf, started gummy-bear-and-pringles-ing their shows. Cell phone footage, YouTube videos, Facebook posts, tweets…woven into the fabric of journalism so seamlessly that we barely noticed it was happening.
The hurricane has been a good reminder of where we are, and where we used to be.
In the last few days, we’ve seen the good and the bad of this integration of citizen journalism.
We’ve gotten to see pictures from inside flooded houses because an occupant posted pictures of their own flooded house on social media. We’ve gotten quick rebroadcasts of pertinent information, such as the breaching of a levee south of Houston. I saw a wild hog walking around in someone’s yard, and a deer rescued and hanging out in the back of a crew cab pickup. As a native Texan, I’m genuinely surprised no one shot the hog or the deer and started field dressing it right there. Good job, y’all. Wait till the cameras are off.
We’re experiencing angles of this hurricane’s impact and aftermath we would have never felt a generation ago, and the outpouring of financial support is a good indication of such connectivity’s positive effect.
But I’ve also seen cameras and microphones shoved in grieving people’s faces. I’ve seen gross misinformation tweeted, retweeted, and then broadcast by “trusted” news sources. I’ve seen county officials alert and demand immediate evacuation, only to have well meaning naysayers on social media advise against heeding the county’s warning, because “it’s not as bad as they’re saying it is.”
The hurricane just happens to be the event that is shining a light on this, but the underlying issue shouldn’t be ignored: our need for immediate, graphic, unfiltered access to everything is worth examining.
We are reinforcing the way our news is covered by pouring out our hearts, prayers, and wallets in response to professional and amateur coverage of the events. And in this case, the end justifies the means. Houston and southeast Texas need our help.
But we risk falling into a type of “donor fatigue” by our steady diet of instant, uncensored, sugary gratification. Over time, by only mainlining the strongest news right into our hearts, we become totally deadened to complex news. Syria? It’s complicated. Isn’t there a story about a horse getting rescued I can watch?
We cease to be stimulated by far away or “lesser” disasters than category 4 hurricanes. We forget how to empathize with people who don’t present a relatable, two-minute-or-less story.
We lose our ability to think critically, instead awaiting a meme or an infographic or a video of a smirking dipshit in a cowboy hat, always in a truck for some reason, ranting about who-knows-what, to arrive in our feed and tell us how to think.
I’ve learned from my nonstop watching of 24-hour news and companion social media browsing that I rely too much on having my news processed and refined into easily digestible snacks. I’m going to work on recognizing my propensity for that, and I hope you will, too.
And if you’re not sure if you should listen to me, remember, I’m a Mad Libs co-author and self-described animal-mating expert.
That’s all for now. If you’re enjoying my writing, read more! Want to read something hilarious? How about something thought-provoking? I hope you’ll also subscribe to my blog, follow me on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram. I also hope you’ll tell a friend or two about my stuff so more of us can get in on the conversation. Thanks everyone!
1 Note: if either the shit or the fan is literal, the idiom simply does not work. Please ensure BOTH are proverbial.
2 My expertise, with regard to non-human animals, is really limited to the fact that I saw two dogs doing it in the window of a townhouse as I drove down the street one night. These dogs didn’t give a fuuuuuck. Well, I guess they literally did, but they certainly didn’t care who saw them giving it. I don’t really have expertise in husbandry. Just ask my ex-wife! *rimshot