“May 1 is May Day, celebrating the observance of spring and the renewal of life…” –May 1, 2003

May 1 is May Day, celebrating the observance of spring and the renewal of life and Labor Day everywhere in the world except the U.S., Canada and Bermuda.

Once again, workers of the world unite!

May is National Book Month (www.nationalbook.org) and Get Caught Reading Month (www.getcaughtreading.org).

Also, like a bad version of David Foster Wallace’s ongoing joke in Infinite Jest, May is also Asian-American Heritage Month; Breathe Easy Month; Better Hearing and Speech Month; Clean Air Month; Creative Beginnings Month; Family Support Month; Haitian Heritage Month; International Business Image Improvement Month; Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month; More Than Just a Pretty Face Month; National Allergy Asthma Awareness Month; National Arthritis Month; National Barbecue Month; National Bike Month; National Correct Posture Month; National Egg Month; National Good Car Keeping Month; National Hamburger Month; National Hepatitis Awareness Month; National Moving Month; National Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month; National Osteoporosis Prevention Month; National Physical Fitness and Sports Month; National Salsa Month; National Sight-Saving Month; National Stroke Awareness Month; National Teaching and Joy Month; Older Americans Month; Revise Your Work Schedule Month; Strike Out Strokes Month; and Women’s Health Care Month.

It has been eight months since I turned my television into a video monitor and foreswore the temptations of cable hookup. No Sopranos, no The Wire, no Fox Noise, no World Series, no Iraq squawk, no presidential press conferences (have there been any real ones?)…no American Imperium war gibberish…did I say it’s been eight months? Oddly–at least to me, it’s not been a difficult habit to break (I do watch Nickelodeon with my son, but that’s another story.) Interestingly, the most rewarding part of my rehabilitation has been reading about various goings on in TV land. The ongoing growth of the Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart, the return of Keith Obermann and the haunting of American media by eminence lite, Tina Brown, are sufficient to fuel my ambivalence about my nascent TV-free life style.

Jesse Oxfield did a fine Q & A with Obermann on Mediabistro.com:

Yeah, I have some theories. And that’s the premise of the show, for a large part. Most people under the age of thirty have never been exposed to what was state-of-the-art hard news. When I was ten years old, there was a live shot from the moon. This was unbelievable. The live video camera–the mobile camera that allowed you to go on the story as it happened–was an innovation and a presentation that had never been seen before. Interaction between newscasters, more than one newscaster on a newscast, these were all things that were invented as I was growing up and were designed to keep people’s attention in an ever more crowded entertainment universe. We haven’t done a thing like that in 20 years in television news. Everybody keeps bringing out a 1980 newscast. Collectively, we have done very few new formats and very few new ideas about how to present it. I think that there are a few new ideas out there, and we are very encouraged by the initial results of this program which, as I said, is just at its embryonic stage. We’re just letting a few of the gimmicks peek their heads up, and we’re getting all encouraging signs about the youth of the audience watching this particular hour, their willingness to stay for the whole thing.

The same sort of approach that worked at Sports Center I think will work in news. Which is–and I’ve said this many times before, and so has Dan Patrick–we did a lot of slapstick, we did a lot of silliness, we did a lot of bad puns. But those were always there because the news was either not serious enough or not strong enough to carry an audience through an hour. We didn’t throw the news over our shoulder just so we could write a great long lead-in to something that mentioned how many Hootie and the Blowfish golf tournaments we’d gone to. Yes, you’ve got to throw various hooks into people to keep them; you’ve got to hit all the notes and say OK, we got the hard news, we have the dumb news, we have the intriguing news, we have the opinion on the news and we have a series of puns along the line of "There’s been an uprising in Basra, the Shiites have hit the fan" To get an audience that’s used to rapid-fire entertainment, you’ve got to give them a good television show for 60 minutes. And you must, at the same time, and this is where I’m sort of wearing two hats, you have to be absolutely dedicated to saying, "We could keep the audience and grow it a little bit more than it even is now, but to do that we have to sell the news out, and we’re not going to do it." And, you have to decide how much of one and the other. What can you play with? To me, you can play with the format, you can play with the always-serious tone, and as long as you can get it back to being completely serious when it needs to be, you can basically do whatever you want to make it a good TV show. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.

As did Bob Sassone at Professor Barnhardt’s journal which served up some side-splitting Obermann:

I recently heard you say on your show, "we report, you decide." Is that something you have to clear with the higher-ups, or do they let you have freedom on stuff like that?

No, not at all. All three cable networks have a healthy, vigorous dislike for each other. I get a round of applause when I do something like that. And God Bless Rupert Murdoch for one thing: his covey of flying monkeys do something journalistically atrocious every hour of the day. They hand us the sword every day and say "smite us right here." And I’m a good smiter.

I am almost tempted to call my cable guy.

And then there is Jon Stewart, here with Howard Kurtz on his CNN show (Kurtz for a change is not bad as a straight man):

KURTZ: We’re on the verge of a big, momentous historic mid-term election. How excited are you personally?

STEWART: Well, I think I reflect the feeling in the country, just tough to sit still, can’t wait to get out and vote for whatever congressman is up there. Yeah, it’s been real tough to get anybody interested in it. Apparently, there’s a — what’s it called? — a war looming.

KURTZ: But if you watch television, you would think the election had been canceled. So has politics become too boring for the media, unless it’s some juicy sex scandal or something like that?


KURTZ: The other night on "The Daily Show" Senator John Edwards. Why would a guy who is, you know, clearly planning to run as president come on and answer your inane questions?

STEWART: I’m a king maker. I’m an idol maker. People come on. I’m sort of the David Frost of the Comedy Central set.

KURTZ: He did promise to reveal on your program whether he was going to run for president.

STEWART: He did promise that.

KURTZ: That would be a big scoop for you.

STEWART: But you know what? People have lied to me on my program before.

Stewart even made it on to Frank Rich’s radar screen at the former Gray Lady:

What’s more, "The Daily Show" has fulfilled its mission without being particularly ideological. On the day of Baghdad’s liberation, Mr. Stewart told his viewers that "if you are incapable of feeling at least a tiny amount of joy at watching ordinary Iraqis celebrate this, you are lost to the ideological left." Then he added: "If you are incapable of feeling badly that we even had to use force in the first place, you are ideologically lost to the right." He implored "both of those groups to leave the room now."

I was dialing the cable guy’s number.

Tina Brown is back–sort of. Well, she never really was allowed to go away. The Times of London continued to provide the well-traveled Brown a venue and the regularly remodeled Salon.com recycled those journalistic marshmallows. I guess that’s their version of balance: Andrew Sullivan’s rancid rants as the yin to Ms. Brown’s self-serving soliloquies as the yang. But at least Sullivan’s indicate an approximation of primate ideation. What to say about Tina’s natter? Birds chirping, screeching and clucking comes to mind. And then there is endless celebrating and attention devoted to this celebrity madam by various acolytes, careerists and unconscious media watchers. The most exaggerated and perhaps terminal example is that teenie-Tina woman at Gawker.com.

But I digressed. Brown’s new cable show premiered last night. One good thing about it is that at least the press on Brown will not be the empty caloric diets of quoting Brown on what stories she would assign if she were editing a magazine (Is there someone out there who has the bad judgment and the fuck you dollars to allow her to helm a magazine again? The answer, of course, frightens me.) That’s news, right?

I miss being a journalist as such, being a journalist in the mix of the news. I keep thinking every day of articles that I would assign. And I keep thinking, why isn’t anybody assigning Anthony Swofford, the author of "Jarhead," to go to Iraq? It seems to me mad. I would have done that instantly.

I get ideas all the time for pieces that I would assign. So that’s part of me. I’ll never stop doing that. I’ll probably do it in my sleep. Yes, I do miss that. But at the same time, I have really enjoyed getting back to writing [my column], which was my first kind of life, and which I did miss tremendously. And I only stopped writing because I had two kids, and I couldn’t have magazines and kids and write as well. Now my children are just a little bit older, and of course I don’t have the magazine. But I’ve really been enjoying the freshness of trying to master something new. It’s been very, very nice to work in a new medium.

Oy vey! But wait. Today’s post mortem had the ebullient and loquacious Tina pronouncing that:

The worst thing about TV is that the next day everyone from the guy in the dry cleaners to old school friends you’ve taken years to shed offers an opinion. The instant intimacy of the box allows instant candour. I learnt this after I did a guest spot years ago presenting Film Night for the BBC. I was shopping for bananas in the fruit shop in Pimlico when the sales assistant opined cheerfully: “Saw your show last night. Really sucked, didn’t it?” Whereas it’s unlikely anyone will say this — though plenty may think it — if your piece in The New York Times is a dog. This makes for a certain brave authenticity in TV people. They know that failure in their world is the only thing that isn’t fake. The upside is, memories are short and they get to do it again.

Wow, it’s bracing and encouraging that Tina Brown is not too old to learn. But in a paragraph rife with silliness the non-sequitor about the New York Times had me gasping for air. So, I won’t be one of the 74,000 people watching in the future…

So okay, I hung up on the cable guy. I wanted to finish Jane Smiley’s new book, Good Faith, anyway.

may day on the river

May Day on the Squamscott River by RB

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