Last Sunday's Washington Post contained a humorous thought-procedural on media consumption in 2008. The gag: writer Gene Weingarten would spend 24 hours watching, hearing, reading, and otherwise imbibing the 24-hour news culture that is, he'd have us think, ruining our civilization. It takes six TVs, two radios and an overheating laptop to yield this insight:
Do you know how many volume bars it takes to turn a TV up to full shout? How many of those little bars show on the screen? I bet you don't 'cause you've never done it 'cause you've never been in Hour 21, have you? It's 63 bars! The TV is blasting through the quiet washingtonpost.com building, and that's when I notice something big. Something transformational.
When you have a TV at full blast, and there's a talking head, you hear his intake of breaths in between sentences really, really clearly. Ha-ha! And if you listen carefully for those, as though that was the important part of communication, you wind up not really hearing anything else! It is just a person gasping for breath! Ha-ha. The effect is especially great with Nancy Pelosi.
In this manner, I entertain myself satisfyingly for 10 minutes.
Much of Weingarten's rambling, pitiful despair is hilarious, and proves an oddly effective critique of today's media environment. Often, though, his faithful transcription of an average news day merely reproduces the painful noise of wall-to-wall coverage (maybe it is just bad writing)--with a dose of heavy-handed "meta-commentary" thrown in to remind the reader just how terrible and debased our sleepless, soulless news culture has become. To wit:
When I looked down toward my computer screen to see what the bloggers were saying about it, I noticed that a button on my shirt had come undone.
There I was, literally contemplating my own navel. But I didn't even crack a smile because, in the relentless drone of insipid opinion, irony no longer held any meaning.
Well. I myself have somewhat soured on watching the campaign sausages get made. (How we all howled in January about "the Pennsylvania scenario!" As if!) But the death of irony? Our swallowed chuckles aside--are things really that dire?
Perhaps. The foil of informed media analysis is the bedrock of politicking in America. No getting around that. But the marathon Democratic race--coupled with the retail approach to PA media that both Clinton and Obama are deploying--has left a "news" vacuum that has essentially forced the national media into a sort of 1950s, pre-technological childhood, playing Sputnik with an old refrigerator carton. It is a shame that, while the horse-race is on pause, there has not been a discernable turn toward issue-oriented reporting, at least on TV. (A colleague reminds me that one minute of every five hours of cable news focuses on the environment--while "accidents and disasters" take up 12.) Thankfully, however, Weingarten discovers life outside punditry:
Someone is saying somewhere that someone is cravenly misleading someone about something, and I get up from my chair, put on my coat, take the elevator to the lobby and walk out into the street.
It's a nice evening. Not too cold. People walking. No one seems to be arguing with anyone. Nice people, walking. Here's a person.
"Sir, do you think that McCain is going on the offensive against Obama in a subtle but devious attempt to ensure that Hillary is his opponent because her negatives continue to outweigh his negatives but Obama beats him by four to six points, according to the latest 24-hour polling data?"
"Uh, I, uh, never really thought about it," says Anthony Booker of Falls Church, backing away.