The Clownification of America
by Stephen Pizzo
News for Real
www.alternet.org, May 31, 2006
"We've turned into this nation of
overfed clowns, riding around in clown cars, eating clown food,
watching clown shows. We've become a nation of cringing, craven
fuckups." --James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Long
When I saw this Kunstler quote a couple
of weeks ago, I thought it a bit harsh. Then I picked up my morning
paper -- and, all at once, I got it.
There, in 120-point bold headline type,
above the fold, the lead story of the day, was the "news"
that: In less than 24 hours, singer Taylor Hicks would battle
singer Katharine McPhee for the title of American Idol!a
Clowns. We have indeed become a nation
of frivolous, self-indulgent, overweight, undereducated, unserious,
clowns. When an event of such monumental unimportance wins precious
front-page status, what other conclusion can be reached?
Art has stopped imitating life and simply
become a substitute for it. I flashed back to the 1967 cult TV
series "The Prisoner," starring Patrick McGoohan --
a British spy kidnapped and imprisoned on an island with an Orwellian-like
society. Each morning radios, newspapers and speakers announced
it was "another wonderful day on the island." Every
day was another wonderful day. There never was a bad day -- never
mind that everyone on the island was a prisoner.
And so it has come to pass on our island,
where the papers, radios and televisions no longer differentiate
between news and entertainment. Where "American Idol"
finals get page 1 treatment and genocide in Darfur is pushed deep
inside the paper in the shadow of a 1/2-page Best Buy ad trumpeting
a sale on iPod accessories.
Oh, lighten up Pizzo! People need entertainment
as much as they need to know about all the bad news out there.
Yeah, fine. But let's keep the entertainment
news in the entertainment section of the paper where it belongs.
Can we do that? Oh, and keep the sports news on the sports page
as well. The only time I want to see the name "Barry Bonds,"
in the news section of the paper is if major league baseball ever
kicks his cheating ass out of the game. Or if he robs a bank.
Or if George Bush appoints Barry head of the FDA. Otherwise, keep
him and all other baseball-relating "news" where it
belongs in the sports section.
And, unless the losing singer on "American
Idol" pulls a gun and opens fire after hearing the verdict,
everything else about that show belongs in the entertainment section
and NOT on my front page. The same rules apply to everyone and
anyone whose only claim to fame is that they sing, dance, submerge
themselves in a Plexiglas globe, eat the most hot dogs in the
shortest time or own a cute dog that fetches beer on command.
None of that is news. Not one word, factoid
or photo-op of it is news.
It's not as if there was not real news
the day "American Idol" found its way onto my front
page. During that same news cycle almost anything that happened
in Iraq was more important, as were the doings that day on Capitol
Hill, at the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department or
in Iran. On the day my paper put "American Idol" above
the fold on the front page, the editors could have thrown a dart
at that list of the above newsmakers and found a story more worthy
of the front page.
Who wins or loses on "American Idol"
may send a few thousand teenage girls squealing off in tears,
but that's about the extent of the damage. On the other hand,
we live in extraordinarily dangerous times. A convergence of economic,
geopolitical and environmental challenges confront the human race
any one of which could tomorrow trigger a series of events that
would turn all our lives inside out.
So, news editors everywhere, let's get
back to treating the front page as the sacred trust it is -- the
place reserved for the most important news we need to know that
day in order to exercise our responsibilities as citizens and
members of the human race.
The mainstream media has become complicit
in the "clownification" of the American public. As more
and more newspapers and broadcast entities are gobbled up by a
handful of giant media conglomerates, the news business has become
a circulation/ratings game. News people now cover entertainers
as though they are newsmakers. And, as if that's not bad enough,
news people themselves now become entertainers -- appearing on
Larry King Live and then interviewing one another. Newsmen become
showmen -- the news biz, show biz.
Media companies feel they have to lure
us in by blending news and entertainment into a single tasty,
calorie-filled but nutrition-free product. Once hell-raisers,
they are becomng clownmakers.
Aren't you embarrassed? Well damn it,
you oughta be.
Stephen Pizzo is the author of numerous
books, including "Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings
and Loans," which was nominated for a Pulitzer.