“Journalism is the entertainment business.” – Frank Herbert
- DRIVING TO DISTRACTION -
Reality In The
2006: It’s cool and dry this workaday
morning as I walk from my house to the car to begin my morning drive. It’s cool and dry just about every morning
here. The weather makes this part of
Consider this. Since
real estate is mostly transacted with borrowed money, property values vary in
an inverse proportion to the cost of that money and the property’s tax
assessment. So, though they might appear
unconnected, property values like those in the hills above LA will plummet when
the annual federal deficit is no longer servicable.1 When that happens – if it hasn’t already -
countries such as
Eventually we’ll get to where we can only service the
interest, and that will spill over to all borrowers not just the big
overextended ones such as the federal government of the
However, what that means to just plain folks is simple. When all these things come together, we are effectively a nation in Chapter-11 bankruptcy. We can’t fund any new happy wars to keep unemployment low while we ship off jobs and kids to foreign lands, interest and taxes go through the roof, housing prices and real incomes go through the basement floor. Splat!
Oh, did you think the
Get over it, the media apologists tell us. Be of good cheer, they admonish, their philosophies as bankrupt as their ideology. These behaviors will keep the lights on here at home – at least until we’re all dead and our kids can deal with the problem like the adults we’ve failed to become.
I’m sorry, but like yourself, I’m rational. I can’t get over it. The implication from an economic failure is infuriating. Because, in my personal life, I try hard to be fiscally responsible. I don’t attack or rob my neighbors for a living, not even the small unarmed ones, and I do not owe one red cent to anyone – not a penny. Yet my supposedly “fiscally conservative” government holds me and my family responsible for their armed plunder and skyrocketing debts, while spending my tax money – and yours – as would a stupid, irrational, criminally insane, serial-murdering addict.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly what my “conservative” government is!
Then again, maybe I’m being harsh. Because, after all, the business “editor” on the local TV news this morning predicted only milk and honey for the real estate market and everything else in the years ahead. He foresees no interest explosion, no market collapse at all. He references the Dow-Jones Industrial Average and predicts growth – infinite, blissful economic growth.
But aside from quoting serious looking people who sell real
estate and stocks, he offered no plausible economic basis for sustaining this
growth. He only spoke of a 1.2% increase
in the gross domestic product.4 That’s a down trend, but he saw it as
growth. He also made no mention of how
that reconciles against the 60,000 new manufacturing plants he mentioned that
have been built in
As the business “editor” he must be aware of the Bush administration’s $70,000,000,000.00 in new tax incentives for American businesses that move their manufacturing facilities off shore. 1
I guess he forgot to mention that.
So, if I understand this, our tax money goes into corporations who take American jobs off shore to foreign slave shops. This new kind of slavery is even better than the old kind, because American corporations don’t have to feed and clothe and house and whip the foreign slaves. We just have to pretend we don’t know about them. The money saved yields profits that fall to those corporations’ bottom line. That in turn reflects positively on their stock prices, and since they are industrial, it boosts the Dow-Jones Industrial Average. The TV business editor then reads the day’s Dow, and tells us how the economy and gross domestic product is growing like Topsy.
Is this gross? Yes. Is it domestic product? I don’t think so.
Let’s face it. The
“business” report was intended to pacify the TV station’s viewers, not to
enlighten them. In some quarters of the
television business, that’s a good thing.
As a viewer, I’m reassured.
Supposedly, I’ll watch this channel without becoming upset about the
economy or child labor, and I’ll buy stuff the station is selling, most of
which is made offshore by economic slaves in places like
It seems wrong somehow, but as I said, who am I to question the business editor on the TV “news.” I’m just a jerk with no debts. He knows best.
He knew best last season when he was the weatherman. He knows best now.
I cannot help but wonder though, if this guy were really able to predict the future of America’s hottest real estate and economic trends, would he be getting up at three o’clock every morning to go to work at a TV station just so he could tell everyone else his secret?
Speaking of hot, my car’s outside air temperature gauge
reads 73 degrees as I pull out onto
Speaking of forecasts, the situation leading to these temperatures has been building for the past four decades. Still, our leaders in the Bush administration felt justified in rolling back or removing virtually all the sensibly imposed environmental protections and regulations on utilities and coal burning power plants that existed when they took office. Today – just this morning, in fact - they reduced fuel consumption limits on automobiles. How is that good? These restrictions in aggregate would have prevented hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 and acidics from being belched into the upper atmosphere during the past five years alone. These were not draconian, but reasonable restrictions, limits on carbons and acids that would have prevented an environmental trap from being sprung on our kids, and their kids.
But instead, in their insatiable lust to reverse 30 years of progressive environmental law, Bush and his slobs have replaced virtually every secretary and sub secretary of such agencies as Superfund and EPA-air with the most rapacious corporate lobbyists. Each is a creature whose prior expertise was the defeating of government safeguards for a price. Now they are simply removing those safeguards and as taxpayers, we’re feathering their nests while they foul ours.
The head of the air division at Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency for example is a utilities industry lobbyist who grew wealthy representing the worst polluters in the nation prior to his being on the tax rolls. Bush then appointed the infamous Maryann Horinko to head EPA’s Superfund arm. Before “working” for us, Horinko made her living teaching polluters how to avoid Superfund. The list goes on and on and on. Just what environment are they protecting?
Between them they can choke the world, and will if we don’t kick them to the curb.
I know what some of you are thinking. Please don’t say it. These are not business experts of the spirit we need in government. They are nothing more than plunderers who’ve made their way by poisoning our common habitat – planet Earth. This administration and its corporate flacks have rolled back an average of 80 environmental protection laws per year for the past 5 dismally retrogressive American years and they’ve done so on our dollar. Do the math. Watch the tides. Track the temperatures. Measure the sunlight. Smell the air. Enjoy the view. Taste the fish. Drink from the tap. Take a swim. The mutant fruits of this government’s labors are everywhere. And everywhere includes your children’s lungs and bloodstreams and expected lifespans.
The Bushies remained free to pollute and thus appease their corporate owners and deceive their naďve constituents, all the while destroying our children’s bodies and their world. They’ve remained free because the same mainstream corporate media that now reports on such things as climate change as if they’d discovered it themselves this morning, had remained cowering and silent for those same five years. Five years, I might add, during which every credible scientist not speaking for a polluter or the White House was forecasting exactly the mess we now have – almost to the degree. The climatologists were spot-on. Yet despite a 94% scientific consensus on climate change, an indolent press left the public to figure things out for ourselves. Meanwhile the “reporters” were chasing Brad and Angelina around the ever warmer, stormier, smellier, weirder-weathered globe.
Anyway, enough unpleasantness. Right now my
morning commute is taking me along a ridgeline. Up here the sky is still clear and steel
blue. Just ahead, a pair of women jog
along the cliff’s edge. Cresting the
hill, they pause to rest, hands on knees.
Sweat glistens from their not-quite-naked bodies. I wave.
On the off chance I might be a movie producer, they smile and wave
back. For the moment, all seems right
with the world. Global warming is not
entirely without its advantages. Like
the Randy Newman song says, I love
However, as I round the last switchback curve and start down, things change quickly. The San Fernando Valley spreads before me, shrouded in what I like to think is mist, but suspect is something else, something drier, more carbonic than mist. The valley is where I’m bound, and whatever that grey gas is, my lungs, like the gills of a fish, will have to glean what oxygen they can from it for the rest of this day. It’s tiring. It burns the eyes.
Pondering the noticeably darker air toward which I’m headed, I wonder for a moment what would happen if we all started driving hybrids. What would happen if at the same time the power plants cleaned up their act. Would the heavy opaque particulates that daily dim the sunlight fall back to earth and not be replaced aloft. Would this reduce the world’s visible smog, but leave the buoyant, and transparent greenhouse gasses suspended in the air. Would that be like removing the earth’s sunglasses? Would the temperatures here climb to 130 degrees? What about everywhere else? The Coriolis forces aloft have carried pollution all around the globe, darkened every sky. Has this been masking the true degree to which greenhouse effect will warm the orb as we bake under suddenly clearer skies? Have we, through the Bush administration’s cavalier disregard, finally passed the point of no return. Have we snapped the environmental trip-wire? Have we finally trapped ourselves into a damned if we do, damned if we don’t biotic syndrome? No one really knows …yet.
What would result from a brighter, and thus warmer
world? What would be wrought by a warmer
I choose to not think about that, either. In fact, enough unpleasantness. Perhaps the other 6% of the scientists – most of whom work for the Bush government and its contractors - will turn out to be right. After all, it’s not like the Bush people are never right. Is it?
I switch on the car radio.
I hear about a war, and another, and another. Each of them seems to be pitting one bunch of guys with uniforms, automatic rifles, tanks, helicopter gunships, F-16s, and satellite guided bombs against another bunch of raggedy guys who are shaking their fists or throwing rocks and homemade explosive devices at the tanks. But the “news” man speaks only of heroes and terrorists. The heroes are the ones with the uniforms and tanks, etc. While the terrorists (presumably when they’re not throwing rocks) are running back into their own houses to develop nuclear weapons of mass destruction. The news man says that very thing. He says the terrorists are developing nuclear weapons. They’ll use them against us too if we don’t stop them. Our president said that too. And he was talking mushroom clouds, not dirty bombs. Just how they’ll do it, how they’ll deliver them here, split the nuclei, stimulate a chain reaction, stuff like that, neither the newsman nor our president deigned to elaborate.
But, if I follow this logic to a conclusion, it presumes the terrorists have figured out the ways and means. They must have. Not only that, they’re trying to fool us, these terrorists. They’re trying to fool us by skipping past the whole rifle, tank, airplane, satellite kind of fighting and going straight from rock throwing, to building and launching atomic intercontinental exoatmospheric ballistic guided missiles that will cross the oceans and release a thermonuclear yield capable of blowing up an American city. Now, while going from rocks to rockets, fists to fission might seem a pretty broad technological leap – a leap that took the rest of us hominids 250,000 years - let’s not forget, these are terrorists. Just 19 of them scared the wits out of more Americans than did the whole Nazi army back in the day. They can do anything. They’re evildoers!
It all makes sense, too.
Coincidence? I don’t think so.
After all, if this global warming thing is true,
But just then, just when the pieces all seem to fit, the
newsman mentions that our leaders have decided to do something else to protect
us from omnipotent terrorists. They’ve
announced that they’re closing the Air Force NORAD war room deep inside
Oh, well. Maybe the
Bush people plan to have Haliburton build a new war room in
Boy! I’m glad I
figured that one out.
Anyway, I try not to think about the “wars” so much these days. Eventually perhaps, I’ll try not to think at all, about anything. It would be easier.
But I can’t.
Unlike the popular media, I cannot ignore the threat of biotic self-destruction through environmental abuse as have the escapists and criminals among us. I cannot – I will not - believe stupid inbred politicians while ignoring scientists and overwhelming scientific consensus.
Yet, as a tutored society we discount the very real possibility of nuclear war between superpowers. We are not told by the empty talking heads on TV about the 280 tons of highly enriched uranium that has disappeared from old Soviet labs and is perhaps bound for our unsecured ports. We don’t connect the repercussive dots of our ceaseless aggression and brushfire wars for oil. Instead a naďve public is kept focused on terrorists building fissionable weaponry in their hovels. We’re dissuaded to believe that the most dangerous explosive is the oil beneath those hovels. It will someday kill us all unless our countrymen wake up and behave more like reasoning humans and less like reactionary, obedient beasts, cloven satyrs stomping out a danse macabre.
It’s all so complex, so tragic. The constant train of excuses we’re given are too simplistic, reactionary, confused, predictable. Moronic. Does anyone actually believe this crap anymore?
As if on cue, my last question is answered. A school-bus-like SUV cuts in front of me, sans blinker. It’s bumper sticker reads, “Jeb Bush ’08.”
I follow this genius around another curve, and somehow
choose not to go over the edge. He
speeds off on his self-important way, thus restoring my forward
visibility. A hill appears in the
distance. Large white letters adorn its
side. The letters hover in my windshield
as if floating above the mystery mist.
The hillside letters spell out, “
Scrambling into the passenger seat, Elysee asks me to drop the convertible top. As I do, she points to a house across the street from her own and informs me that it’s the home Marilyn Monroe once shared with Joe DiMaggio. A born tour guide, minutes later she will point out the house where Bob Hope lived until his recent passing. Then I’m shown the home of the comic’s one time neighbor and long time friend Bing Crosby.
Though I’ve made this trip at least 1000 times, I’ve never
once thought about whose homes I might be passing. After all, driving past a celebrity’s home in
this town is about as remarkable as passing a farmhouse in
We drive on, now passing the studios of ABC, CBS, NBC, Universal Studios Hollywood, Warner Brothers, and Technicolor. Another slight detour and we stop at Elysee’s favorite coffee shop. Returning to the car, she tells me Mel Gibson was in front of her in line, unaware no doubt that before this week was out, Mr. Gibson would face his own heat wave. Too bad, because if the newsman had had that information he would not have wasted all that air time depressing me with all his babble about wars and heroes. He could have devoted the entire newscast to something real: a drunk-driving movie star. Now that’s news!
Resuming our trip, we pass the Walt Disney Studios. Approaching our office, we cross a street
Finally the glass tower where we work rolls into view. Arrayed across the building’s roof and
courtyard are satellite dishes large and small, lots of ‘em. All day, every day these devices send the
products of the surrounding studios to downlink locations across the globe
where they’ll be consumed by billions eager to be entertained, and willing to
be unduly influenced. I call the latter
We cross the parking structure to the main building’s
lobby. Actor Mister T shares our
elevator. With a nod, he steps off on
three. As we step off on four, singer
Josh Groban steps on. He smiles. Elysee too is smiling, broadly; she has been
since the coffee shop. She, too, loves
Now, while my journey from home to office is but a few
short miles, perhaps five, you’ll agree that as morning commutes go, mine is a
real “trip.” So, one might presume that
Despite encountering so many Hollywood icons, so many
engines of image and influence, my short drive has taken me through the Southern
California towns of
It does, however, make the point of this story.
What is visible though, visible to everyone who cares to
look, can at times be inspiring and other times frustrating. One thing is certain, though, the landscape
here is as uniquely American as is that
These places, these studios that stretch for miles in all directions are where people such as I - and others whom I prefer to think are not at all like me - make and sell one of the country’s most successful and therapeutic elixirs: escape from reality.
As elixirs go, escape is a potent one.
But here’s the thing about potent elixirs. If consumed to overdose, they often have serious side effects. Escape is no exception.
Yet, as long as Americans are buying escape from reality, the mythmakers in this town – myself among them – will sell it to them. We’ll disguise reality as entertainment, and we’ll disguise entertainment as news. Do it too long and the American public becomes desensitized.
Do it “too well,” so well in fact that the lines between fact and fiction become difficult to find, disappear, or are deliberately hidden, and we cause an already desensitized public to confuse perception with reality. That’s where many of us draw a line – figuratively. But it is a line no less, and one most of us do not cross.
But neither do we matter. Because many more – many more! – do cross that line. Desperate for fame, fortune, or just because they’re greedy and frightened neurotics with their eyes fixed firmly on the bottom line and no other, the latter’s numbers grow and grow, along with the money they bring in, and the lies, treason, and garbage they put out.
Their audience –
As reality becomes less commercial, the salesmen of media revise it. As reality becomes less palatable, the popular American mind willingly turns its attention to fantasy. But the void remains. And it is precisely such widespread and willful ignorance that will be – and might already have been – our national undoing. Far too many Americans no longer think for themselves. The results are evident to those of us who do.
The results are evident to any who realize our democratic republic was founded upon knowledge and wisdom. It cannot be sustained upon ignorance. No such tutored populace can sustain a government of self-determination. That takes maturity, courage, discretion, and the capacity to think critically however unsettling such thought might be.
That such qualities are ever-less-broadly manifest in
We’ve seen two subsequent elections stolen right before our eyes. Then we watched as an unelected buffoon allowed our nation to be attacked. His only response: dragging her to the depths of bankruptcy and civic turpitude. Yet we’ve done nothing. Our voice in government has been muzzled by a crazy and fabricated majority and we’ve done nothing. Nothing!
Living in today’s America is like working for a company whose board of directors and company policies are put in place by anyone and everyone - from genius to jackass, competitor to contributor, everybody, every skilled and honest stakeholder, yes, but also every jerk on the street, every certifiable lunatic, every hoodlum gets to pick the board by voting or choosing not to. It’s done with no prospectus, no SEC oversight – no honest mainstream press to report the public transgressions.
Despite the darkness everybody has a say in selecting,
keeping or firing the board. Even in an
honest organization – something our government is not- that’s a failure just
waiting to happen. In
To understand why they chose to “miss” the story – and so did most Americans - one need but consider the lingering effects of just one catastrophic administration, that of Ronald Reagan. During his presidency, Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan was willing to allow – in fact, institutionalize - the deliberate deception of the American public by the mass media. He knew the media’s power well, and despite his canonization by the Right, was little more than a disturbed and frightened ideologue. He struck down the Fairness Doctrine from the U.S. Communications Act and kept it from our Constitution, thus making the mass media a tool for whatever propagandists had the most money and fewest reservations about using it to achieve their self-serving anti-democratic ends. He also knew well who these traitors were. He was – and remains - their poster boy. Simply stated, Reagan abused our public trust and equally public airwaves to advance his personal agenda. He succeeded.
The frequencies – channels – that radio and television
broadcasters rely upon to carry their signals are not the property of those
broadcasters. No. The airwaves – just like the national parks –
are the property of the American people.
It is for that reason that they have historically been regulated. Just like there are no political or religious
The airwaves – the PUBLIC airwaves - have historically been forbidden from being used to advance an exclusive ideology. The most effective tool for maintaining a balance, for insuring against media bias was the Fairness Doctrine. If one point of view was advanced by a licensee as news, the opposing view must be given equal time and exposure. That’s all gone now. It’s been replaced by whatever point of view spends the most money.
Surprisingly, and well aware of what Reagan did to our democratic republic by scrapping the Fairness Doctrine, more aware no doubt than was Reagan himself, a few years later president William Jefferson Clinton inexplicably gutted the Communications Act further by relaxing the provision known as the ownership cap. This provision prohibited any one media corporation – such as foreign-born propagandists Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ayles (News Corp, Fox News), or massive government contractor, weapons builder extraordinaire, and polluting grand master General Electric (NBC) to own more than its fair share of stations in an American market.
The reasons for an ownership cap are as obvious as those behind a Fairness Doctrine. Bush continues to promise a further relaxation of the ownership cap. Thus media lies for him.
The absence of these provisions opened the way for Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ann Coulter and the ostensibly American-owned White House communications arm know as Fox “News.”
They’re neither well informed, analytical, nor often correct. They don’t have to be. Their audience is the Tutored Class. And they give the Tutored Class exactly what the Tutored Class wants – someone to form opinions for them. Simply stated, these “personalities” attract precicely the sort of audience the station owners want. If you’ll buy what Ann, Rush, and Fox News have to say, chances are you’ll buy just about anything. Or, even more simply stated, “And now a word from our sponsor…”
Truth?! You can’t handle the truth! Media has historically, because
of technical limitations, been divided
into markets. The larger a market, the
more opportunity for economically-sustainable fragmentation within it. In other words, if there were enough people
to support a station’s point of view or program fare, that station would seek
and maintain a license, thus creating a hierarchy of popularity, ratings and
Most terrestrial broadcast markets, however, cannot attract 500,000 listeners to all their stations combined. That’s why traditionally only the most widely popular fare was offered to mid-sized and smaller markets. Not only that, but many “targets” were hard to reach philosophically, or had no money. Every market, regardless of size, also contains a large portion of those with resources, but to whom it was hard to sell. Station automation and syndication mitigated this, but only marginally. So, a huge portion of the American public has been fed populist pabulum and little else for the past seventy years.
All that changed with communications satellites.
With communications satellites a station can reach the
entire country. That’s a market of 80
million households. If you tailor your
fare to those to whom it is easy to sell, you’ve got a market of the
unprepared, the credulous that’s several times larger than the entire
How about an American tertiary, C-contour, LPFM, rural media market that has been weaned on populist fare, country music, and little else? The carpetbaggers have fleeced these people before. Well, they’ve done it again.
How about the Christian Right? They shout their credulity and disdain for evidence to the world and fairly beg to be fooled and parted from their money.
How about their conjoined twin the political constituency of the Republican Right? They believe what daddy tells them despite a world of blood-soaked, financially ruinous, demoralizing events, actions, and evidence unfolding before their tightly closed eyes every second of very day in Bush’s and Cheney’s and Rove’s and Norquists and Reed’s and Gingritch’s and Frist’s new “America.”
How then I ask, can a commercial mass media, a media that lives by its ratings, fail to pander to this tutored, credulous, ignorant, biased, and demonstrably foolable class?
Be reasonable. We cannot. There is no mass liberal media in this country. Anyone who believes there is, is as credulous as that herd I just mentioned. At best we’re whores.
Ministry Of Truth: Though
Shrouded in a false milieu of truth and unearned expertise, the pundits of hate radio and 24 hour “news” TV, with their parade of bow tied, bespectacled and miniskirted “experts,” opine and opine and opine. That they do this to the delight of their physically matured but mentally juvenile fans – the tutored – is their charm. That their opinions are absolutely predictable is at once their meal ticket, and the absolute falsification of their babble as opinion. The former goes uncriticized; the latter goes unrecognized.
As evidence, consider that of the 310 radio and television talk shows that have sprung up between 1991 and 2001 only five have been progressive. This is not entertainment. It’s not even politics. This is salesmanship. Be it philosophy or soap products, it is easy to sell to people who believe what they’re told without question. If an audience tunes in to a pundit despite that it can be demonstrated that he or she lies to them day after day, is proven wrong year after year, chances are those people will buy whatever else one might endeavor to sell them, such as soap. It’s salesmanship.
My wife calls this a sign of the times. I’m sure she’s right. She’s a realist.
Another realist, old time Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer once observed, “In this town, art makes for lousy business, and business makes for lousy art.” I guess he was right too.
So today we have a media – and a press - that remains free, but is devoid of the courage to be as truthful as that freedom mandates. Not only does today’s mass media quiver at the very thought of speaking truth to power, its practitioners no longer even have the skills required to do so with meaning, to rebut with the gravity and power born of truth.
As I stand at my office window, I look out on the
When it is not, however, when fantasy is disguised as news, then it is propaganda. And though we think of propaganda as the cartoonish raised-fist-proselytizing of a Joseph Gobbles, a Tokyo Rose, or of Pravda – that stuff is the propaganda of days past. Today, it is American propaganda that dominates. But it is not the stuff of a Creel Commission. It is the propaganda of the 21st Century – and the one quality it shares with is primitive progenitors is that like them, it threatens the world.
American propaganda is an infinitely more sophisticated,
potent and at the same time subtle kind of carcinogen than the others. It is the product of an unholy marriage
between the psychologists of Madison Avenue and the mythmakers of
* * * * *
From my window, I look again toward the Walt Disney lot. My gaze is drawn to the Team Disney office building. The sight of it always pleases me. In a very un-corporate-seeming tribute to unabashed fantasy, the upper façade of this multinational conglomerate’s headquarters building comprises seven stone columns. Each is carved into the shape of dwarf. Yes, the seven dwarfs.
Arms raised, the gigantic dwarfs appear to be holding up the parapets. Sleepy, Sneezey, Doc, Grumpy, Bashful, Happy, and Dopey. The family of man.
Cast in stone, the caricatured columns stand, literally and figuratively, as an homage to the movie that made the sprawling studio possible. That movie was of course Disney’s first animated feature and mega hit, Snow White and the… You know the one. It ends with the words, “…and they lived happily ever after.”
Welcome to Fantasyland.
Some still call it
is chief technology officer for an international television network based in
Footnotes & References