Sunday, January 16, 2011

Turn OFF The Noise Turn OFF The Funk

What the hell anyway?

First Ted Williams loses his shit and goes into rehab on the orders of Dr. Phil. Then 63-year-old Tucson shooting survivor Eric Fuller loses his shit and is arrested for threatening Tucson Tea Party founder Trent Humphries.

What do these stories have in common? You have two people famous for two completely different reasons. One person sought out his fame, one had it thrust upon him, but both were instantly shoved into the national spotlight.

Williams, wrote the Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts, was “our national reclamation project.” Fuller and the other Tucson shooting victims are our national mourning project. In Williams we hoped to reclaim our economic hope, in Tucson we mourned the loss of civility in public life. Both projects were destined to be epic fails as soon as the media’s hungry maw chewed them up and spat them out.

Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to thrust Ted Williams onto every national news program in America? Really, ABC News? You thought it was a good idea to put a bunch of people who are probably suffering from PTSD onto the national stage? You thought one week after the shooting was a good time to rehash these horrific events with “an emotional town hall event”? It might have been good timing for your ratings, but did you really think it was good for the victims?

One problem with America’s discourse is the sheer number of loudspeakers out there demanding our attention. It’s not just what’s being said that’s the issue, it’s the fact that these messages are being thrust at us over more mechanisms and devices and networks than ever before. Now we have talk radio--satellite and terrestrial--and blogs and Twitter and Facebook and television networks and cable programs and iPhones and Blackberries and Droids all pushing information at us 24/7, 365 days a year, and all demanding “content” in return.

Jon Stewart said, “if we amplify everything we hear nothing.” But with this many loudspeakers demanding our attention we’re still going to amplify everything. Our Little Shop Of Media Horrors is still shouting Feed me! Feed me! It demands to be obeyed.

I’ll never forget that summer in the early '80s when we got MTV at our house. This was back in the days when MTV played one music video after another, hour after hour, day after day. There was no programming in the early days of MTV, just videos. One night my friend Ellen and I were watching MTV, struggling to stay awake, and losing the battle. Then I had an epiphany. I turned to Ellen and said, “I just realized this program never ends. We have to turn it off.” And she said, “Oh my God. You’re right.” We had been waiting for “the show” to end but it didn’t have an end. It was an endless flow of information.

And this is where our discourse is today. Politics is a program that never ends. When I was growing up you maybe got political news for a few minutes on the evening news at night, maybe a few minutes in the morning news. It was in the newspaper. And that was maybe it.

You didn’t have it on every TV screen in every public place, from the sandwich shop to the airport to the place you get the oil in the car changed. It wasn’t sent to your Blackberry, and on the radio in your car, and on your computer screen at work.

People need to voluntarily turn this shit off, pull themselves out of the vortex of rancorous messaging and just unhook from the noise. It’s not going to be the end of life as we know it, I promise you.

I doubt the media will ever behave responsibly. It will continue to chew up and spit out the Ted Williamses and Eric Fullers of the nation. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it chew us up too.