Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Blind Lemon Drizzle

You'd think that with all of its wealth, resources, and supposed smarts, the New York Times would publish a joke story on April 1, not the 2nd. Maybe it was a glitch in the machine; maybe they were trying to stretch a gag to an extra day; or maybe the Timesians seriously believe what they pubbed this morning: "Like the Candidates, TV's Political Pundits Show Signs of Diversity."

I mean, that's funny right? Not a gut-buster or something that'll make coffee spray from your nose, but it is a bit, yes?

Ahhh, no.

Felicia R. Lee's snooze piece lumbers on and on about how the cable nets are trying to reflect the diversity of America in their guest selection, "diversity" here meaning skin-tone, not opinion. There's nothing the corporate press loves more than to hype up its "inclusion" policies, where if you look hard enough, you might even find an Inuit GOP operative, since all the interesting breeds tend to skew Republican, a sexy mix that few cable producers will reject. Given advances in genetic manipulation, I'm mildly shocked that some think tank has yet to create a truly striking talking head to advance its agenda. Imagine a centaur or mermaid calling for corporate tax relief or a freeze in immigration. Think what a little pro-war coaching would do for this potential talent:

What cable network would pass him up?

It's telling, but hardly surprising, that this type of story still circulates. The American information system remains a gated community when it comes to actual political debate, since its main function is to propagate the views of the ownership class, not subject them to radical challenge. Media Crit 101. The producers continue to believe that if they throw enough color around, their audience will, if not feel "represented," then buy into the fiction that some measure of democratic discourse is taking place. It's all a shared hallucination, one that an aspiring talking head must accept as reality in order to participate.

Oh sure, there are exceptions. There's simply too much airtime to fill not to have a few off-topic lunatics slip in here and there. I know -- I was once one of them. When I fronted for FAIR, I appeared on a number of outlets, mostly radio, but TV now and then, both regional and national. I quickly discovered that it didn't take much to throw off the proceedings: just one "crazy" remark, like the U.S. is the world's leading terrorist state, and everyone would go apeshit. In a sense, I was playing a scripted role as well. Nothing I said changed anything; I merely reinforced the prevailing orthodoxy by calling it into question. The American media is so rigid when it comes to nationalist myths that no amount of blasting from below will alter its shape. Still, you can piss off a lot of stuffy fucks. So, at least there's some entertainment value.

Seventeen years ago, I appeared on C-SPAN to discuss the very topic that the Times covered today. Then, as now, I said to the host, Susan Swain, that skin color is secondary to opinion, and on that front, political talk shows were essentially one-party affairs. Swain turned her nose up to that, and spent most of her time kissing Terry Eastland's ass, who as the media critic of the American Spectator, gave the usual refrain about Liberal Bias, etc., blah blah. It probably didn't help my cause that I reeked of Tanqueray, having been up most of the night drinking with Hitchens, whose hair gel I smeared in my dirty locks on the way out the door, hardening into a Devo-like helmet by the time the cameras rolled. I have the video of that appearance somewhere. If I can figure a way to transfer it to YouTube, I'll post it, just so you can see what a hungover trainwreck looks like. Not enough of those on cable these days.