Monday, October 28, 2002

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper documents some crazy shit.

Thursday, October 24, 2002


Yeah, infographics. A news network's way of saying: We admit it. News is boring as hell. We have given up.

Infographics: Abduction Alert 2002, Terror Hysteria, Tornado Warning, America's Bulging Waistline, Drug War, Our Borders in Peril ... etc.

Infographics. You've seen them. Even on your local news, neighborhood crime is preceeded by an animated handgun with Lady Justice screened in the background and maybe the sound of an electronic hammer finding purchase in a head of mealy lettuce. Cut to some powdered-up anchor giving Broadcast Delivery of whatever news happened. Broadcast Delivery, for those who don't know much about television journalism, is essentially the same thing as Regular Delivery only with one key difference: Everything the anchor says must be delivered as if he is in the throes of a menopausal crisis. Yes, he. This of course applies to female anchors as well. (But I'm fucking sick of gender-neutral pronouns so I said he. I will continue to say he for the rest of my life. He/she, they, (s)he, him or her, he or she. Do you know what a nightmare this is for someone who takes his writing somewhat seriously? To think that reasonable people would prefer you interpolate these unwieldy phrases just because he is for some reason perceived as denegrating to women? Or does not give women their semantic props? Blame it on the language. Not on me. But I'm getting off the subject.)

So anchors pop off the news like their hair is on fire. All the while editorializing the subject matter. A series of shootings on the wrong side of town is not just a series of shootings anymore. It is a rash of shootings or an epidemic of senseless gang violence or some such flummery. Anchors should do what they do best: Slap on cover-up and read the teleprompter. Stop giving us your subjective deductions.

So yeah, infographics. When all else fails and the story simply must be dressed up like a Vegas hooker, the guys in the graphics department step in. They put together slide shows of screaming mothers or concerned citizens or police officers covering a corpse in the middle of a dark, rain-soaked street while in bold crimson letters with black shadow the words "Deadly Intersection" scroll across the tube. And lo and behold they use some completely tasteless font like Dragoon with dripping letters and spiked descenders and ascenders. I mean, they have to properly convey the drama of the situation, right? Well, OK. Maybe that doesn't properly capture the mood. Let's bring up some strings in the background. Maybe that tune from "Psycho." That's hella dramatic.

It's like those old high-school flicks from the '80s. Like when there's some morbidly ugly broad whose friends pity her and want her to get Jock Boy to take her to prom instead of his self-absorbed, prima donna girlfriend Gwen. So they can't tell her to just go and be herself and let Jock Boy see her inner beauty. That would be asking too much of the audience. Nobody would believe Jock Boy would touch anything so hideous, say the producers. So her friends dress her up (like Ally Sheedy in "The Breakfast Club") and she ends up being this hot babe all along (like Ally Sheedy in "The Breakfast Club") who just, you know, needed a little push in the right direction.

That's what they're doing with our news.

So instead of taking these news items for what they are (maybe serious issues that must be addressed and maybe just bad things that happen in life), we're forced to think everything is a serious issue. Por ejemplo: The kidnapping hysteria of Summer 2002. Were there any more kidnappings this summer than there were last summer or the summer before? Not really. But from the looks of it, by God, we had fucking kidnappers everywhere. They're like an underground conglamerate bent on stealing every cute child in the United States. I mean, look at this infographic of poor Baby Chastity. She didn't deserve to be snatched up by some gypsy while her mother bought antique lip balm at the flea market. And worse: It could have been prevented. I mean, there's no problem so bad the media can't heap a little guilt on to make it worse. So in that regard, we will have eight experts on kidnapping tell us how you can keep your child safe this summer and not be a distraught parent like this grieving mother, who we will also interview in a live feed from her living room and Kalamazoo, Michigan.

And the cycle continues. And the ridiculousness of it all folds in on itself and multiplies exponentially. As each news outlet expands its ethics to provide what it perceives as consumer demand, another one follows suit with something even more asanine. Just look at the ratings war between Fox News and CNN. This will no doubt be remembered as one of the darkest sagas in journalistic professionalism.

That is, unless they both win. It's already started.

And, as per Alberto's request, here is the Amazon link, in case anyone wants to purchase some David Foster Wallace joints. (Popular in Pomona College in California because I believe that's where DFW is teaching CW these days.)

Miya heads to Austin today for a trade show, so I bought her a copy of Infinite Jest, which is, quite simply, the best book I've ever read. So going and buying this book (for the second time — I lent it to James a while ago and never got it back. Now he lives in Virginia and has surely pawned the thing by now) I slipped right back into David Foster Wallace fandom. To those of you who don't know, Wallace was a creative writing professor at my alma mater. A genius hiding out in Central Illinois. I was always leery of those who called him a brilliant writer ... that is, until I started reading his books. You're doing yourself a great disservice if you don't pick one up. It blew my mind. Over and over and over. His fans are obsessive, and I can understand why. DFW shows you just how great writing can be.

But Wallace hasn't published anything save the occassional article in Harper's in the past two years. I hope he's busy writing something great. I'm sure he is.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Let’s face it: Media outlets have a lot to lose by paring down their overcoverage of Das Sniper. Especially television news. Well, especially round-the-clock news outlets like Fox News and CNN. Nobody wants to be the one who didn’t break the next big story-within-the-story. There are ratings at stake. Consequently there is money at stake. Jobs at stake. Better for them to take the low road and piss off discriminating viewers than to lose the masses to another network. The masses who will blithely sit and watch blanket coverage of foundationless Sniper speculation. These people exist. The ratings say so. So we get what they ask for.

What is interesting is how this single news story has exposed so many of the bad aspects of TV journalism. More than the summer kidnapping bonanza and the shark attacks of ‘01. Even more than the 9/11 attacks.

It’s easy for people who have worked in journalism to see and hear what’s wrong. But the differences are much more subtle to casual viewers. When Shepherd Smith reports on “the terrifying sniper attacks in Maryland,” most people don’t give it a second thought. But what he’s doing there is editorializing, which is a big no-no in the field of reporting. Reporters report. They do not decide if the attacks are terrifying. They do not determine that suicide bombings in Israel are “tragic,” and they shouldn’t be telling you that a killer is “cold-blooded.” So why does it happen so often?

Well, again, ratings. Colorful delivery, even if it violates journalistic ethics, is seductive to viewers. Straight reporters are seen as dry and boring. Sheep-herder Smith is seen as edgy and charismatic, good draw for viewers ages 18-25. Big spending demographic. All that nonsense.

I had the misfortune of watching a helluva lot of sniper coverage back when it was first becoming a news story. And these cable news stations would commonly bring in “experts” to make determinations about the sniper’s pathology. The anchors would then use the commentary of their very own “experts” later in their newscast. Again: Bullshit.

“So what kind of person do you think would be capable of these cold-blooded killings? and able to elude the police with such bravado?”
“Well, Jane, it could be maybe an ex-military officer or stockboy, maybe even a homosexual of some sort. Some kind of deviant. These killings clearly communicate an inability to communicate with the outside world. The sniper seems to be using bullets as vowels and tarot cards as prepositional phrases. The white van is a clear allusion to his obsession with ‘Moby Dick.’ Maybe a marine biologist or animal trainer. Obviously, authorities need to arrest pretty much everyone, at this point of the investigation.”

And I won’t even get started on infographics.

Thursday, October 10, 2002

New finding published recently in the Journal of the American Grammar Association (JAGA):

Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered quite by accident that adding the word “essentially” to any statement gives said statement a gravity that would otherwise not exist. The discovery was made when wordsmith Lev Steadman reported to his colleagues that he had run over what was “essentially the slowest pedestrian I’ve ever seen” on his way to work one morning. All agreed that had Steadman simply run over “the slowest pedestrian” he’d ever seen, the statement would lack a scholarly foundation, and therefore be disregarded as being either a gross overstatement or simply a prevarication. After many line graphs and multiplication tables were consulted, the team of grammar scientists agreed that “essentially,” while essentially meaning nothing, did in fact increase the impact of Steadman’s remark.

Several attempts to verify the new hypothesis confirmed the researchers’ beliefs:

For example:

“This cheese sandwich is the best thing on the menu.”
turns into:
“This cheese sandwich is essentially the best thing on the menu.”

“I have grown a new beard.”
“I have essentially grown a new beard.”

“I was caught with my finger in the proverbial pie.”
“I was essentially caught with my finger in the proverbial pie.”

Which discovery in turn lead the research team to ponder the consequences of “proverbial,” as many statements in which proverbial is interpolated have little or no actual connection to any documented proverb. This stems, they believe, to speakers’ general misunderstanding of the English language and the reality that many words in fact have specific meanings, especially when used in a sentence.

The consequences of these discoveries are bound to be far-reaching. They are essentially the greatest discoveries in the history of the written word since Alfred Tillotson invented the inverted apostrophe back in the much-ballyhooed summer of 1934.