Monday, June 16, 2008

Negotiating the Weekend Media(te) Wasteland


Golfer Rocco Mediate, a normal-seeming, likable, straight-shooting average guy, received a strange brand of media mistreatment this past weekend at the U.S. Open in San Diego. Mediate, a 23-year vet of the pro tour, pushed the great Tiger Woods into an 18-hole playoff and then, when that didn't decide things, into sudden death, eventually losing the final hole. Mediate hadn’t won a golf tourney in six years and he’s never won a major, but he battled Woods tooth and nail through 90 holes in a wonderful display of steady, consistent, if unspectacular golf—the kind of golf that supposed superstars like Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh could’ve learned something from. They talk about Tiger’s mental toughness; from where I sat, he’s got nothing on Rocco, whose lack of a long game betrayed him in the end but who squeezed every ounce of competitiveness out of his 45-year-old body.

Mediate conducted himself with humility, humor and sincerity through the five grueling days, but for some reason the NBC announcers, in particular Johnny Miller, treated him as if he were the simpleminded Italian tailor who lives down the street. In fact, Mediate is the Italian son of a barber, from a Pennsylvania town south of Pittsburgh. Yet he’s also earned $14 million in his pro career. Miller’s constant references to Rocco’s sweating, the expressions on his face (half-grimaces, smiles, forebearance, whatever), and his unlikely presence as a contender for the Open crown—these were the musings of a "stupid old white guy,” which is what Miller is. Announcing sidekick Dan Hicks assumed the same stance, implying endlessly that Mediate’s success could only be a fluke, how he’d be the oldest guy to ever win the Open, etc., etc.

I think Tiger’s great, y’all, but Mediate’s success—and near victory—was a time for celebration. By the time we reached the final regulation round on Sunday, the fatheads in the booth should have established nothing else about Mediate except that he was a pro golfer playing a marvelous tourney. But Miller refused to lay off, treating Mediate like a sideshow freak. Meanwhile, Hicks kept defaulting to spurious and/or fanciful Father’s Day references and tributes that obviously came out of the PGA public relations handbook. (But raise your hand if, after viewing that one spot, you in fact think that Earl Woods was kind of a dick in the way he inculcated “mental toughness” in his son by making noises and dropping his golf bag while Tiger the youngster and budding golf great teed off. Shades of Jimmy Piersall.)

Then we were treated to Jimmy Roberts’ pre-final round, pro forma “Tiger suck-up piece.” Like we needed another one of those. No, what we needed, and never got, what a bio piece about Mediate, which would have been tons more interesting, given the comparatively hard road the guy has traveled to stay afloat in the pro game. Roberts later teamed with Bob Costas in a queer few moments of “privileged network commentator mental masturbation,” in which they reminded us of the recent passings of Tim Russert, Charlie Jones and Jim McKay, a sequence climaxed by Costas’ wannabe Howard Cosell imitation. Pretty lame crap.

Other signs of media tastelessness the past few days, and possible proof that the end is near:

  • Father’s Day took another dive on Sunday evening when ABC ran a really cloying and also self-conscious father-son excerpt with neanderthal dummy Bill Walton and his Los Angeles Lakers son Luke. (That was a Gack! moment.)

  • Over on superstation WGN’s broadcast of the Cubs-Blue Jays game, color commentator Bob Brenly was saying the most godawful stupid things, which he always does but gets away with unscathed because he’s a former major league catcher and he actually won a World Series managing the Diamondbacks in 2001. Brenly is challenging Joe Morgan for the crown of absolutely the dumbest baseball jock to ever man a microphone. Honestly, he just makes this stuff up—it has no basis in reality. And think of the millions of dollars being paid to morons like him, which could otherwise go to flood relief in Iowa.

  • On the commercial side, the weekend thrived with tastelessness. Between Flomax, Cialis, and other products, we were assaulted by constant reminders of pathetic old-people ailments—the kind which no one (especially old people and old men, in particular) wants to be reminded of. No, I don’t want to see 60something guys canoeing—and glad they can take a good leak once the ride is over (without having first soiled themselves during the run down the rapids). No, I don’t want to see those awful spots about the guy who runs a modelmaking set design company, and who keeps going potty to the upraised eyebrows of his slightly younger male employees. (Keep your mind on your work, dumbasses!) And if male performance-enhancement drugs are going to affect my eyesight or give me stomach trouble, then no thanks. But those ads remain the worst example of corporate America tapping into our privacy in really ugly ways. (Hey, if I can’t be loved for myself, then I don’t wanna be loved.)

  • The vast media wasteland reached another new low on Monday with the appearance on Oprah of the Huckaby homosexual male siblings: The four gay brothers—one couldn’t make the gig—are all meticulously coiffed Metrosexual types, all ultra-confident, all ultra-articulate and all ultra-proud of themselves (and their gayness). On the heels of California opening itself up to legalized gay marriages, this is more fodder for the continued "de-normalization" of America, which aims to make us more or less slovenly average-type heterosexuals feel a little less certain about ourselves and our typical lifestyles, hangups, failures, etc. Thanks, Oprah, for continuing to ruin things for those of us who would prefer that our loved ones not be gay, even though we love them if they are. (Actually, it's getting to the point where I wish I could be gay so I could fit in. I feel so guilty and there’s nothing I can do about it.)

  • For only those with a really strong stomach, there was the afternoon “Tony Awards Concert Preview” on CBS, which was followed up later in the evening by the actual awards ceremony. You know the American theater has taken a serious fall when none other than insignificant pretty-boy and trash TV co-host Mario Lopez and has-been Whoopi Goldberg are the spokespersons for the big soiree. More signs of the theater’s demise: Retro performances and reminders of the shows A Chorus Line and Rent, the latter for some reason receiving a 12th anniversary tribute. (Huh?) Oh, well, it’s just another reason to reinforce the de-normalization process—Rent’s about homosexuals, HIV and AIDS, in case you haven’t seen it—plus do another lame-o tribute to composer Jonathan Larson, who died before he saw his musical become a so-called international success. (And why wouldn’t a contemporary musical about young people on New York’s Lower East Side getting AIDS achieve that?) Liza Minnelli kicked in an appearance. (Ouch. The pathos was palpable.) But if the state of the Broadway theater needed gauging, nothing said it more clearly than the performance of Kerry Butler, the screechy-voiced co-star of the musical Xanadu. If only Simon Cowell’d been nearby to say, “I’m sorry, Kerry, but you cahn’t SING!”

  • From there it was on to C-SPAN, where more signs of cultural and also governmental decay lay in wait:

  • First up were the congressional hearings on oil supply and demand, definitely an au courant subject. Some interesting folks laid out some interesting ideas, and the performance of the U.S. reps was focused and serious. But the air, and U.S. budget, was befouled by the presence of one Guy Caruso, who is apparently invested with the title of “Administrator, Energy Information Administration.” Now, we already have a U.S. Department of Energy, headed up by a guy named Samuel Bodman. Yet for some reason “information” is handled by this Caruso guy, in a totally separate agency. WHY?? What the f**k is the Energy Information Administration? Doesn’t Secretary Bodman deal with energy information directly?? Those questions go begging even moreso when you consider that Caruso is obviously a flunkie bureaucrat, offering only vague answers and rote responses to his questioners. Your tax dollars at work, folks, being wasted on paper-pushing do-nothings who collect fat government salaries with hefty pensions and benefits. (Remember that when you go to the polls in November.)

  • A channel flip to C-SPAN2 found us at a panel discussion co-sponsored by Google, YouTube and National Journal. The host was the excellent Judy Woodruff, who remains an intelligent, poised and still very beautiful (great legs, too) newswoman. Woodruff was interviewing political campaign operatives and also members of the so-called “new media” (read: young internet people) plus reps from “old media” (read: older newspaper, magazine and TV people). The discussion centered on how internet technology has changed newsgathering and news perceptions and audience-building. Hottie Mary Katharine Ham was a panelist. She was ID’d as affiliated with, though her Wiki page affiliates her with other online pubs, primarily Ham appears to be a seriously intent journalist, though being a hottie won’t hurt her career. She claimed that there were plenty of people now who will do political reportage for nothing, which maybe drew a raised eyebrow from Time magazine political analyst Mark Halperin (old media). But all Ham was doing was reaffirming what a media wag recently said in a similar forum, which is that “if you want a job in journalism, you better have a trust fund.” Not that that’s a problem for Halperin, connected for years with top journalistic and political organizations, and of course a Harvard grad, which guarantees that you always end up being rich and in control. Then we heard (quite often) from James Kotecki, a so-called video blogger for the ubiquitous, which, like National Journal, no one had ever heard of six months ago. (Everyone must be working for free.) Kotecki, frankly admitting that he has no knowledge of journalism or ethics, apparently sees no difference between serious news reportage and, as he put it, “doing internet videos from my dorm room,” and he cavalierly laid out the prospect that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as people are watching (well, his video blog, anyway). I think Woodruff wanted to scream at some of this folderol, but she kept cool and continued exploring the topic. I’m all for new media. I’m one of “them,” you might say. But I’m not necessarily for anybody armed with a camera putting up their stupid stuff for all to see. (“Cats on rollerskates,” muttered Halperin.)

  • Not that it matters much. Tastelessness, stupidity, greed, self-absorption, egotism and political correctness run rampant on our airwaves. There is no regard for truth or decency. We're all doomed. You heard it here first.

    No comments: