TV's Loud Silence
I've been having trouble watching television lately. I'm having trouble working up snarky comments for some of the most egregiously stupid new fall shows, and I'm having trouble fawning over the few worth watching. Watching TV (so you don't have to) is my job, so this is a dilemma. It's not that there's nothing to say about what's on TV (I'll rant about Tessie Santiago on Good Morning, Miami another time). It's just that nowadays, I'm obsessed with what isn't on television, the unseen and unspoken, the loud silences.
I was one of the zero-point-something-or-other viewers who tuned in to watch President Bush's address in Cincinnati two Mondays ago, thanks to local ABC affiliate KVUE (Fox affiliate KTBC also carried it). The other major networks carried their regular prime-time programming. Why? The president didn't ask them to cover his address. How discomforting to know that in an already incendiary climate, the networks were willing to focus their attention on more important matters, like who would survive prolonged blanketing with bees on Fear Factor (NBC), or the hilarity of domestic life on Yes, Dear and King of Queens (CBS).
Not surprisingly, the cable news networks carried Bush's speech, showing him tutor an attentive audience on how to deal with Iraq -- specifically, the U.S. should pull out its can of whoop-ass since Iraq won't allow weapons inspectors to see what Iraq's got in its arsenal. The speech was blanching, given that Iraq had already agreed to not only let weapons inspectors in, but U.S.-approved ones at that. If that wasn't enough to scare the bejesus out of you, Congress voted later in the week to allow the president to take preemptive, aggressive action against Iraq. Yet I'm not sure the gravity of what has taken place has sunk in with the general public. Why? Because the public square, as it were, of broadcast television is not providing space for this discussion. However, while network/mainstream TV news is just now getting around to providing a stiff critique of U.S. relations with Iraq, some new places for discussion are appearing.
In a "wouldn't it be funny if ..." scenario last week, film director Michael Moore was a guest on the ABC daytime talk show The View. He was there to promote his new film, Bowling for Columbine, but the real fun began when he was asked why he believes guns play such a central role in this nation. Moore pointed to the culture of fear that the nation's leaders in particular have created to gain support for their causes, directly referring to President Bush's Cincinnati speech the night before. That set off Joy Behar, The View's hawkish co-host who graduated from the "If I talk loudest, I'm right" school of debate. The audience responded with uncomfortable titters and reserved applause, some for Behar, some for Moore, none of it rambunctiously affirmative. Still, I was happy to see the rumpled Michael Moore among the manicured assemblage, trotting out his left-of-center views like a muddy hound dog set loose on a "Parade of Homes" sofa.
On the other end of the programming spectrum was last week's Saturday Night Live (NBC). After an aborted night out (okay, so my appetite for escapism isn't completely squashed), I tuned in. The show was drab, except for several brave body blows to the Bush administration, topped with a brilliant sketch with cast members as "average" Americans who suffered from corporate corruption. Punctuating their plaintive stories of lost jobs and pensions was a cold "Damn you, Saddam," delivered into the camera. The height of absurdity came when a cast member portraying a street person rummaging through garbage declared, "Damn you, Saddam! You're not going to take away my quality of life!" The sketch ended with a voice-over: "Saddam, you're not the cause of our problems at home, but you'll do."
There are alternatives to TV news for anyone who chooses to seek them. However, it still troubles me that broadcast television, the most prevalent, available form of information, provides narrow coverage of the world in general, and the circumstances surrounding Iraq in particular. (To KVUE's credit, not only did they carry Bush's address, they carried Rep. Lloyd Doggett's response. He soundly disagreed with the president.) And while many turn away from broadcast TV as a source of information and entertainment, I continue to believe it should be more, offer more, and be a medium that loudly trumpets all corners of debates, issues, and cultures. Delusional? Blame it on the loud silences. They're making me crazy.