Wednesday, July 19

And Now Let's See if the Weather Radar Has Changed Any in the Last Five Minutes...

So. Most all the news I'd gotten in the last few days came from local teevee and the Sunday papers, which means I was hard-pressed to decide whether Israel attacking in Lebanon was more or less important than Avril Lavigne's wedding.

Avril Lavigne? Am I wrong in imagining she had a hit, say, five years ago or something? Why is she on my local news?

Okay, here's what I know about Avril Lavigne:

• She's not from these parts.
• She's an indifferent speller at best.
• She and/or her band thought the CBS trucks at the Grammys belonged to the Canadian Broadcasting System.
• They believed this even though it's the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
• Whether every generation needs its own Dylan or Beatles is open for debate. Whether it needs its own Suzi Quatro is not.

Baseball is what we were, football is what we've become. When I was a kid you had to be Mickey or Willie or Ernie to be considered a star, a Koufax, a Drysdale, a Gibson. Not Clay Dalrymple. Today if you stop a guy after he runs twenty yards on you you celebrate. And anyone who's ever been on a teevee series is a star, apparently for life. And fine, look, no offense. My only question is why someone decided a discussion of her wedding gown was local news, other than the fact that they have 90 minutes allocated to selling soap and they don't want to discuss Iraq, or Lebanon, or anything else that can't be whipped full of air and served with a cheery waitress-smile that says I Really Don't Care If This Is Crap on a Cracker, Just So You Like Me.

Yesterday's other big story was that the corpse of Alice Cooper was in town to play golf. Two hits, thirty-five years ago. The good news there is I only have to wait another decade to meet Huey Lewis.

And Alice gets five minutes, or roughly one-third of his fame and twice the time allotted to the Middle East. To his credit he spent the time talking about radio playlists not including Iggy or the MC 5 instead of touting his new energy shake, but the irony there was that he was playing a charity event run by local Morning Zoo celebs Bob and Tom, who have been playing nothing but "Freebird" since 1978. Alice bemoaned the fact that some youngster may know Led Zep but not realize "their music came from the Yardbirds", suggesting Alice is unaware it actually was all stolen from American blues artists who never got any airplay in the first place. Matching their royalties.

No, our theme is not "celebrities". It's "news". Here's a reader quiz. Try to guess what the actual story's about from the way it was introduced on Channel 8 news Tuesday evening. This is the cleaned-up version from the website; in reality both hairdos flubbed their lines:

Debby Knox: For two weeks now, employees at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles have been taking complaints about the $35 million computer upgrade that won't do all that customers expect.
[Toss to]

Pam Elliot: A spokesman for the BMV said he would give Tuesday's operations with the new system an above-average grade. But try telling that to Karen Woods, a now former employee of the BMV who worked with driver records.

Show of hands? Anyone?

The flawed new BMV computer system? The slow improvement? The distinction between the bureau's PR pronouncements and reality?

Nope. It's right there in front of you.

Karen Woods. Former employee.

Yes, Ms Woods was fired after she sent an email critical of the new system to the governor. You could have learned that from the headline on the website. On the tube you wouldn't have had a frickin' clue what it was about for the first minute of a two-minute story.

Okay, obviously, the story was covered. And I was educated in the last century, when journalism candidates were taught about the 5 Ws and inverted pyramids and other quaint ideas of a pre-post-literate society. Maybe this is nothing. But then it's not just that the intro had nothing to do with the story; it chose to bushwhack its path there. "A $35 M upgrade that won't do all that customers expect?" Hell, the damn thing was a total disaster. The whole operation had to be shut down. People couldn't get licenses or plates renewed, and some still can't get temporary suspensions lifted. Some waited hours. Not to mention that the police were getting erroneous info. It was a total cluster-fuck in an agency that's been badly mishandled since Mitch Daniels took office, one led by a Republican crony who should have been fired last year.

It's odd that this comes at the end of a week of roasting the Democratic sheriff of Marion County, one Frank Anderson, for making a lot of money. Which he does. Mostly because the sheriffs of each of Indiana's 92 counties get a cut of judgments and taxes they oversee the collection of, a practice dating back a couple decades if I recall, and established by a state legislature which hasn't been in Democratic control since men wore spats. Still, this played as some sort of partisan scandal, and was so successful that last night the Investigative Reports team found another law enforcement official of African descent (okay, sure, we all are) and tried to gin up a scandal out of his being offered the security director's job at the new airport, complete with a graphic which showed what "$98,000" looks like when it flashes on a teevee screen.

I have not entered tinfoil hat territory here, on the grounds that a) this sort of thing happens to Republicans as well, and b) there's really not much distinction between the two in Indiana, subject to the takeover efforts of the religious fundamentalists. Still, it's been so freaking obvious--the month began with the dramatic ticking interest counter on the $3.8 B banked from selling off the Toll Road, breathlessly reported even though most Hoosiers opposed the deal and many have already figured out that the syphon was in place before the tank was filled. No, it's just that it's an election year, and if these bozos can't figger out they're being manipulated (assuming they're not volunteering) then there's really no reason for them to run anything but celebrity fluff at 5, 6, and 11. You heard it here first.

Oh, and Oprah's not gay.


Anonymous said...

I'll raise you: the lead stories on the evening news for the three broadcast stations in Ioway yesterday were a) explosions in Lebanon, b) a "stabbing" in Des Moines wherein someone actually threw an unweildy knife at someone else, and c) babies learning to swim. Our Kool-Aid is Bacon flavored.

Anonymous said...

One Suzi Quatro was enough, and April Lavigne was kind of funny on The Rick Mercer Report a couple years ago. Also, I've always thought of Alice Cooper as Weird Al with a third of the sense of humor, which isn't actually a complaint.

Meanwhile, it's a proven fact that wars make people close their pocketbooks and weddings make advertizers happy, especially if they're huge an expensive and the people getting married cannot be said in any way to have anything approaching a real life. Real life is an advertizing downer.

And, just to contribute to the debate on the degradation of meaning in media, I'm currently fast-forwarding through a program on cannibalism-caused kuru. On the History Channel. I understand after this I'll have to fast forward through a show about Jeffrey Dahmer. (Why? I dunno. Once upon a time Modern Marvels did a show about Aquariums. I foolishly continue to hope they'll ever replay it.) In the middle of said program on cannibalism, we get one of those DOW: We're Really, Really People Too, We Swear commercials. One might normally expect cannibalism to be something of a turnoff, marketing wise, but apparently it and Dow cancel each other out. (Also weight loss commercials, but I'm not going to draw any conclusions there, because my anti-nausea prescription is low.)

I suspect there's a lesson in there somewhere about what kind of ads you have to be willing to put up with to get real news. The sponsoring product must be less than 75% morally revolting than the sponsored program.

My guess on your news story quiz, btw, would have been a Video News Release starring some PR person interviewing Karen Woods and managing to slip in the fact that Company Y had a much better product to offer, which, incidentally, is available for home use in slightly less useful form.

Almost makes me miss Journalistic Balance (TM).

Incidentally, Heydave, teaching babies to swim is probably not a bad idea here on the coast, where we should all be wading in twenty years. But I suspect the story was still prompted by a press release from the people holding the classes.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I gotta mention this, since your bringing up The Zep gave me a perfect opening: Thanks to my doting kids, I have discovered Stairways to Heaven, a 10-year-old CD of *12* versions of STH, all done in different (mostly professional, mostly quite respectful) styles. It's FUN - especially the one by Vegemite Reggae. Find it, buy it.

DBK said...

A nice essay.

Oh, and I liked Quatro. But then, your mama won't like me.

As for Cooper, "Two hits, thirty-five years ago."

Truer words have never been spoken.