Friday, October 16, 2009

Rush and Reality Don't Mix

This isn't the leftist Hollywood regime doing the dissing. It's not special interest groups or lobbyists trying to persecute the right. The socialist communist hippie-loving media has nothing to do with the latest slap to Rush Limbaugh's substantial face. This is the NFL. The owners. The players. The business. They don't want Rush Limbaugh to be an owner of the St. Louis Rams or any NFL franchise.

A story like this exposes Rush for what he is: a melodramatic caricature of the Republican Party whose sensational opinions and exaggerated tactics have become untethered from reality.

Rush Limbaugh is a professional incendiary in the same mold as Vince McMahon and the chest-beating, steroid-ridden hulks who wrestle for him. He is an entertainer, a promoter, a showman whose business depends on controversy. And that's all well and good when the audience willingly suspends disbelief to give credence to their overblown senses of moral outrage toward the heels and inspiration drawn from the downtrodden champions of America. You can forgive the WWE its over-the-top shtick because (believe it or not) the majority of their fans know perfectly well it's fake.

But way too many Rush fans and detractors don't realize he's an act. They don't realize the conservative muscles he's flexing have been enhanced by a little drug called Showbiz. This sad truth became painfully evident when Rush's name entered the public discussion as a possible head of the GOP. The Repubs might as well have called on Dr. Drake Ramore from Days of Our Lives, because Rush ain't a real person. He's just a character on the radio.

Rush's fictional quantity comes into sharp relief when he tries to enter an industry where the main commodity is something other than opinionated shock and awe. He didn't last a month as an ESPN analyst for Sunday NFL Countdown. And he didn't last a week as a potential minority owner of the St. Louis Rams before another team's owner (and a host of players) said, No thanks.

This has nothing to do with Limbaugh's stance on the issues. Wait, what am I saying; Rush is fictitious! This has nothing to do with the stances on issues Rush Limbaugh pretends to have. It's simply a matter of fact that no business wants to be that closely associated with a guy whose primary goal in life is to get rich by making people mad.

Let's get it straight. Rush Limbaugh: not real. Glenn Beck: fake as Formica. Keith Olbermann: manufactured in the land of make believe. Feel free to be entertained by these people. But please don't call them informative. That's like going to Triple H for advice on conflict resolution.

So please, Rush, go on back to your little pretend island where being an opinionated, fire-breathing rabble rouser is viewed as heroic. Even the NFL's gargantuan gladiators who tackle and crush each other for a living find you too disruptive for their reality. Too bad the XFL went out of business.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Carter Said What a White Man Needed to Say

Jimmy Carter just pointed out the elephant in the country. And somebody other than Barack Obama, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Tracy Morgan needed to do it. Racism is alive in America, even if it isn't well.

I can already hear the carbon-copy complaints circulating: The healthcare debate has nothing to do with race; Here we go again with the race card; We don't hate any race, we hate socialism; Political Correctness has taken over the world. That's the reaction to every accusation of racism, and it's almost always just that: a reaction. And probably a racist one.

To anyone who is already fuming at former President Carter, I'm gonna ask you to refrain from crafting your witty, scoffing rants just long enough to think. Take five minutes and think about one or all of these questions:

Why is the national debate about healthcare so heated? I've never seen any issue like this stir such profound emotions. You expect heated protests and raging arguments over matters like war, religion, elections. . . . But healthcare? Why is the nation this divided about insurance? This should be about as stirring as the SAT vs. ACT issue. I'm not saying people can't disagree about the right plan (and neither is Carter) but there has to be a deeper reason for the intensity of the rage.

Is there a chance that a lot of conservatives believe Obama's skin color won him the election? I know a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who think Sarah Palin's main political assets were only skin deep. Do Obama's detractors think the same thing about him? Former President Carter believes a lot of Americans think Obama—or any African American for that matter—was never qualified to serve as president. To be fair, a lot of those people felt the same way about Jimmy Carter, just not as passionately. Is Carter's accusation of racism really that far-fetched?

Can you really say that you aren't racist? If you ask most Americans publicly, we all will say the same two things: 1) I don't think race should be a factor in any decision, opinion, belief, and 2) I'm not racist. White people especially work extra hard at the denial. Sometimes we work so hard in trying to deny the existence of racism, we expect the denial of the existence of race. But if we ever felt safe enough to really explore our feelings about racism and race relations, I think a lot of us would find bubbles of racism hiding not far beneath the surface of our emotions.

Obama's presidency has given a lot of people the chance to let their racism boil over under the guise of anti-socialism, level-headed thinking, or simply the refusal to drink the Kool-Aid of the false Obamessiah. As all the angst blends together in the bubbling pot, it becomes very hard to differentiate the anger over conservative policies from the fear of a black man wielding more power than anyone in the world, especially when no one is ready to admit, even to themselves, that such a fear exists at all.

Jimmy Carter had to say this. A white male outside of the political game had to say this. A statement of this magnitude, essentially pulling the race card on America, had to be made by someone who stood to give more than he gained from the message. If the dissenters could label the messenger as a victim, an ingrate, or a political opportunist, his words could be dismissed. But Jimmy Carter is none of those things. America has to take his accusation seriously because he stands to gain nothing from speaking out.

Nothing, that is, except a nation that is aware of its own deep-seated problems.

Monday, March 16, 2009


I've spoken out strongly against people accusing Barack Obama of being a socialist, which has, without fail, almost immediately resulted in me being accused of Obama discipleship. In the days leading up to the election, it was difficult to debate such issues without being labeled. People, it seemed, forgot the difference between thinking over the facts and making up one's mind. I had hoped the intellectual stalemate would resolve itself, yet it continues in a world hopelessly devoted to an Us vs. Them mentality.

It may be less plausible now than it ever has been for me to argue against the image of President Obama as Socialist. So I won't. I will allow a card-carrying Socialist to make the case for me.

By the way, I am not a card-carrying Socialist. If you believe me, great. If not, I'd like to invite you to our next meeting.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Ignore the issue (because, really, who disagrees that Mad Money and 95% of all CNBC financial advice is pure farce) and ignore the question of who won (again, that's like calling a winner at Little Big Horn). Focus instead on the tectonic paradigm shift that took place during the slightly publicized interview between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer last night.

It wasn't Frost/Nixon. Come to think of it, Frost/Nixon probably wasn't Frost/Nixon. But last night, Jim Cramer had to stop acting like a mad genius because Jon Stewart stopped acting like he was a comedian. It may have been the only real interview I've ever seen on TV (the kind Murphy Brown used to conduct in the land of let's pretend).

There was Stewart, skewering Cramer for impersonating a human being and masquerading as a dispenser of worthy advice. He challenged the raving bald man and his entire network to rise to their true responsibility: reporting the markets and scrutinizing the financial sector to uphold a fair standard of accountability. Stewart didn't make the connection completely, but when Cramer referenced the inadequacy of "the regulators," the Daily Show anchor quickly retorted that it's the job of the media to expose rather than enable the crooks who skirt the shoddy surveillance of the SEC. I just want to take that a step further with this first puzzle piece:

If the media were doing their job of informing the American people and exposing corruption in all its forms, we wouldn't be relying on the government to impose new regulations and bail out the economy from the ruins of Wall Street's undeterred transgressions. That's just one puzzle piece, so let's not jump to conclusions quite yet.

The hypocrisy of Cramer is self-evident. But I hope we don't lose the hypocrisy of Jon Stewart. True, as he said in the interview, The Daily Show labels itself as snake oil while CNBC purports to be a source of true remedies. But does being upfront about prioritizing entertainment above integrity really justify the decision? If so, a lot of people owe Vince McMahon a big apology, because Stewart and Colbert are to news what the WWE is to sports. We know they're all entertainers (yet unquestionably good at what they do) appealing to niche fans who would rather be entertained than suffer through the ennui of the real thing.

And there's my problem with Stewart and Colbert: by acknowledging their own facade, they unintentionally give undue credence to the notion that the other guys are legit. Reality showed us that pro wrestlers weren't the only ones on steroids—real athletes were fake, too. And now, just maybe, it's starting to dawn on the American public that the real journalists are faking it as well.

One reason I love Stewart and company is the adversarial nature they bring to the table. They impeach with impunity. They are equal-opportunity satirists. They are filling a void left by so-called credible news outlets who tiptoe around controversy, refuse to press the issues, and allow special-interest groups to forge fake news in respected publications. But by casting themselves as comedians, shows like Colbert Report perpetuate the notion that challenging the corrupt, exposing the liars, and mocking the incompetent are not legitimate journalistic tactics. Mainstream news outlets have this bizarre habit of treating everyone with respect and tact, and I wish they'd drop it already.

Because if it's only the entertainers—the self-acknowledged (Stewart, Colbert), the closet cases (O'Reilly, Limbaugh), and the bloggers (John Peter Zenger they are not)—who actually dig their claws into the public evils, then the worst and most secretive criminals of society will continue to roam freely with our money, our opinions, and our pride in tow. So here's the second piece of this puzzle (and don't worry, it's not a very large puzzle):

If pseudo-journalistic entertainers took themselves more seriously (I'm looking at you, Jon) and approached their content honestly (Rush, come on), their powers could be used for the good of journalism and society as a whole.

Which brings me to the final puzzle piece: society. Me. You. All your friends on facebook. The reason CNBC doles out fake financial news whilst flinging farm animals and spraying spittle, the reason The Daily Show appears on Comedy Central instead of CNN, and the reason Rush Limbaugh speaks unwaveringly (and clownishly) for the right no matter how wrong it may be is the simple, inevitable fact that collectively we binge on entertainment. We flee anything that challenges us to think or re-evaluate our opinions. We want so desperately not to be wrong that we choose only those options that reinforce our opinions or free us from having to form them.

As a result, when mainstream news gets controversial, the phones start ringing (future boycotter on line 1) and the sponsors start pulling their money away (former customer on line 2). Why don't the phone lines light up when meaningless, inconsequential news wastes our air space? Why do we protest when programming offends but not when it simply sucks? Where are the angry calls from viewers who are offended by lazy, substance-free reporting? You, my friend, are the final puzzle piece. Let's face it, we got conned into viewing a piece of accidentally real news. It's rare that such a thing would come into existence, let alone that millions of people would wind up seeing it. But now that we have, is there any chance we might actually develop a taste for it?

If media end-users like you and me would, en masse, start demanding honest journalism and serious investigation, media outlets would start providing it and the criminals of this world would eventually be exposed and government based on letting the free market model work itself out might actually, you know . . . work. But a government for the people, by the people, and of the people will never work well within a free market if all the people collaboratively agree to suck in our own special way.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Helix the Mutation Fairy

Stop squinting. Click the image.

Players to Be Named Never

In the economy of words, Glenn Greenwald spared no expense lambasting the ridiculously prevalent pseudo-journalistic practice of allowing anyone and everyone to put their lies on the record while keeping their names safely off of it. To give you time to read it, I'll hold my response to a quick, "Hear, hear!" . . . and just a bit of embellishment:

Every time I read the words "according to a source close to the negotiations," or anything along those lines, a small part of my soul comes down with flu-like symptoms and dies a slow, painful death.

(And as you read, try to set aside your feelings about the issues he discusses—this is an article more about bad journalism than about Israel relations.)

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Misadventures of Helix the Mutation Fairy

Click the image for a better look . . .