The Boob Tube

Bad television is affecting our sensibilities and judgment.

And now, from the Center for Signs of the End of the World, comes the news that even opponents of the administration's Iraq policy thought that the war was "well spun."

Mmmm. Would that be referring to those turn-on-a-dime rationales--from finding Weapons of Mass Destruction (say it again, and again, and one more time!) to Taking Out Saddam to Liberating the Iraqi People to Three Big Honkin' Airbases and Reconstruction Contracts for Our Best Friends--all in less than a month? Would it be the silver tongue of George W. "If you won't disarm, we will disarm you" Bush? Or perhaps the opposition is impressed by the vast worldliness and empathy of Donald Rumsfeld, who, it turns out, finds looting rather amusing: "Is it possible there were that many vases in the whole country?" A Republican who thinks crimes against property are no big deal--well, that's something new and different.

Whatever, it worked. Most of us approve of Bush's job performance and think invading Iraq was a good thing to do. Most Americans believe that we've won, even though it's possible that the Shi'ite majority--oops, that sounds sorta like trouble--may present problems even for the major construction companies/campaign contributors/golf-buddies who're getting mega-contracts to rebuild everything that we conveniently just bombed to bits.

The argument that there isn't any corruption behind using our taxes and our children to create work for fat cats--"Well, they're the only companies big enough and everybody's in a hurry"--only works if you believe those companies didn't have a vote on going to war in the first place. As if.

It's not rocket science: The senior vice president in charge of Bechtel's petroleum and chemical divisions sits on the Defense Policy Board that advises Donald Rumsfeld, who, by the way, used to do lobbying for the company; George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger both worked for Bechtel before joining the Reagan administration; while Schultz was secretary of state under Reagan, the United States tried to talk Saddam Hussein into letting us build an oil pipeline from Iraq to the Red Sea, and Schultz has since returned to Bechtel's board of directors; Dick Cheney used to run Halliburton, the stock of which has gone from about $8 a share to around $20 during the last eight months. I could go droning on--this and more has been widely reported; the General Accounting Office is already looking into the contracts.

And yet most of us still believe in the righteousness of our cause and in a cartoon world in which the Iraqis will welcome all our plans and be quiet and good so that our troops can come home soon. Why?

I blame it on bad TV. True, television has always had its dim corners, but lately, vast segments of the population have been watching big gobs of very badly acted dreck, and it seems to be eroding their critical abilities. You now not only have the sort of slow, mannered, fake-a-zoid script once peculiar to soap operas; you also have complete amateurs klutzing their way through the pre-fab action: group dates, cat-fights, on-screen groping.

Take The Bachelor. Please.

Really, who would want to marry, or even stay in the same jacuzzi, with a Pierce Brosnan knock-off who smirks while saying, "Now that we're alone, there's something I've been wanting to ask you: Are your boobs real?" (I was visiting a friend in the hospital and it was on. OK?) This stuff is not real, couldn't be real. We know it's not real, and yet we call it "reality television," and we will ourselves into the minimum level of belief required to keep watching. Accepting these embarrassingly bad performances and dopey premises--even very attractive women are desperate for husbands, men only care about looks, everybody will do anything for money, hot tubs are erotic--seems to have lowered both our IQs and our standards of showmanship.

We've even started believing politicians as long as they present us with Very. Simple. Concepts. No. Matter. How. Implausible. (Whoops, that word's too long. How about Dumb?)

The Iraqis Love Us. No, But They Will Love Us Once We Get the Water Back On. The Enemies of Our Enemies Are Our Friends. Enron Is None of Our Business.

Fortunately, there are signs that we won't fall for absolutely anything: 1) More than 60 percent of Americans don't believe that doubling the deficit is a great idea, and 2) Are You Hot? was cancelled.

So there you go. There's hope.

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