TV: A JOKING WORD
It was widely rumored
among the young that John F. Kennedy didn't die in Dallas, but lived on,
a vegetable kept alive in some secret clinic.
It was also rumored
that the astronauts were identical twins or condemned criminals. This
was part of the widely accepted belief that the moon shots were staged
in northern Mexico. One of my own children assured me that the reason
the moon rocks differed so much from what had been predicted was that
they actually came from east Texas.
TV coverage of the
moon visits & Kennedy's death may, in fact, have mirrored reality
but, if so, this was exceptional. Taking TV as a whole, it would be difficult
to refute the conviction of the young that this medium favors pure fiction.
David Wolper, Hollywood's king of TV documentaries, recently said he was
now "making his own old newsreels."
Such schoolboy pranks
hardly compare to distortions arising from news treated as entertainment.
Newsmen long ago discovered that news could be used as a hook from which
to hang prejudices. They rarely reviewed current events or films or books;
they merely ornamented opinions with them. For them, reality was an irrelevancy,
something best avoided; what mattered was opinions about reality.
TV news favors this
format. It offers cliché drama costumed as news. The commentator
occupies the screen most of the time, though his visual appearance is
totally irrelevant: Irrelevant to the news, but not irrelevant to the
drama of the news hour, which is something utterly different, its own
reality, with the commentator as star.
It takes someone
out of the past to put all this in perspective. When a television director
once suggested to Harry Truman that his tie was inappropriate for TV,
Truman stared pityingly with those blue eyes for about ten seconds.
"Does it really
matter?" he asked. "Because if while I'm talking about Korea
people are asking each other about my necktie, it seems to me we're in
a great deal of trouble."
Oscar Wilde once
made up a joke about a biographer of Michelangelo who never mentioned
his art. Wilde's joke is TV's policy. Educational TV loves to do profiles
that "let viewers see the man," that is, deal with his loves
& eccentricities, but ignore his genius, which may belong to a medium
ill-suited for TV presentation. So TV presents specials on Einstein as
a moral philosopher, Fitzgerald as an alcoholic & the Wright brothers
Oh, What a Blow That Phantom Gave Me! by Edmund Carpenter
Holt, Rinehart and Winston - New York, Chicago, San Francisco
Copyright 1972, 1973 by Edmund Carpenter
Translated to hypermedia and edited by Michael Wesch 2002