Last night I was in a bar where Fox News was on with the sound turned off.
All I could see was faces, clips, crawls, and captions. I tried not to watch,
but I kept getting distracted by the movement on the screen, and then distracted
by the fact that I wanted to punch somebody. The show went from what I think
was Hannity & Colmes, because I recognized Hannity’s smug punchable face,
to what I assume was "regular" news, but there was no difference in
content — if anything, the regular news was more insane than the pundits. In
Fox world, apparently nothing else in the world is happening right now except
Obama! Ayers Ayers Ayers! Boo! Scary! Election! Ayers! And now here’s a nice
soothing image of McCain smiling. Aww, lookit his cheeks, he looks like a big
white teddy bear!
The captions seemed particularly weird — they were such a transparent effort
to implant talking points in the minds of the viewers. Rather than being an
ongoing summary of what was (presumably) being talked about, they cycled through
a small handful over an over again. Like, did you know that Ayers considers
himself practically an anarchist? Neither did I. Am I supposed to care? Well,
it wouldn’t be on the news unless it were important, would it? WOULD IT?
This tells me where that one guy who was so bent out of shape at Foolscap was
probably getting his own obsession with Ayers. To recap: during the SF convention
Foolscap in September, I was chatting with some people in hospitality and made
an offhand remark about Rush Limbaugh being a mean-spirited blowhard. Now, I
thought this was a pretty non-controversial statement of fact akin to observing
that water is wet or the Pope is Catholic, and that people who are Limbaugh
fans simply like the fact that he’s a mean-spirited blowhard — they think he’s
funny, or they think he’s right about stuff, or whatever. But this guy practically
levitated out of his chair with outrage. He started ranting about Obama and
Ayers, which seemed like a total non-sequitor to me, and I was inclined to simply
make fun of him in response.
Other people engaged his points in a more dialectic and less snarky way. The
thing I thought was funny was that every time the guy said "Ayers"
he said it like it was some trump card, some symbol of horrors we would all
recognize, like Stalin or Hitler or something, and instead people kept saying
things like "now, who was that again?" Some of us, after being reminded,
dimly remembered this alleged controversy from way back when during the primaries,
and none of us thought it was important. But this guy was totally stuck on it,
and seemed both baffled and outraged that we didn’t share his point of view.
In the weeks since, the Ayers-related press releases have percolated up through
the pop culture to the point where I can actually remember which guy that is.
(Ex Weatherman. Blew stuff up in the 60s. He and Obama both live in Chicago.
Did you know the Weathermen got their name from a line in Bob Dylan’s song ""?)
But I imagine that if you are a regular Fox News watcher, they were cramming
that Ayers stuff down your throat early on. So in my little narrative, here,
this guy was a Fox News watcher, and had absolutely no idea that the news looked
different on other channels, or that people who don’t watch cable news at all
might have a completely different perspective on current events.
Anyway, last night’s captions were kind of stunning, beyond parody really,
and there was a point where I glanced up and the caption was something like
"Obama: the most dangerous man in America, according to some" and
then the "Fair and Balanced" logo flashed and I started ranting, "Is
this a joke? They’re kidding, right? It’s a joke, they can’t possibly be serious.
It has to be a joke. How is it possible that this is not a joke?"
"The ‘crawl’ is particularly stupid. I remember when it was used to communicate
truly breaking news," Paul said.
"Yeah, like, ‘John Lennon has just been shot,’" I said.
Both of us remember that night: I was watching Little House on the Prairie
and Paul was watching a M*A*S*H rerun. He commented that he had left
the room where his sister was watching Little House because he was
so disgusted that a show which was lauded as "wholesome and family-friendly"
would show a girl peeing on a sidewalk.
What followed was a surprisingly long, cantankerous, circular argument over
whether or not Little House on the Prairie was a tool of the right wing agenda.
I claimed it was innocuous, light family drama with a young female protagonist,
and that if it was seen as "wholesome and family friendly" , well,
it was g-rated and non-controversial, and this shouldn’t be held against it,
any more than you would hold it against The Wonderful World of Disney
or Bonanza or Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom or The Lawrence
He claimed — well, I was never sure what his real point was, because it seemed
to me that he was hating on the show because some people were hypocrites about
it, but whenever I tried to return to the original statement — "What were
we arguing about now? What was your point again?" — we would get once
more sucked down into a particular swirling eddy of endless argument, such as
whether conservative christian types who wouldn’t watch anything but
Little House were typical or anomalous, or whether Little House did,
or did not resemble The Passion of the Christ in any meaningful way,
or whether these hypothetical people would have been outraged if Hill Street
Blues had utilized the same girl-peeing-on-sidewalk gambit.
I didn’t feel like we were really having a discussion, I felt like I was being
led into rhetorical dark alleys so I could be hit over the head and Paul could
make off with the argument. I started to feel really angry.
Anyway, it occurs to me that people are like this on a lot of topics, some
of them political. The rancor of the argument isn’t defined by the real-world
importance of the topic, but rather by that feeling of being trapped in endless
circles, that feeling that no matter what you say you’ll just end up back in
the same place — the feeling that nothing you say penetrates, nothing you say
Or maybe it’s just this: the larger context. Arguing with Paul on what should
have been an innocuous topic turned into a hissing, poison-spitting growlfest
because Fox News was on in the background, and we couldn’t really argue with
Fox News, so we argued with each other.