Sunday, August 03, 2008

TV: Reality, Power and 'Reality'

Last week, we were confronted with both the reality of TV and the power of it. Where to begin? Let's start with Friday when we were speaking with a network exec about his sorry slate of fall programming and he replied that it truly was the best of the offerings leading us to provide a joke-pitch about a Bizarro World type duo who fancy themselves journalists.

Each week, they dig to find any injustice they can and, when the pickings are slim (or at least the pickings that interest them), they invent injustices. We did a hilarious bit rife with paranoia and short on facts of how Barack's summer vacation was handled as real news and anyone saying it was fluff was some right-wing radical. In the midst of laughing at 'our' routine, the man finally got that we weren't making it up, we were just spouting the latest nonsense from FAIR's CounterSpin.

We had Peter Hart's almost British delivery (where even declarative statements end like questions) and Janine Jackson's perma-scowl down pat. We knew he'd caught KPFA on the way over and were only surprised it took him so long to grasp 'our' routine. He ran with the idea and who he could cast for which role. He came up with subplots for the leads -- like when Peter Hart is mugged and robbed by 'underprivilegeds' and ends up thanking the two on air and railing against the elitist society in what he hopes comes off like Les Miserables but really plays out like Patty Hearst at the height of the brainwashing.

Though much laughter ensued, the sad thing about the conversation is how easy it's become to lampoon left voices as a result of the sad rot of the left. The reality. The power.

Big Brother is a reality show that's aired for many (too many) seasons on CBS (and airs tonight, in fact, as well as on Tuesdays and Thursdays). A number of different pitches have been made to us in the hopes that we will review it. We didn't buy the pitch that Libra is how America sees Michelle Obama. (Michell's much thinner and taller, to cite one difference.) But to get everyone off our case, we watched three episodes.

Libra is, CBS hopes, this year's Omarosa. There's some idea that an African-American woman America can hiss at will drive the ratings (as Omarosa did on The Apprentice). It's interesting that when a woman of color is credited with the ratings success of a program, the copycats that follow have to be (or be hoped to be) even more negative. Did no one ever think, "Omarosa is water cooler talk! Let's build on that and offer up a wide range of African-American womanhood while interest is high!"?

Apparently not.

In the commercials before Big Brother started airing, America was clued in that they were supposed to dislike Libra because she was supporting Barack. The Cult of St. Barack will take offense to that but it's reality and the reason it's reality is that most Americans do not like politics. She could have said she was for Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney or John McCain and it wouldn't have made much difference. While her future roommates were talking about partying, bodybuilding and teaching, there was Libra going on about an election. Immediately, she became the neighbor knocking on your door to get you to sign some block petition. It telegraphed the message from the start to the reality TV audience, "She's not like us!"

And she's not, if only because she's on TV. But how different from America is Libra?

As always happens on these shows, the other players find out the reality about the Libra characters. She went from being seen as smart to shrewd to worse over the course of the three episodes and, as Keesha revealed at one point through tears, if she hadn't promised Libra at the start, she might put her up on the block to be voted out of the house.

Big Brother works the notion of heavily populated cities: Shove enough people into a cramped space and the fireworks will ensue. So CBS gathers a group and renders them home bound. There's a big pay off coming but only one person will get it. Let everyone fight one another for it. It really is America today in some frightening ways and you have to wonder what Julie Chen would do on one of the installments when someone is voted out if all the players told her, "No, we're not going to do it"?

What if the players banded together against CBS? What if they said, "No one's leaving. We're splitting the money?"

That never happens because the reality shows are all about cruelty and the entertainment cruelty provides for the audience. So people turn against one another and you're supposed to cheer them on.

America sees Dan as the nice guy. He's the Catholic White guy who teaches school. But Dan orchestrated the ouster of one house member already. Steven was a nice enough guy but maybe the fact that he was openly gay allowed some 'reality' audiences to enjoy him being sent packing? Last Thursday, Dan was asked by Chen to be the audience's player. How that works is he has to do the viewers bidding and without telling any of house mates that he is. If he can pull it off, he'll see a $20,000 pay-off.

Dan's a smarmy little punk and we think the heavy emphasis -- by the show -- of his teaching has concealed that. "Miss Chen," he called Julie Chen (everyone else calls her "Julie") leading her to explain she's married (insert snark) and that "Mrs. Chen" wasn't something she wanted to be called either because that's her mother. Just the way he was interacting with her prior to her correction was smarmy. It only got worse as Dan tried to play like he had ethics but that his ethics included a higher calling and, gosh darn it, if America wanted him to be their player, how could he refuse America?

After nearly eight years of the Bully Boy in the White House, we've seen a lot of garbage hidden under the flag but Dan tried his best to top it. Maybe he'll get away with it? He offered Steven a pre-taped good-bye that should have had America hissing but instead CBS thinks Libra's the bad one?

As a general rule, when anyone says -- in a goodbye -- I don't see you as "gay Steven," when they're bringing it up for no reason, then, yes, they do see you as 'the gay guy' and the only thing to wonder presently is if Libra gets voted out at some point in the near future, will Dan's pre-taped farewell include, "I don't see you as Black Libra"?

Big Brother drives home the power and reality of TV. That doesn't make it riveting or great television. It does make it very revealing.

People scheme and lie and you never know what's really happening or what qualifies as truth from one moment to the next. Happy Days provided America with fifties nostalgia. The Mary Tyler Moore Show gave America a sense of empowerment. What do these 'reality' shows sell? It's sure not reality.

And that and their mark was brought home Thursday when KPFA's The Morning Show spoke with Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism, for the first segment. We were in DC and heard about the segment (over and over) from various people before we were finally able to listen. It was jaw-dropping radio at its worst.

Co-hosts Aimee Allison and Philip Maldari . . . Allison is still new and still learning her way so we'll go easier on her. Philip? If we included only a third of the comments we heard and only those coming from people at either KPFA or who work on campus with Malderi, this piece would be dubbed "scalding" because "blistering" would be too mild. It was truly that bad.

Aimee's approach was, "Please tell us something wonderful about Barack that we can hang our hopes on." Philip's was "Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Baby." Philip's questions were openly hostile, Aimee's were like a child begging their parents to tell them Santa does exist.

The whole thing threw Klein. She never got to make the most obvious point, so let's start there.

She was trying to speak of (and later, in public, would) the moment the country is arriving at where some transformations will have to take place. Due to the Obama obsession of both hosts (Philip is publicly supporting Barack and doing so from public radio on the public airwaves, Aimee is publicly undeclared but presumed to be supporting Cynthia McKinney -- that hasn't ended the obsession for her), any talk of transformation was forever put on hold because America matters not at all when more time can be spent gas bagging on Barack.

The point Naomi Klein should have made (and could have had she been speaking to mature hosts) was, "In my book, now out in softcover, I outline how shocks provide cover for a lot of bad things to be inflicted on the people. Shocks can also result in the people pushing advances, if they are prepared and organized."

A few brief comments on FDR -- she was cut off -- were the closest she came to making that point. She frequently sounded dazed, frequently paused before speaking (not a normal Klein response in an interview) and that was due to the behavior of the hosts.

Let's move to a correction. Though both hosts repeatedly insisted they were talking to Naomi about her 'new' article in The Nation, they were wrong. Even presuming that the article could have been spoken about (it couldn't, not with Philip present), the article is not new. The interview took place July 31st, the article was published June 12th. Klein's 'new' column is "Disaster Capitalism: State of Extortion" and was published July 1st. Most KPFA listeners are hip to the fact that The Nation is nothing to rush out and buy, but for those who may not yet have grasped that fact, do not rush to your bookstore for the issue of The Nation containing Naomi's "new" article "Obama's Chicago Boys."

The most laughable moment (identified as such by another professor at Philip's campus) is when Philip has a "snit-fit" (we're quoting) over the University of Chicago. Klein is attempting to speak of the neoconservatives coming out of the business school of the university for many, many years. (And she goes into that in great detail in her latest book.) Philip, with righteous indignation, has to insist that's not true and Klein will clarify something that doesn't need clarifying, that she's speaking of the business school.

It's an embarrassment to listen to, the entire segment. When Naomi's attempting to move to the power of third-party candidates, she's cut off with non-stop Obama love. Any time she attempted to address the realities of Barack, it was time for Aimee to come off stunned and Philip to come off wounded.

Word to Philip, Barack is not your boyfriend.

Word to Philip, even Barack supporters are appalled by what you did.

Specifically, in one of Phil's attempts at a put-Klein-in-her-place (note the 'her') rejoinders, he insists that Barack can't very well come out as a Socialist and hope to win.

Philip, Barack's not a Socialist. And if that were said on Fox "News," Media Matters would be calling them out. You embarrassed yourself beyond belief, you've made yourself a joke at the station as well as on campus and you have no one to blame for that but yourself.

Klein was attempting to address the cadre of neoconservative economists Barack has assembled as advisors. Philip saw his own role not as exploring that topic but in offering some sort of broadcast craziness that had us thinking of Blanche DuBois yammering on about Belle Reve. Throughout the interview, Philip busied himself trying to hang paper lanterns over light bulbs so that all realities about Barack could be diluted. Which begs the question of why the program even booked Naomi to begin with? Was Philip hoping "Obama's Chicago Boys" was soft-porn?

Was Naomi brought on just so she could be argued with? Does anyone give a damn that some friend of Barack's -- Philip thought this was another brilliant rejoinder -- holds "the Edward Said chair." Edward Said's dead. That not only rhymes, it's reality. But there was Philip, dragging the chair into the room thinking that would brighten Barack's 'look.'

As one of his campus colleagues (who is planning to vote for Barack in November) put it, "Phil's no longer just drinking the Kool-Aid, he's drinking the urine." If he gets any crazier, the comparison is going to be Violet Venable and he may have already crossed into that territory last week when, interviewing a novelist we won't name because so very few even know of him, he and Philip commiserated on air about what racists America were. No Name and Philip apparently aren't part of America or else they're so far above the rest of us that we just don't know how they manage to tolerate us. Call it The Banality of Radio.

We have seen Naomi Klein interviewed by openly hostile hosts while promoting the latest book and she's never been thrown or flustered. We can only surmise that it must have been shocking to be invited on the left KPFA -- home of 'free speech' radio -- and find yourself jumped on air. What does Naomi outline in her 'new' article? If any listener knew, they must have read the article because despite having her as a guest for over twenty minutes, The Morning Show rarely allowed her the chance to complete sentences uninterrupted -- let alone make the argument she did in the article.

Philip used the 'strategy' the Cult of Obama perfected in the primaries: Blame Hillary.

Hillary Clinton suspended her campaign in June. There's really no claim to make, if Barack's the nominee, of how 'evil' Hillary allegedly is that advances Barack as a candidate. That should be obvious to everyone but some Kool-Aid drinkers still haven't caught on.

Which is why an attempted discussion of Barack's changing position on NAFTA suddenly had interruptions about Hillary. Well, Philip, Barack's campaign did speak to Canada and did tell them not to believe what Barack was saying against NAFTA. That's reality. You may not like it, but it is reality. Hiding behind Hillary at this late date changes nothing about Barack but it does make you look like a fool.

It was a waste of twenty minutes and a chore to listen to. At least with CounterSpin these days, you can treat it as a sitcom and laugh at them. That an article published June 12th was not new didn't go to the biggest lie told last week. That took place on WBAI.

WBAI is in fundraising mode again. On Friday, hilarity ensued from ten to eleven a.m. EST. That's when Amy Goodman was 'pitching' 'live.' Pull out your wallets, America, Goody insisted repeatedly, or you wouldn't get quality programming. Goody hasn't offered quality programming in some time. So she searched for examples. She offered up that Democracy Sometimes! would expand to two hours shortly to cover the Republican and Democratic campaign. "Only with you," she insisted, could 'alternative' radio provide the alternatives.

Any sentient being would have grasped that the Green Party convention's last month resulted in no weeks of expanding to two hours to provide 'coverage.' In fact, not even one episode was turned over to the convention. Goodman's full Green Party convention coverage was:

And the Green Party has nominated former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to be the party's presidential nominee. The Greens also nominated hip-hop activist and organizer Rosa Clemente to be McKinney's running mate. McKinney spoke on Saturday at the Green Party convention in Chicago.Cynthia McKinney: "And when I got to Washington, I saw that public policy is really made in a room at a table. There were real seats at the table. Well, imagine what has happened to public policymaking now. There is a real room with a window and a door, and there's two seats at the table. The window is for us to look through, while our representatives make policy for us, so we can see what they're doing. At the table, one seat is for the Democrats, one seat is for the Republicans. Now, we don't know who did it, but one of them put a lock on the door and slipped a key to the corporate lobbyists who can come and go at will and whisper what they want to Democrats and Republicans, and the result is that we the people, who pay for those seats and determine who sits in them, want one thing, but because the corporate lobbyists can come and go at will, our values get overridden and our representatives give us something else. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they're against the war and occupation, but war and occupation still gets funding. That's how we end up with everyone saying they're against illegal spying on innocent people, yet end up with a telecom immunity bill being signed into law. That's how we end up with everyone saying they're in favor of universal access to healthcare and no one supporting what the physicians, nurses and healthcare really want, and that's a single-payer healthcare system in this country."

A four-day national convention and that was it. A four day convention and Goodman's entire 'coverage' was to provide the above in a headline on July 14th. But for the GOP and Democratic Party conventions, she's expanding her show to two hours each day. (As she did in 2004 for those same two parties while ignoring the Green Party convention.) And she sees herself as an "alternative" you need to fork over money to keep in business?

That was hilarious and you're probably thinking, "'Alternative?' What a big lie!" While it is a lie, it's not the big lie. The big lie was that Amy Goodman was speaking to you live.

Amy Goodman was on vacation last week and, no, she didn't dash down to the WBAI studio to make her pitch.

Listeners are used to the pledge drive pattern where a lot of canned speeches, interviews and documentaries get played (film documentaries played over radio) but this has to be a first, canned requests for money. With phones ringing (and "Thank you for that call!") in the background.

What they did was take Goody's already recorded pitch and 'broadcast' that while pretending Goody was in the WBAI studio speaking live. We were laughing as we listened and only laughed more when Sharif Abdel Kouddous pretended he was interrupting Amy speaking live (like she'd ever let that happen!) to say that, oops, they had run out of time. We wondered if Sharif then left the studio talking to a non-existent Goody to really continue that bit of craziness. We can imagine him standing outside the studio on the street, bickering with pretend Amy about what deli they should take lunch at.

Because Goody was on vacation, Democracy Now! was actually watchable for three days last week. No surprise, those were the first three days, the ones Juan Gonzalez hosted by himself. There was actually diversity. There could have been more diversity; however, were it not necessary to bring on the Soros money. Soros apparently doesn't hire Latinos which is how we got a White Anglo yammering on about alarm in the Latino community. (In the Latino and African-American communties, actually, but note they brought on an African-American to be representive of that community.) Something to consider: As the left continues to express outrage at how John D. Rockefeller used a tiny portion of his money to buy a good name, do they really think they can remain silent on George Soros? Blood money will always be blood money. It doesn't 'clean up.'

Had they finished the week with Juan, it would have been the strongest week for the program since at least 2004. Instead Thursday and Friday were Sharif and Anjali Kamat taking over the hosting duties (they shared the duties, even headlines with Sharif grabbing them Thursday and Anajali taking them Friday). What did we learn? Maybe where the lack of focus is?

Thursday and Friday devoted segments to such issues (and 'issues') as the violence against Palestinians, police abuse in NYC, the DNC convention (no, it hasn't started yet), WTO, Mexico and a US candidate for public office claiming (we are not making this up) that Al Jazeera tried to kidnap him. If the bulk of that struck you as a "war and peace report," you're very easy to please.

Bully Boy declared Iraq a turned corner on Thursday and, for reasons unknown (lack of interest is probably the reason), Anajali repeated his words without question on Friday in headlines. She did add that he never mentioned Afghanistan. Oh, snap!

Iraq hasn't turned a corner at all. The violence was always expected to decrease temporarily as October approached. When Nouri al-Maliki threatened to ban those he dubbed 'militias' from the political process, Moqtada al-Sadr sent out a strong warning to his supporters. Everyone has been laying low for months with the hopes that they can take back Iraq via elections. The Iraqi Parliament hit the 'snooze button' on the elections last month when they forgot no one's ever supposed to mention Kirkuk. Doing so in a bill on provincial elections meant the Kurdish bloc walked out and that the bill, which passed, was shot down by the presidential commission. (The Iraqi Parliament is supposed to meet in special session to address the provincial elections. They are otherwise on summer recess.) What we just listed is only one of the factors. There are many more. But the program felt no urgency to explore any. The White House said it so the program accepted it. And still wants to be considered 'alternative' media.

About all you learned during Thursday and Friday's broadcasts is that Anagali can make some strange faces . . .


And Sharif is so in love with Barack that he's taken to dressing like him.


Note the s-curve of his tie.

Not a lot of information provided in either which brings us back to the point we started with earlier. Reality and power and, yes, 'reality.' Big Brother and other 'reality' shows endorse trickery and deceit to get your way. If you ever doubted the impact those bad TV shows have left on America, check out 'alternative' media and grasp that it has stopped being any kind of alternative. Barack's presumed nomination means that he be covered for and those rare voices that attempt to shine a tiny light on the reality of the Christ-child will be harassed on air. By hosts, not callers.

Panhandle Media now exists for only two reasons. First, to beg for money because working in the real world is scary. Think of them as the forty-year-olds who moved back in with Mom and Dad. Second, to provide non-stop cover for Barack because apparently, years and years ago, when the need for alternative media was obvious it was created to one day rush to the rescue of Barack. Oh, it wasn't? Don't bother telling them that fact. Not only would they not listen, they'd probably tag-team you the way Allison and Maldari did Naomi Klein last week.
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