Sunday, June 17, 2012

TV: When sitcoms preach, public affairs go funny

As a general rule, sitcoms should avoid trying to impart life lessons and public affairs programs should stick to facts.  When either stray, the results can be either flat out disaster or outright hilarity.


Hot in Cleveland is the TV Land success that starts its fourth season this fall.  The sitcom stars Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White and has produced many hilarious episodes.  However, this season also offered  "Storage Wars" which is the worst episode of the series.

Were their no laughs at all in the episode?  Actually, there were some laughs in the episode.  But everything was ruined by the decision to give a message.  The message really wasn't something the characters would have gone along with.  And that's before you even consider how offensive the message was.

Through a series of sitcoms antics, Victoria (Malick) discovers a letter from Abraham Lincoln and, in the letter, he writes of an affair with an intern.  Melanie (Bertinelli) goes all Linus and starts saying people need heroes and blah, blah, blah.  If the show had been true to the characters, Melanie wouldn't have persuaded Victoria.  Instead, Joy (Leeves) and Elka (White) would have explained to Melanie that history is about facts and you let the chips fall where they may.  Would Melanie wants to lie about her divorce?  Would she want Joy to pretend she hadn't given a child up for adoption?

But instead we got the nonsense of Melanie persuading Joy to bury history.

No show starring women should ever push covering up the truth to avoid embarrassing a man.  To avoid 'embarrassing a man,' rape has been covered up, incest has been covered up, child molestation has been covered up, spousal abuse and child abuse have been covered up.

So shame on Hot In Cleveland for that b.s.  If Lincoln had an affair and someone found a letter where he confesses that, the correct thing to do is to make it public.  If you start covering up one truth, where do you stop?  And that's something Sean Hayes -- one of the producers -- should certainly realize.  By attempting to 'moralize,' the show embarrassed itself.

By contrast, NPR's Fresh Air was a laugh riot last Thursday and you had to wonder if Terry Gross had decided if Parks and Recreation could send up NPR ("Born & Raised"), why shouldn't she?

And what better guest to embrace self-parody than Jane Mayer, The New Yorker writer who gave a damn about the abuse in the Guantanamo Bay prison until Barack Obama was sworn in and oversaw it. In other words,  Jane Mayer's one of those people who've spent the last few years pissing all over herself in public while people point and snicker.

These days, she dabbles at writing with one article after another that's supposed to scare people into voting for Barack Obama.  What should really scare people is how delusional Jane Mayer is.

Attempting to expose religious conservative Bryan Fischer, Mayer babbled on about how his organization (American Family Association) compared Barack to Hitler.  Mayer was shocked and couldn't stop babbling about that.  She apparently was hopped up on too many drugs in the '00s to notice when the same comparisons were made about Bully Boy Bush and Hitler.

 Explaining why she churns out the meaningless crap of late, Mayer insisted, "Well, I was down in Mississippi actually covering the [Rick] Santorum campaign [for the GOP presidential nomination] and interviewing lots of supporters of Santorum.  And what caught my eye was their opinions were so viciously anti-Obama, not just that they were politicallly opposed, but they were really worked up about it."

Imagaine that.  Right-wing Christian Republicans who supported Rick Santorum were not embracing Barack.  Who could have guessed?  Anyone with half a brain -- anyone except Jane Mayer.

How bad was it?  A former producer and First Amendment supporter told us after hearing the interview, "If I was still doing TV, I'd turn that into a sitcom called Dumb Bitch."

And whether you'd call it that or something else, it was one embarrassment after another.  There was Mayer coming off like an out-of-touch elitist who really didn't know a damn thing about the country that she lived in and was begging to be ridiculed as she babbled on, "And what you begin to realize is out in the country, if you're from the East Coast, where I live, that there is a completely alternative universe and a completely alternative media universe. And there are even alternative sets of facts that they put out."

There was a story, a small story, in what Mayer had in front of her.  It was about a homophobic preacher.  But she was so out of touch with American that she repeatedly lost sight of that.  Which is how you got Mayer being incredulous that "sixty-six percent of the Republican voters in Mississippi don't believe in Darwin's theory of evolution.  They believe that the human race was created as told in Genesis!"  This shocked her.

What should have shocked her was that she's claiming 66% of Mississippi residents don't believe in evolution.  That's actually a left-wing lie.  We hadn't heard that number before so we had to search it out.  When we did we found numerous left-wing sites tossing "66%" around and linking to this PPP poll which actually found 60% of Mississippi Republicans saying that they did not believe in evolution. But when you're filled with hate and ignorance, like Jane Mayer, you just add 6% to the actual poll.

In the real world, a place Mayer's passport bears no stamp from, that's a fairly standard figure.  Gallup's 2009 survey found only 39% of Americans believed in evolution (25% said no, 36% said no opinion).

"They believe that the human race was created as told in Genesis!" she marveled.  We're surprised she's surprised.  Earlier this month, Gallup's polling found that 46% of Americans believe in the creation story laid out in Genesis.

We wouldn't call a sitcom based on Mayer "Dumb Bitch," but as she continued babbling "Stupid Cow" seemed an apt title.  Especially when Terry Gross is noting that this organization is considered a hate group and there are so many examples that Mayer can provide of that, legitimate examples but instead she rushes in with, "I mean he's talked about how under Obama the Homeland Security Administration, he claims, is stockpiling ammunition, which he says that the Obama administration is going to, as he puts it, use on us, meaning, you know, Americans who oppose Obama, I guess."

How is that hate speech?

Because somebody doesn't like the current president, it's hate speech?

It's not hate speech.  It may be paranoia, but it's not hate speech.

And Jane Mayer looks like a stupid, stupid woman.  An idiot.  An embarrassment.  The joke of her profession.  (Gina Chon would be the joke of her former profession.)

Maybe Mayer would be less stunned by what Americans think if she actually spent more time talking to them.  If that happened, she'd find out that many do believe in the creation story, that many don't believe in Darwinism, that not everyone was born in New York City, the way she was.  And getting out of her little goldfish bowl might not just make her more aware of the world around her, it might also make her a better journalist, one who could honestly address homophobia and stop getting distracted by the fact that there are people out there who will not vote for Barack Obama -- according to Gallup that's about the same number of American that are planning to vote for him.  A little more than that if third parties were included in the poll.

At one point, Mayer even goes so far as to note Rachel Maddow as a voice of credibility. As Bob Somerby observed of Maddow last week, "her political judgments are oftne strange, and in truth she isn't especially honest."  And Mayer's not especially honest herself.  On and on, she went about how this man, Bryan Fischer, was just edging up to the line to avoid endorsing Mitt Romney.  There is no line.  He's on a commercial radio network -- is this news to Mayer who wrote an entire article about this for The New Yorker?  He can say whatever he wants.  That's what commercial radio and has been for several decades now.  It's why the same radio network (American Family Radio) that airs Fisher story aired Michael Reagan's political program a few years back.

If we were going to do a story here on Bryan Fischer, we would focus on his well documented verbal attacks on gays and lesbians.  Jane Mayer seems to think if she can throw everything at Fischer, somehow something sticks.  But calling a belief that a president might be out to get you "hate speech," not only doesn't make it hate speech, it actually undercuts the argument against Fisher in the first place because when you're caught lying about someone you're saying is 'bad,' the impression left is, "Well, s/he can't be that bad if people have to lie about her/him."

Terry Gross chose to play straight man throughout as Mayer's crazy ran free.  If that's because Gross is as out of touch, we don't know.  But too many more shows like that one and right-wing critics of NPR will have more than enough ammunition with which to protest.

What a world we might live in if sitcoms just tried to be funny and public affairs programs just tried to be factual.


For more on Mayer's meltdown, see Ruth's "Oh, Jane Mayer, stop embarrassing yourself"" and Stan's "They grow 'em might stupid at The New Yorker."

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