Friday, September 4, 2009

How Do You Figure Out the Tip When Paying the Bill of Rights?

When we have the will and the inclination, we have the tools and technology to expand our world beyond our wildest imaginations. There is also the danger, because we are humans with free will, to use those same tools to restrict and constrict the world as we see it or as we'd like it to be seen. The one-eyed monster found in living rooms from coast to coast and from McMansions through crack houses to mental wards can be a fulcrum from which we can move the world. Or it can be a cudgel to bludgeon those with whom we disagree into submission.

There's no right answers on our fascination with and addiction to mainstream media just as there are no wrong answers as to which newspapers we read or what radio and television stations we watch for news and information. When the Founding Fathers, assisted by others, created the Bill of Rights (and this is a marvelous site), they could have not foreseen the world in which we now live. For them, freedom of speech, and within that, 'the press', was a matter of newspapers and broadsides (one sheet exhortations and excoriations on behalf of and in opposition to issues of Colonial America). The electric fire of 2009 could not be imagined or controlled-as it turns out, neither could its impact.

Now, when you touch that dial, you often have to do 'rock, paper, scissors' on where you turn and tune for news. Truisms are often truths, and perceptions of reality are frequently reality. Many people believe certain broadcast operators and cable providers are right or left of center (and those are some of the kinder names they're called) and cite numerous examples to support their positions. Meanwhile, the sum total of Americans who get their information on a world beyond their threshold from television (of any kind) continues to decline and the folks who manage the contents inside the video boxes insist they have no idea why.

Into all of this, comes this story (and be cognizant of the messenger, but don't let that overwhelm the message). I was part of a generation who grew up watching Frank Reynolds, Huntley and Brinkley and Walter Cronkite. There was nothing sexy, or happy talkish, or slick about any of them. Television news was 'radio with pictures' and most of the pictures were of middle aged white guys at a desk reading stories to us. Sort of 'Book at Bedtime' without either. Some of the 'evening news' programs were (only) fifteen minutes long-now we have how many channels offering 24/7? And how much of that 'news' is noise?

TV news probably now does more persuasion and less informing because advocacy draws better ratings than reporting. Broadcasters and cable operators alike pander to audience 'segments' as long as those segments buy the products those broadcasts are sponsored by, from the advertisers who bought time because the broadcast's demographics could deliver certain groups in large numbers.....and round goes the gossip.

It's easy to 'hose the area' as electronic news gatherers call it when covering stories like health care town hall meetings, HIV prevention rallies, TEA parties, what-have-you. And much of the time, proving we've come full circle, we're no longer actually watching events at all, but rather (now far more than) middle-aged white guys and all kinds of other people who are talking about events. Sort of like singing about football and each of us decides who sings the goodest. Keef O or Glenn B or a player to be named later. Do you suppose Franklin, Jefferson and Washington saw eye to eye on every aspect of what proved to be the American Revolution? Or perhaps they came to an agreement on the portions they shared and agreed to disagree, 'later', about the rest. Maybe we could try that again.

You must get as tired reading it as I get tired typing it: the issues we face can't be captured in a seventy-second story with a ten second stand-up location lock-out (TV speak for "in Bug Tussle, Oklahoma, I'm Edward R. Murrow."). They require our fullest attention, no matter our political beliefs (as a matter of fact, precisely because of our political beliefs). Not just Democrats or liberals require health care and not just Republicans or conservatives are taxed too much. And people who feel that way or who feel differently don't come from another dimension or drink their bath water (or any of the other insults we manufacture when we disagree with each other).

The farther out in space you travel the more we all look alike down here. How about we agree to put the remotes down and nobody gets hurt? Step away from the cable box and keep the satellite dish where we can see it.
-bill kenny

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