Saturday, November 29, 2008

TMZ Really Stands for The Moronic Zone! (Warning: Rant Alert)

I watched TMZ the other night. I had never seen it, except when passing quickly changing channels. For some strange reason I stopped and watched. And I was mesmerized; the way people slow down on highways to gawk at accidents or gather on street corners to watch jumpers off high-rises. Here’s what I saw:

  • A war room.
  • A big-board with lots of writing, not unlike an ER whiteboard that tracks critical-care patients.
  • A gaggle of twenty-something “reporters” reporting to their boss (Harvey Levin, who I actually like) the fruits of their labors.
  • Harvey Levin: wet-marker in on hand, double-gulp soda in the other, looking pained like he hadn’t slept in days and hunched over like his lumbar back was out of joint.
Then it hit me. This passes for news. This is the new “news.” This is what trickles down (or up) to the AP, Reuters, major newspapers, Knight Ridder, evening news broadcasts, etc. Celebritycult crap, and I was watching it: unable to click out, unable to blink, unable to control my own nervous system to command my thumb to push a little button on the remote. For a moment I was lost to the world of thinking beings. I was truly lost in The Moronic Zone.

Okay, this little dramatic diddy is as fluffy as the content on TMZ. But, the point is, the power of this new platform is awe-inspiring. TMZ came out of nowhere a few years ago as a collaboration between AOL and Telepictures Productions. This big corporate sponsorship sets it apart from other gossip shows, putting TMZ in a whole other category of—whatever the hell it’s called. For me, this TMZ-thing is now the archetype for celebrity cultism. And it is slowly displacing real news and contributing to the demise of the thinking press.

Oh—but surely you exaggerate! No, sorry. I don’t. Consider this wonderful blog from one of my heroes, Roger Ebert. He wrote this in his “Roger Ebert’s Journal” column on the Chicago Sun Times site, November 26, 2008. I quote:

“The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and ‘thinkers.’”

Chicago Sun Times, "Roger Ebert's Journal"
By Roger Ebert on November 26, 2008 9:20 AM

And, as newspapers dumb-down news to cater to the public’s need to be TMZ’d, Ebert recounts some recent casualties of thinking-entertainment-journalists who have been canned to make space for vapidity:

“Earlier this year the Voice fired Dennis Lim and Nathan Lee, and recently fired all the local movie critics in its national chain, to be replaced, Variety's Anne Thompson reported, by syndicating their critics on the two coasts, the Voice's J. Hoberman and the L.A. Weekly's Scott Foundas. Serious writers, yes, but ... Meanwhile, the Detroit Free-Press has decided it needs no film critic at all. Michael Wilmington is gone from the Chicago Tribune, Jack Mathews and Jami Bernard from the New York Daily News, Kevin Thomas from the Los Angeles Times--and the internationally-respected film critic of the Chicago Reader, Jonathan Rosenbaum, has retired, accepted a buy-out, will write for his blog, or something. I still see him at all the screenings. My shining hero remains Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic, as incisive and penetrating as ever at 92. I don't give him points for his age, which anyone can attain simply by living long enough, but for his criticism. Study any review and try to find a wrong or unnecessary word. There is your man for an intelligent 500-word review.”

Chicago Sun Times, "Roger Ebert's Journal"
By Roger Ebert on November 26, 2008 9:20 AM

News has always had its fluff component. But when critics and intelligent commentators are cut loose to make room for tabloid titillation, then something, somewhere is very broken. And that something is US. If we didn't watch it, view it, consume it--IT would not be there. As Ebert points out, the critics are the canaries in the coal mine. When they start dropping, we all need to start running for open air. When a thinking-press starts getting cutback and essentially emasculated so the media owners can pander to popular tastes, then the falling canaries can not be far behind. But, shouldn't the print media reflect the tastes and trends of its readers? That's not pandering, that's just good business. Yes, but there should also be a pandering free zone--and those are the film, theater, and other social critics who's job it is to challenge us to think by taking us places we don't want to go. Criticism involves thoughtful inquiry, evaluation, and the art of valuing judgment (vs. being judgmental). When we lose those who thoughtfully inquire and artfully evaluate in our interests, then we are left with the likes of TMZ and cannibalistic paparazzi. There is no art there; only blunt force trauma, opportunism, and the frenzy of pack animals stripping some poor celebrity carcass bare.

May God, Allah, The Goddess, The Great Pumpkin, Whoever Is In Charge bless Roger Ebert. He may no longer be able to speak, but his voice is clearer than ever.

Recently one media source stated they would be covering the First Family as if they were a Hollywood family. Why this distinction? Being the leader of the “free world” isn’t high profile enough? The point really is: who cares where his kids are going to school? Who cares what his wife is wearing. Do we really have to see all the pictures of the President-Elect's fashion sense from fifth-grade through high school graduation (currently on Huffington Post's Entertainment page)? The answer is no, if you got stumped on that one. And do we really need to see Barack's punim in every open piece of white space in every newspaper or web page? I for one know what the man looks like. So, save the white space and let him do his job saving the world from itself.

While we’re at it, here are some other things we really don't have a need to know:
  • Whether Maddona and A-Rod had Thanksgiving together.
  • Whether Brittany Spears is feeling old.
  • What happened to Karolina’s belly button.
  • The battle of the “sexiest men alive” over who should or shouldn’t be such.
  • Whether Heidi and Spencer eloped to Mexico
By the way, these were all prominent "stories" on the Huffington Post Entertainment webpage recently (which I read regularly because I love HuffPo, even though it panders to this celebrity crap like every other "newspaper"). Any stories about the impending actor's strike? No. Any entertainment new analysis on the impact of the economic meltdown on the movie industry and television. No. But, Madonna and A-Rod got primo page placement. Need I say more. Thank the Diety--no.

There is a place for fluff and there is a place for celebrity. But it has morphed into something dangerous and deadly. Only we can stop this madness and it starts with our dollars and our consuming habits. Don’t feed this monster with your hard-earned cash.

That’s my advice for you. As for me—I need a shower.

1 comment:

Jason said...

I have noticed that almost everything on TV is much more dumb than before. There are of course the few exceptions like CSI, and of course CNBC where it is still semi smart. I think CNBC is the only smart news out there but the only focus on business. Maybe it is because they know people need to be smart to make money in the markets.

I really wish they could make a news show that is for us thinkers out there. Even in the written media I see the same trend, only the business magazines seem to still have deep and thoughtful articles.