Entertainers

On his blog today, Dilbert creator Scott Adams wonders why people get so bent out of shape about the likes of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.

During the peak ratings years of The Jerry Springer Show — an alleged reality show — a fight would break out among the guests during almost every episode. It seemed obvious to me that these fights were orchestrated by the producers. What are the odds that a fight would break out during every episode and yet no one would ever get hurt or arrested?

The surprising thing is that everyone I talked to about the show during its glory years believed the fighting was genuine and spontaneous. I found that level of gullibility to be mind boggling.

All of this gets me to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Both of them have been in the news a lot for their outspoken and controversial views. And once again, people don’t seem to understand that their jobs are entertainment, nothing more.

Talk show hosts have no legal or ethical obligation to do anything but entertain. And judging by their successes, Limbaugh and Beck are brilliant at their jobs. I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.

I agree in principle with Adams: I highly doubt that these guys actually believe the shit they say, they’re doing it for ratings. The reason I get so frustrated with them is because they’re perceived as news men. Beck is actually employed by a (sort of) news organization: Fox News.

When stupid people watched Jerry Springer they might have thought the fighting was real, but it was limited to a one-hour show that was clearly nothing but cheap entertainment. When Limbaugh or Beck spray their views into the entertainmentsphere (as Adams puts it) with the intention of generating outrage and pandering to the lowest common denominator, some people might see through it and register it as showmanship. But many, especially because of the context in which entertainers like this operate (news radio, cable news) will treat it as fact.

Because my perception of Beck and Limbaugh is that they’re faking it, I don’t think they’re bad people. They probably think they’re no more dishonest than any other actor playing a part for money. I’m also long past the point of expecting much from the general TV or radio audience.

“No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” –H.L. Mencken

My real contempt is for the media companies who try to dress this tripe up as news, and still have the nerve to tout themselves as pillars of journalism. “24 hour cable news” is an oxymoron. They’re never-ending entertainment and “entertainment news” shows (check out Alisa Miller’s excellent talk at TED last year about the American-centricness and entertainment focus of American news) which register on the seriousness scale somewhere between eTalk Now and USA Today.

If you watch the Daily Show (I’d include a clip here but the cross-border copyright issues with Comedy Central vs. the Comedy Network are beyond retarded) then you’ve probably noticed that in recent months Jon Stewart has unleashed a lot of venom at the news networks. He attacks Fox for their ridiculous slant and CNN for their glaring incompetence. He took Jim Cramer to task for being to finance what Ann Coulter is to political commentary, and doesn’t spare the whip for MSNBC when they actually do something noticeable. Crossfire — which seems oddly quaint now — irked him enough that he effectively embarrassed CNN into killing it. Here’s hoping he can manage a few more shows while he’s at it.

Interesting that an entertainer fronting an admittedly, proudly fake news show would be the one to most effectively skewer the bumblings and lies of the so-called “real” news shows.

0 responses to “Entertainers

  1. There’s no question Beck is playing a role–watching him apply Vick’s to his eyes to cry on cue is all you need to see to determine that.

    As you point out, the reason the left gets up in arms over Limbaugh, Beck and O’Reilly isn’t so much for their ridiculous views, but for the fact that a very large, very vocal part of the extreme right not only takes them at their word, but believes that they are leaders and the true voice of the Republican party (see Birthers, Teabaggers, etc).

    The part that really sucks is that most of the people that Fox manages to whip into a frenzy with Beck’s fearmongering, are the people that are most likely to be helped most by the policies the Democrats want to push through.

    The problem with Stewart’s attacks recently is that he’s preaching to the choir. They’ll have no effect, because he’s not talking to anybody whose mind he can change.

  2. But that’s the problem with any commentator. They’re always preaching to the choir because a voluntary audience, by definition, is the choir. It’s not like Jon Stewart’s going to change the minds of anyone watching Fox News. But maybe he encourages reasonable people to expect and demand more from CNN or MSNBC. He may even indirectly provoke this change: as news networks realize they’ve completely lost males between 18 and 34 to Comedy Central, they’ll surely have to do something to respond…the question is whether they’ll actually try to produce the news, or whether they’ll wriggle themselves even more firmly into their miasma of irrelevance. 24-hour Jon and Kate channel, anybody?

    He and Colbert need to play more away games. Stewart didn’t kill Crossfire from his own chair, he killed it by going on Crossfire and dynamiting it from the inside. There’s a reason why he hasn’t been invited to any more shows since then.

  3. Yeah, the problem is that you’ve really only got one shot, so you’ve got to make it a good one.

    Colbert has been on O’Reilly’s program, but wasted the opportunity. Though I’m not sure that the Colbert character could do what Steward did–hell, there’s a non-trivial amount of Fox News viewers that don’t even get that Colbert is poking fun at them.

    Dawkins’ recently had plenty of opportunities to bury O’Reilly, and wouldn’t pull the trigger.

    “Really Bill, religion in the classroom? How about Hindu cosmology, should we teach that in science class? How about Scientology? Thor?”

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