Monday, April 30, 2012

The Attraction of Distraction

Here’s Lindsay Lohan at this weekend’s White House Correspondent’s dinner:  

I bet she was talking about something really smart.  

The White House Correspondent’s Association was founded when Woodrow Wilson was president.  President Wilson was the first to consider regularly scheduled press conferences, but was unsure of how to select the correspondents who would cover them.  Rumors swirled among journalists who had regularly covered white house press conferences and events that a special Congressional Committee would be organized to arrange for the hand picking of these correspondents.  The WHCA was established by a handful of journalists determined to protect their turf in response to these unfounded rumors, and lay dormant for six or seven years when they learned that no such committee was forthcoming.  No one likes to look like they did something rash and hysterical, especially newsmen.  Rather than disassemble their organization, they began hosting dinners once a year, and within a couple years, began inviting the president as an honored guest.  I think Cal Coolidge was first.  Figures.  He looks like a partier.  

These dinners have always been somewhat vaudevillian in nature...  jokes, homemade movies, choruses of songs with brandy snifters raised high in the air.  In 1944, the White House Correspondent’s Dinner was the one event President Roosevelt allowed himself to attend.  His one indulgence.  He reportedly sang loudly, laughed loudly and ate duck, an unrationed delicacy during wartime. Actors, entertainers, musicians, politicians and members of the press all exchanging good-old-boy buffoonery into the wee hours.  Women weren’t allowed until the 60s, so I imagine those first forty years were pretty raw.  JFK was first to insist that he would not attend the dinner if they didn't "let some dames in the building, and they'd better be lookers!" (I totally made up that quote.)  I like to imagine these dinners through the 70s.  I like to think that invitations were harder to come by than they are today.  I like to imagine what might have been the topics of conversation during the quieter moments of the evening, in between the sing-a-longs and toasts.  Our leaders and those who report on them, as yet unpurchased by corporations, their heads bending close in quiet, off-the-record conversation amid the gentle clinking of silver on china.  

Sometime in the 80s or 90s, things started to unravel.  They started having comedians host the event.  They call them featured performers, but they are mostly there to keep the event fluid, to do the talking.  Maybe the WHCA wanted to provide more structure for the evening, maybe it seemed inappropriate to have the President of the United States linking one arm with a visiting Austrian concert violinist and holding a cigar in the other hand while they sang along with My Gal Sal.  Maybe it had gotten boring and stale, the same old dudes eating the same old fish and drinking the same old 20 year scotch year after year.  In the last 40 years, the White House Correspondent’s dinner has morphed from this:

To this:

I wish I could airbrush out the split screen here, so it looks like Rosario Dawson is laughing at Lindsay Lohan's pathetic attempt to out-cleavage her, while a defiant Lindsay does her best to not look totally high in the presence of the president. 

Sort of looks like the Washington Press is more concerned with who’s currently who than they are with what’s currently what.  What was once a semi-dignified Washington event, creepy sing-a-longs notwithstanding, is now no different than the roast of Donald Trump on Comedy Central.  I’m all for blowing off steam.  I’m also all for bringing out the girls on a Saturday night.  However, I can’t help but think this level of Hollywood red carpet showiness serves as a spotlight on the state of affairs in American politics and media today.  It also drives home the notion that our leaders are not the sharpest tools in the shed, or they would be able to entertain themselves, instead of hiring Jimmy Kimmel to do it.  

The ménage à trois between celebrity, politics and media has gotten so twisted up in the satin sheets of public perception that we can no longer make out which limbs are attached to what body.  It’s just a big sweaty, fleshy mess.  Add to this the decreased productivity and efficacy of our current legislative branch, and I am thinking a ban on Hollywood is the only answer for Washington D.C. If I was Washington D.C.'s mother, I would forbid any contact with Hollywood until I see a significantly improved report card. You are hanging with the wrong crowd, and they are bringing you down. I would tell Hollywood, I'm sorry, I'm sure you're a real nice kid and all, but D.C. can't see you anymore. Now get the fuck off my porch before I call your mother.  

Of course, you can't stop Hollywood and the media from fondling each other in the back of the school bus. Celebrity reigns supreme in the media, because celebrity reigns supreme among the readership.  Gossip trumps fact in the headlines every day.  And we are all too willing, we consumers of questionable reports, to allow ourselves to be distracted by boobs and sex and scandals.  They can’t really think that any of us feels personally affected by secret service agents banging hookers on their day off in Colombia (where prostitution is, incidentally, legal).  To the journalist who broke this amazing story: I hope that journalism degree was cheap, pal, because this is not even a scandal.  The only thing I thought was noteworthy was that the off-duty agent was unwilling to pay the prostitute. It's hardly scandalous, it's just bad form. A scandal is the government of Michigan firing mayors and other elected city officials, then replacing them with hired city managers that the voting public has no say over.  It’s a dictatorship.  Plain and simple.  And a blatant effort to threaten and undermine locally organized labor unions.  These hired “emergency managers” have total authority, including the authority to veto labor union agreements if it means doing what’s best for the people.  They also preside over every municipal service and agency.  And they work for the governor of Michigan, a venture capitalist.  Maybe his heart is in the right place, I don’t know the man, but what he’s doing is unconstitutional at best, and more likely greedy and evil.  Damn it, someone get some hookers up in there!  Because even though some major news installations have run pieces on this terrifying story, the public has yet to respond with even mild fascination.  

So is this one of those whiny blogs by someone who just points at problems and says: "hey look, there's a problem!"? Certainly not. It has not been and shall never be. I am always looking for a creative solution. Maybe I could hire a clever graphic designer to airbrush my funny pictures of cleavage wars at Washington D.C. functions, and while he's at it, toss together a compilation of Governor Rick Snyder with a gaggle of college aged boys in RuPaul's hot tub. (If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.)  

I don't believe that our generation is so deeply immersed in a coma of distraction that we are incapable of resuscitation, but I do think that our best shot is the next. The up and coming generation is savvy. The great news about them is that they've been exposed to all this shit from birth, so it doesn't even hold their interest. Since I had my first kid almost twelve years ago, the filter has completely come out of the plumbing of media exposure. Nothing's shocking. We can use celebrity and media antics to our advantage, by pointing out that you don't even really have to be special or talented to be famous, so there's no reason to be all that interested in who's on the cover of a magazine. Your own life is much more interesting. Music without video is interesting. Books without illustrations are interesting. Your mind is interesting. The Kardashians are not interesting. Not even when they're sitting at a table in the Washington D.C. Hilton at the White House Correspondent's Dinner.

I've heard more people than not lamenting that all of televisionland is turning into a reality show freak fest. I say good! Reality tv is boring as hell. No one watches for long. When we do, it's only so we can feel superior to the dumbasses who signed up to let a network script their lives and now they have to put on fake eyelashes every morning because who wants to be seen folding the laundry without big, fake eyelashes on? These shows can't hold the attention of your kids! They go outside and ride their bikes or go downstairs and pretend they're a pop star for a while. We've got them exactly where we want them: completely jaded by the age of ten and unaffected by nudity or profanity or violence.  By exposing them to the boring, mundane, entirely ordinary world of today's entertainment, we can work this so that celebrity holds no allure for them. Maybe then, what will be interesting, what will shock them, is everything that happens outside of it... as far away as Michigan.

They are ready to be introduced to the real world, and they are going to want to change it.



    "The ménage à trois between celebrity, politics and media has gotten so twisted up in the satin sheets of public perception that we can no longer make out which limbs are attached to what body."


  2. You are living in my head. I'm sure of it. But you are WAY better at expressing these same thoughts than I am. Thank you!