Yes ladies and gentlemen once again I have spent my week in such other endeavors, primarily painting this week, and preparing to go on a performing tour for the next three day and thus have prepared no current comedy.
The funniest thing I saw was that the whole week we were awash in photos of protesters in Iran but on Thursday when a nationwide coalition of peace and social justice groups around the country (for example, Code Pink, Indict Bush, and Nevada Desert Experience) organized up a nationwide day of protest against torture and attempted to filed motions against Bush enabler/federal court judge Jay Bybee, there was hardly even mention on anyone’s evening news. Let’s face it, the justice we have to buy is the only stuff they’re selling, whether it’s our flavor or not.
Here’s the similar scene 14 years ago.
Novgen June '95:
Summer Series Part One: Who Controls, Who Controls, Who Controls?
Media, Media, Media!
Perhaps Pat McDonald said it most eloquently on that tape loop in the middle of the song, "It's Just Another Movie" on he and his wife's 1986 debut album, Greetings From Timbuk3. Perhaps that's the reason I've chosen to steal these nine words for this title of part one of my annual summer series about how IT works. If you've read this column over the years you know that every summer I try to invest some of the additional energy our sun and the very planet we live on give me to try and solve some of the imponderable questions of existence.
We know from having had to take science courses that there are various laws concerning function in the physical plain: thermodynamic, chemical, biological, and mass/energy transitions. And we know, when we think about it, that human life is fundamentally governed by these same principles. This month I will focus on the thermodynamics of media and how that creates life in the summer of America's 1995. You've got to start somewhere.
Summer's here and the time is right for dancing in the streets? That's thermodynamics in action: the additional heat in the atmosphere heating things up. If you hadn't noticed this, perhaps you have noticed all the fathers and sons out in their yards trying in vain to subdue the green world's response to a little additional heat. Thermodynamics acts on biology in all species. In the realm of human interactivity, the extra heat typically increases the number of murders, riots, romances and BBQs. You've got to burn off that energy somehow.
The thermodynamics of media are equally simple. In media a story is either hot or cold. Hot stories receive more airplay on the assumption that more people will be interested in them, to a point of lack of interest in other issues. Hot stories will suck the interest right out of other news bits, thus rendering them cold stories. Hot stories most often involve blood, sex and celebrities. Cold stories deal with things like graft, complicated minutia, and depressing statistics. Hot stories take the lead position in half hour news bursts and often get rolling before the opening credits. Cold stories get bumped in favor of an extra thirty second shot of the cheerleaders on the sidelines at a football game.
What was the most important news this last month? Republicans would have you believe that their new fiscal program which promises a "balanced" budget AND cut taxes is the biggest news; but I've never much been in favor of slathering attention on hoaxes. Personally, I vote for a tie between the reopening of Whitewater investigations coupled with Ron Brown turning out to be a millionaire slumlord on the one hand and the proposed trade war with Japan on the other. But if you've been surfing in the media (a typical summer-type activity) you know that none of these items have reached that certain sensory saturation point where news seems to sizzle.
This last month the media got its hottest story by basically burning off of the energy in the wake of that hot flash in Oklahoma and mostly it shone the light on itself. As always, media's version of the hottest of the hot is when the news is about itself. And so May news was a scorcher, flaming with more incendiary rhetoric than that formally thought of as hottest of the hot California-cool news bit involving some trial which combined all the big three: blood, sex and celebrities.
Radio Talkshows: The voice of freedom or a cauldron of rebellion? Honestly, a little of both and a whole lot of advertising, but suddenly everybody's hot under the collar about the tensions between left and right in America and who has rights to the airwaves. Well, nobody. You have to buy them. But man the heat! Liberals and conservatives all had fiery words to spew forth concerning just who's to blame for the fact that Timothy McVeigh could find a parking space in downtown Oklahoma City. Well, the form of the function of life, of course, clearly shows that we are all to blame.
A system functions based on the actions of all its parts. Societies operate on friction. Here in America we have 250,000,000 parts in the system we call society and with that many potential responses to contemporary strife it is no wonder something this cruel could happen. America has always been a nation of the disgruntled. You know, colonists didn't stage a revolution as a vote of confidence in the status quo; the West wasn't won by a bunch of satisfied Easterners. People get mad and they act and their action changes the dynamic, often stupidly. We were founded on that principle: action in reaction to dissatisfaction, the will to correct the problem even if that correction is a problem in itself.
Yes, hate radio had its part. But so did the people, like me, who prefer to listen to tapes because they really don't like all that jabbering between songs and so, falsely seal themselves off from the current of society and yet still must live there. Yes, our government is partially to blame for being the kind of government that has so often functioned so ugly that people like Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy could make an extravagant living railing invective against it and people like McVeigh would feel justified in waging fertilizer against it.
We're all somewhat to blame for this breakdown in the system for we are the system. Yes, those certain members of law enforcement who do get off acting like "Jack-booted thugs" had theirs. And so did the politicians who sought to ride into office on the coattails of the ever popular "law and order" issue, constantly promising to increase the quantity of our policing forces without paying much attention to the quality. And so were the numerous good cops who allow their more vicious brethren to spoil their good name. And so were the hardened criminals who heighten the arms race against law enforcement and help instill the siege mentality. And so were the little law breakers, the “you” and the me, who speed or drink or pitch trash on the sidewalk and just generally add to the frustration of an already frustrated system. Yes the religious right and the religious wrong were involved. And so were the effete liberals who'd rather talk about someone else moderating their injustices than anything else. And so were the lame and the lazy and the halt and the sick: the prey as well as the predator.
But mostly the fault and/or glory belong with the people who keep all those other kooks in touch with each other: media. Media is after all how American society communicates with itself. Even me. Most of the things I write about are things that frustrate me and if I write about them rightly they end up frustrating you too. Why do I do this? Friction. Friction's heat. Heat is life.
The story has it McVeigh was upset about the deaths of a 100 or so Branch Davidians and their children in Waco, and so, to show his resentment he's willing to murder 200 or so federal employees and their children in Oklahoma. That should teach 'em, huh? Well, it did. It reminded us of the law of thermodynamics: the hotter a situation the more unstable its components and the greater potential damage caused by the release of all that energy. Which, luckily, in most cases, brings to mind a second law in thermodynamics; when something gets too hot you can stave off disaster by cooling it down. The biggest problem with the biggest news event of May is that the incendiary situation in Oklahoma has been such big news, that instead of letting the flames die down media whether, for or against, continues adding fuel to the fire. With all those already hotheads and the summer sun coming down, this season could be a real scorcher, so watch out, keep cool.
And that's what makes the thermodynamics of this news so weird. Most any American I've ever talked to who was functioning anywhere within the system really preferred to be considered "cool."
-mikel weisser writes from the left coast of AZ, but is currently preparing to travel-