Turn On, Tune Out And Pass The Popcorn


By Christine Bellini

Brace yourselves folks as we enter even more dubious times than we first imagined.

A brief whirl around the broadcast dial and you will draw some dire conclusions about the mental aptitude and intellectual curiosity of your fellow countrymen and women as we willingly consume the daily dribble that makes up the lion’s share of the 24-hour cable broadcast.

It’s a bit like “Talking Heads Gone Wild — Meets Jersey Shore.” In this free-range, free-wheeling Mobile Media Age, the nation’s narrative has been reduced to 140 character re-tweets and vagrant You Tube postings gone viral, which can horrifically spark an ever-ready Muslim unrest a continent-and-a-half away at the click a post.

At risk of sounding as snarky and impertinent as the misguided of which I speak, I rail against the mind-numbing blather that chokes the airways in my feeble search for inspiration and clarity. Maybe Marshall McLuhan was more prophetic than first suggested when he cautioned, “The medium is the message” to his bright-eyed communication majors in 1964.

Yet here we are at the ready, with our list of dwindling exceptions that we rush to applaud in cocktail hour banter, i.e.: Charlie Rose, Meet The Press, The Daily Show – Oops! Excuse the confusion over what’s news and what’s comedy — as we careen head-on into the 2012 presidential debate season. Too bad it feels more like a mash-up on Glee than a vetting of the minds between viable contenders for leadership of a country that apparently takes itself more and more arrogantly for granted.

Is it morally questionable that at its very core television entertains? Everybody did love ‘Raymond.’ Yet, that is not to say that at critical times television has not stepped up to the plate and delivered on the critical goods. It has. Since 1960 we have witnessed man’s first steps on the moon, shared our national grief, racial unrest and economic fears, cheered athletic prowess and soaring political rhetoric, and have been brought to our knees in disbelief as real-time tragedy unfolds before our eyes in high-definition clarity. We have mourned. This is the power of a medium that has many faces.

The television visionaries that brought us groundbreaking programming in news (William S. Paley) and entertainment (Norman Lear) must surely reel (Paley from his eternal rest) in sheer disbelief to see how far afield we have strayed from the promise. Gratefully we seem to be stepping back from the cliff’s edge as reality TV loosens its dumbing grip. If it weren’t for some bright lights shining from PBS, Showtime and HBO the broadcasting frontier would truly say more about our impending self-absorption and demise than our political division and soaring national debt.

They say television reflects the times. They also say we get the president we deserve. At critical junctures these two revelations collide and shed a hallowed light into our national identity. Turn on your television sets and ready the popcorn folks, for we’re about to learn more about ourselves than we might want to know.

Let the 2012 debates begin.