Sunday, January 09, 2005

A kind of soft bulletin

Creative Visualization – I may need some of that. If the flagrant immorality of the Iraq War weren’t enough to turn my hair gray, now we have 24/7 tsunami coverage, and the Mithridatic doses of agony I usually sip from others’ tragedies have passed the poison threshold, thanks to the new TV screens at the Prospect Park YMCA. There I am on the, what do you call it, “Elliptical” during a CNN broadcast of some little boy who held his sisters on his lap while they called “Mama” and drowned – and suddenly I’m like doubling over. Maybe I shouldn’t be watching this stuff? And yet there’s some “If I don’t watch it, who will?” existential despair about it all. A witnessing that may or may not be pointless.

Yesterday evening I accompanied my husband to his firm’s annual winter ball. We made small talk with a woman from Litigation and her date, perhaps the only African-American man in the room, whose savoir-faire struck me. Then the inevitable “What do you do?” revealed that he hosts a cable TV show. “We don’t have cable,” I said at one point, politely exculpating myself for not recognizing him. But my husband did, and said excitedly, “I just saw your show over Christmas, and you took a caller who complained that your guests are too conservative.” (Yes, he remembered that caller.) “Since the election, I feel the media are embracing conservatives—is this true? Is the media afraid of the Republicans?”

Of course not, the man explained: there were equal numbers of liberals and conservatives on the show, and the network employed a cadre of people just to keep statistical track of how many liberals, conservatives, blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. participated, so they could be balanced.

Steve pressed his question though, and the man did admit that since the Republicans did win a second term, they felt emboldened to argue their agendas more aggressively.... I grew more and more disengaged, staring off into the cavernous room with its massive pillars and chandeliers. His expressions, both facial and verbal, were of such a blandness that if this were a movie, his manner would scream *technocratic treachery*.

The conversation didn’t go anywhere, of course, because nobody was seriously going to challenge him. He was an insider; we were all elites, drinking champagne at a company event. Last September at my in-laws, I briefly saw another show on his network wherein a young author was giving a talk on why humanities departments were superfluous at public universities and should be abolished. I didn’t linger there, bearing witness to this atrocity, because it was going to give me a stroke. And I knew not wasting my money on cable TV was the right and good thing, and the money I saved by doing this would go toward books and the time I saved would go toward reading them, and this I would wish for everyone, categorical-imperative-like. But what cut through my moroseness last night was this: as this man and his date detached from the clique, walking away, he called back his parting shot: “And you really should get cable. It’s worth it.” This animated my drinking for the duration of the ball.

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