Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vapidly ever after...

People love a fairytale. I don't have to elaborate on why -- we all know it's got to do with our fantasies being a lot more fun and pleasant than reality in a lot of cases.
But the problem is, the fairytale is the template for reality.
Take, for instance, the recent royal wedding. The amount of excitement this generated was way beyond anything that the tale of two young people -- much richer and, at least in the girl's case, better looking than anyone deserves to be -- getting married should generate.
The gushing cliches that accompanied it, not only from magazines that you'd expect that kind of thing from, but from TV news, newspapers, and other mainstream news sources, were nausea-inducing.
This all came to mind again this week when I was thumbing through People magazine and came across the incredibly substance-less, trite and downright bizarre when you think about it story of the "fairytale" engagement of Kim Kardashian, famous for simply being famous, and NBA star Kris Humphries.
The whole thing was "a dream come true"!
The 20-plus-carat ring brings this line from People: Kardashian had "long dreamed of the perfect man -- and the perfect ring"!
They had an engagement party that rivaled a state dinner to celebrate Kim's "Cinderella moment" (People's words, not mine). This was chronicled over several pages in the magazine, complete with photos of the proposal being spelled out in rose petals on the living room rug and the "princess themed" cake that cost thousands of dollars.
Now, I know it's People magazine and not The New Yorker. But I'd say People mirrors our attitudes as a society a whole lot more than probably any other popular publication.
And so, there we have it: a very rich young lady who is a "reality show" star with a B-list famous late dad (OJ Simpson lawyer Robert Kardashian) and B-list famous step dad (Olympian Bruce Jenner) and an NBA star.
They've known each other since November so they "took the right amount of time and made sure it was right," according to Kardashian.
He asked her step-father's permission to marry her.
She has "always dreamed of a big wedding" so will "do something really over-the-top."
Now a lot of people may be saying, "Yeah, so? Sounds really romantic to me."
And that's the issue -- we are programmed to think all this is just great. Particularly women.
"Every little girl dreams of being a princess and marrying a handsome prince."
I heard that phrase so many times before, during, and after the royal wedding I was ready to go looking for a prince and princess and stick of TNT.

And Kardashian. Cinderella? Guess again. More like one of the stepsisters -- rich, privileged, and entitled.
He asks her dad for her hand. Why? She's a grown woman.
Oh, but it's so romantic.
And she's dreamed of such a perfect engagement.
How about teaching little girls, and bigger ones for that matter, and maybe even the fellas, that instead of dreaming of weddings, spelling out proposals in rose petals, pretending to be princesses, we dream of a perfect marriage with equal partners who discuss their values, expectations and yes, dreams, before taking the plunge. 
The guy asks the dad for her hand instead of the two adults sitting down and discussing -- seriously -- what kind of life they expect to have with each other.
Every girl dreams of being a princess.
And that's the problem. No one dreams of a perfect marriage. Just the engagement. Just the wedding.
All that hype the royal wedding got never talked about the royal marriage, except maybe to speculate on where they would live. How about girls dreaming of being strong, independent people who know what they want out of life and achieving it on their own merits?
So the Kardashian story is another example of  the fluff and superficiality that we like to base our beliefs on.
Cliches carry so much more weight than looking at something realistically, logically, and pragmatically.
And it carries over to the way we view the world around us.
People running for office mouth cliches that mean nothing, and everyone jumps on board because it is what every little taxpayer dreams of. But no one can really tell you what the substance is behind it. Or how we're REALLY going to run our government or country.
A horrible tragedy happens and everyone grabs a candle and goes to a vigil and says things like "no one deserves this" and vilifies the bad guy without maybe wondering what caused the whole thing to happen in the first place.
We care about the blond-haired, blue-eyed child who died because it's a big fairy tale to grab the candle, be on TV, cry for a child you don't know and be part of the fairytale that we live in a society that is divided into good and bad, princesses and evil stepsisters.
But what about all the other thousands of children in this country who are in equally precarious situations, and what about the circumstances that put them there? What about the things we support as a society that can cause so much damage to thousands of people, children, we don't even know?
Where's their candle? Their vigil?

Here's what we accept as true, good and romantic: A little girl dreams of the perfect wedding ring. The bigger the better.

What does that say about what we expect as a society, both of little girls and of ourselves?

Monday, May 23, 2011

This is how we cover it? Part two.

Well, the world didn't come to an end Saturday, as we all knew it wouldn't.
And while a flabbergasted Harold Camping presumably gets out his calculator and tries to figure out where the missing decimal point is, the media gets a few more days of non-news.
Because, come on, we all knew the world wasn't going to end. Truly "Dog Bites Man" in its silliest form.
The glee at which the media is reporting this non-story -- and yes, sometimes I see the media as one giant, gangling barely focused 13-year-old -- once again shows what's wrong with our all news, all the time 24 hour news cycle.
There are a lot of nuts out there. Thousand of them. Millions, maybe. Even nuttier and with wilderbeliefs than Harold Camping. And they never make the news.
Now some in the media, or maybe most, would say he brought all this on himself with his worldwide publicity effort to let us all know the world would end May 21.
But did we have to listen?
Another group of religious zealots, the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas, is another perfect example of this. They are a group of about a dozen nuts who take inordinate pleasure in ridiculing and taunting people at the most painful time in their lives.
And the media love them.
Several months ago, this group sent the newspaper I was working for at the time a press release saying they were coming to town to picket a high school production of "The Laramie Project," a play that promotes tolerance. The newspaper did a story and sent a reporter to cover the picket.
But Elizabeth Edwards died, and so the picketers didn't show up. Remember, there's only about a dozen of them. They had to go to North Carolina to picket her funeral.
So the newspaper did a story on that.
That night, a story moved on the AP wire out of Fresno, Calif. -- about three thousand miles from the newspaper I was working for -- that they were going to picket there but didn't because of Elizabeth Edwards' death. That would have been the same night as the New Hampshire picket.
So where were they going to be?
The Westboro folks may be sick, intolerant people, but they've figured out one thing -- in this era of instant gratification media, you don't even need to show up. Their repugnant message got media play coast to coast and all they did was fax a couple of (very poorly done) press releases.

Kind of like the way the world didn't end, but Harold Camping probably got a lot of hits on his website anyway.
This is not to say that people like the Westboro Baptist Church, or even Harold Camping, shouldn't be covered at all -- shining a light on them reveals a part of our society people should know about.
But very little journalism goes into any of this coverage. 
You'd think with all the avenues available for information these days -- and those of us who work for newspapers are painfully aware of it -- that journalists would be energized into covering the news in a substantial way.
But it's much easier to cover the dog biting the man.
And, let's face it, the public is no more inclined to fire up its brain. We live in a society where more people can name the contestants on American Idol than the members of the Supreme Court. Or president's cabinet. Or their own U.S. Senators.

Stay tuned for Harold Camping's next press release.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

End of the world? And this is how we cover it?

Well, here we are, our last day on Earth. Kind of feels so...ordinary.
You'd think at least God could have given us some sunshine to usher us all out with. But since we're sinners and he's going to annihilate us all, I guess that's not a realistic hope.
Seriously though, if you're to believe Harold Camping, an 89-year-old nutjob with his own radio network (a bad, but not uncommon, combination), the world is coming to an end at 6 p.m. tonight. At least for those of use who haven't been "redeemed," which, if you believe Camping's narrow definition, is most of us.
But, of course, except for some lost souls who could probably use a hug from their mom and a big dose of reality, no one believes Camping.
And yet, somehow, his prediction, based on a "mathematical" reading of the Bible, is all over the news and has been for days.
So that prompts me to ask: When does something go from being a funny, odd story meant for the back page with all the Lohan stalkings, American Idol updates and three-headed calves, to the news pages -- or the TV and web equivelant of such?
I watched Nightline last night when a serious-as-hell reporter asked Camping, "But if it doesn't happen..."
And Camping, insulted, his giant ears actually wiggling with indignation, shot back: "I don't even entertain that question, because it will."
The reporter didn't press him on it.
Harold Camping says the rapture he's sure is coming tonight was "predicted" maybe even hurried along by, of all things, the gay rights movement and our society's growing tolerance of people who don't fit his straight as a straight-jacket mold (my words, not his).
The reporter didn't press him on that, either.

We all know, the world will end someday. Not in a giant earthquake on a Saturday night in May, but hopefully centuries from now when we're all part of the compost system.
It'll end from natural causes, maybe hurried along by our disrespect for nature and our ecosystem.

Humanity, too, may end someday. Hopefully, again, centuries from now and maybe hurried along by our disrespect and intolerance of our fellow human beings and neglect of those that Jesus himself would have been the first to help.
Harold Camping may disagree with that view.
But then again, who the hell is Harold Camping?
The biggest piece of idiocy in this nutty story is not that some religious zealot is once again using the Bible to support some completely unsupported theory, but that the media has jumped on it as though it's a real story.
And tomorrow, or at 6:01 tonight, we all get to have a chuckle at Harold Camping's expense.
And Harold will probably go back to his calculator and refigure the numbers.
And then in a decade or so, we can do the dance all over again.
And no one is ever going to notice the little erosions in the world around us that are the coming of the real end of our world.
Because, let's face it, they just don't make for good TV.