I’ve been sicker than a dog and stuck indoors. This has led me to consume far too much media. Forgive me but I must vent.
The kerfluffle du jour involves people claiming to be “shocked shocked” that a news anchor lied. (This “urgent matter” is everywhere. Apparently the murder of a couple thousand innocents and debt larger than ever amassed in the history of man is irrelevant compared to a flake in a suit talking out of his ass on Letterman?)
I call bullshit.
First of all of course the media’s favored pet lied. Secondly lying is for little whiny pussies.
In the interest of backstory (in case a reader lives in a cave in Mongolia) I’ll start with the story of Brian Williams. He was an “embedded reporter” who showed up half an hour after a helicopter got shot down. (Thankfully, with no injuries.) Over time it evolved into “his” helicopter got shot down and everyone in his profession decided he was super extra heroic for this experience. It brought him gravitas and career advancement but it was unearned. What have we learned about unearned self esteem in the last few decades? That’s right folks, it’s toxic. In due time (in this case a dozen years or so) the truth came out. He got outed as a lying jackass. In the course of a few weeks a popular fellow has become such a pariah that folks wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire.
First of all, lets dismiss with the “shocked” nomenclature. It’s schadenfreude and it’s delicious but nobody is surprised. You’d have to be a kool-aid freebasing wingnut to think otherwise. He’s in a profession that lies, that serves a product that is lies, that constructs, initiates, designs, publishes, and sells lies. A system that pats itself on the back with the smug belief that it has pulled one over on the clueless rubes in flyover country; all the while sinking into bankruptcy and irrelevancy. Anyone who thinks network news is trustworthy needs to go back to their Pokemon cards and let the adults talk.
The rest of us have already accepted that the media is an inbred den of hucksterific nimrods; the kind of narcissistic twits that beamed with joy at a “gentleman’s C” in journalism while the rest of were either trying to beat our heads against second order derivatives or making a living on the oil derricks. (OK maybe I just hate communication majors, we’ve all got our biases.)
We’ve felt the media’s lies poured on our faces for decades. That’s why we enjoy watching them burn. To us, virtually anything said by anyone in any media is, has been, and will continue to be false and self servingly so, unless and until we can find solid independent verification. Note that I didn’t say their stories “may be” bullshit but “are likely” to be bullshit. As in, more often than not. As in I’m surprised their lungs don’t implode from spewing such sustained inaccuracy. By now anyone who’s get their head screwed on right wouldn’t trust the media even if they said the sky is blue. They’d go outside and check for themselves. (Which, come to think of it, is a fine way to live.) It would be better for us all if we quit pretending there was such a thing as trustworthy media.
But that’s not what interests me. What fascinates me is how the tragedy unfolded perfectly. It happened with clockwork precision, on time, in order, and as it should. Williams is a perfect little one many tragedy.
Anyone who’s read tragedy knows exactly what happens and in exactly what order. Read Greek tragedy or Shakespearean tragedy or whatever other such story strikes your fancy. It’ll be Brian Williams; spot on. Tragedy is not about Oedipus’ hot mom or Hamlet’s issues with royal succession. It’s the intersection of what’s right and wrong and how the mighty fall. Those ancient themes matter because we’re all human and we all face the same decisions. It’s tempting to do wrong and wind up with your head in your ass. Tragedy reminds us not to go there. Today’s loser is a suit wearing tool from television. Tomorrow’s loser might be a race huckster, a politician, a preacher, a thief, or that bitch in the HOA down the block. It’s the same story. They fall prey to temptation, indulge in hubris, fail to behave in an appropriate manner, and the miserable ending chapter, the denouement, is appropriately unpleasant.
In this case, as in the case of all good tragedies, it’s William’s own failures that brought about his downfall. That’s what makes it so special. Williams brought this on himself and we, had we seen the story printed in a novel, would have spent the ensuing chapters screaming at him; “don’t do it dumbass”.
Once the ball got rolling he still could have stopped it. He didn’t. What a chickenshit. We all aim higher. Most of us make it. Life ‘aint easy but sometimes the right path is crystal clear and we’ve generally got the balls to take it.
Suppose Williams stepped off the plane after his fateful trip and said “No, no, it wasn’t I that was on that helicopter. Heavens no. I had a delightfully uneventful trip and am glad of it”. So what? Nobody gets fired for not getting shot down. Maybe he’d have had a slightly less stratospheric career arc. Maybe not. Regardless, when he failed to tell the true and correct story he fucked himself. That’s not a new thing. It’s the oldest of man’s moral conundrums.
For a dozen years he let it fester, let it grow. He could have ended it at any time. On Letterman (years ago) he could have made the right call: “Gee Dave, I took credit for being on that helicopter but that was a dick move and I shouldn’t have done it. Things really didn’t go down that way. Also I cheated on a history test in college, accidentally killed my wife’s geranium, and dented a rental car in Albuquerque but blamed it on the parking attendant.” So what if he had? There’d have been a bit of a scene. Letterman might have given him some shit. Maybe he’d listen to a few zingers comparing him to Dan Rather of a decade before. But hey, you gotta’ take your lumps and then he’d be right with the universe.
He didn’t. Time passed. Each year makes it harder to retreat. At each retelling the story becomes more heroic. I for one think that’s the true heart of tragedy. A lie, whether large or small does not fade, it remains. Who knows what it feels like to have that on one’s shoulders? Does one simply feel hollow and dull? Does one lose sleep at night? Is a big salary worth it? Do they eventually believe their own bullshit?
I wouldn’t know. For the most part I’ve been pretty honest. So honest, in fact, that it pisses people off. I can live with that. It’s not particularly hard either. The minute something goes down, that single fucking instant, you come clean. “Hell yeah officer, I had the pedal down, gimme’ a ticket and I’ll pay the bitch.” “You’re right fellas, I went fishing and caught jack shit so I’m not awesome like all you guys. I’ll try again next week.” “I went hunting and got a freezer full of doe but nothing worthy of taxidermy and I’m happy with that. Suck it bubba.” Or my all time favorite; “I tore this damn tractor engine down three times and the son of a bitch still won’t start. Also I hired some drunk who set it on fire. I should have my tools seized and stay away from anything that has a piston.” Humility is a good thing and the truth really does set you free.
It’s the opposite of tragedy. It’s honesty. Fate might some day chew my ass into dust but it won’t be because I lied. Unlike the bobbleheaded media, I’m not dumb enough to think I’m beyond the truth.