JFK Jr. necrophilia
After resisting the ten-day barrage of bourgeois necrophilia on the occasion of John John's unscheduled dive off Martha's Vineyard, I felt quite proud of myself having somehow evaded and avoided having had anything to say about the latest "tragedy" to befall America's "royalty."
And then today came TV Guide to my mailbox, breathlessly extolling, this struggling publisher, aging boy toy and scion of an alcoholic fortune as "heir to all the hopes and dreams his father inspired." And I felt my resolve to keep silent crumbling.
This remake of JFK's ascension into heaven was striking to me for how starkly it revealed to those of us on the inside of large bourgeois media operations the gap between the news executives and stars, and the big majority of those who labor in the nation's newsrooms, edit rooms, studios and web sites.
Never, not even at the height of the OJ madness or the Lewinsky farce, has such a clear and solid majority of the "regular" writers, editors, tape editors, producers, assignment editors, supervisors and even anchors, correspondents and interns been as starkly conscious of the fact that we are not "professionals" bringing to bear intellect and honesty to inform, enlighten and, yes, entertain, but are simply pieces in a machine that packages mendacious lies to an ever more distrustful public.
JFK Junior's death and the public reaction to it has been compared to that of another media celebrity, Diana. It's an instructive comparison, moreover, what you could hear in the 24-hour-a-day newsrooms that Saturday morning was groans as word filtered down that JFK the sequel was to get the full Diana treatment. Moans and groans because we all knew it was bullshit.
From the "fairy tale" marriage to the bulimia and divorce, Diana and Charles's mutual infidelities, to her identification with "good" causes, especially the anti land mines campaign, the story of Charles and especially Diana touched people. When she died even my then 7-year-old daughter knew about it, was full of questions about everything from land mines to why people divorce (having just been through the break up of her own parent's marriage) and the dangers of speeding.
People identified with her because, despite her wealth and beauty and stature, she was human, her human frailties and weaknesses and even her concern for AIDS patients and land mine victims betrayed a human sensibility, a sense of solidarity. The media had to a large extent created the Diana phenomenon, projected her personality, but did not create the tremendous emotional outpouring upon her death: it may have magnified and channeled it, but at bottom that was genuine, not fabricated. It was, for many people and especially for many women, like a death in the family.
When John John's plane went missing, what the top two or three people at CNN, NBC, and FOX had before them was an opportunity to boost ratings through another "death in the family." I say the top 2 or 3 people because that is who makes the decision to go wall-to-wall with this kind of coverage. And they got immediate validation of the decision from the top-paid anchors and correspondents, the ones who could describe in such rich detail the lay of the land in Martha's Vineyard because, of course, that is where they, too, spent their summer vacations.
Now this was not a cynical decision, not consciously. For the bourgeois media execs and their bourgeoisified stars it WAS a "death in the family," one of their own. To hear the report of where Junior ditched and be able to say, there for the Grace of God go I, you have to be the kind of person that goes to Martha's Vineyard for a weekend getaway on a private plane. Which of course, they are. It reminds those of us on the weekend shift of that phrase of F. Scott Fitzgerald: the very rich are different from you and me.
It is, alas, a thought that does not cross the minds of the TV execs or celebrity reporters, and for a very good reason: the very rich are NOT different from them, at least not in their own minds.
It is the secret of the shameful sameness and vulgar mediocrity of the American bourgeois press today. Its voice is that of the nouveau riche anchors and correspondents. It also accounts for its increasingly republican partisan tilt. The GOP "tax cut" gets reams of coverage and analysis, but not the Clinton plan to use the projected surpluses to pay off the debt and thereby "save social security." Greenspan, the Merlin of the market, was up on the hill for a week preaching, with good, solid, republican, bourgeois arguments, that Clinton is right. Missed that one in the news? Because when you come right down to it, for the Sam Donaldsons whether or not social security gets paid is an insignificant pittance -- a 5% cut in the capital gains rate, that's real money. Greenspan's underlying concern -- that there won't BE any capital gains if "we" try to welch on social security, goes totally over the head of these fat, dumb bourgeois media stars.
Thus it has come as something of a "shock" to the Peter Jennings and Bernie Shaws the volume and vociferousness of complaints from tons of viewers about the coverage of JFK Junior's ascension into heaven, and especially the wretched excess of maudlin sentimentalism. "Why does it take a Gallup Poll to tell you people to give up on Kennedy already," was quoted by one network's public reaction department as the archetypal comment received over the previous days. And indeed, through phone calls, faxes, web site comments, and email, viewer response was overwhelmingly negative, even hostile.
Media "analysts" too stupid to understand elementary arithmetic are at this very moment producing commentaries about how schizophrenic the public is. People tell pollsters they hate the JFK coverage at the same time that CNN's ratings have tripled. It it really so hard to understand the difference between 50% and 1.5%? When CNN's audience triples, that means the number of households tuned to the network goes from 0.5% of cable homes with the TV on to 1.5%.
Then there's a certain something about all the networks telling you, THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT. His Royal Highness, the last of the Camelots, prince John is still dead. Yes, people tune in. They listen. They think about it. And after a while they say, what the F*** is Dan Rather talking about, "the Kennedy curse." If these clowns didn't keep driving off bridges while and crashing into trees and smashing up airplanes they wouldn't be dead, would they?
Much has been said about the demeanor of "the press" during the recent mourning. In truth, by the Lewinsky-Simpson standards, it was restrained, if not downright dignified. Of course, it's one thing to be writing about a Simpson (think unprintable epithet starting with n), or an Arkansas hick and Lewinskly (think unprintable double epithet starting with k and c). It's quite another to be writing about "One of Our Own," a prince, no less.
The obvious question to ask -- what sort of arrogant jackass newbie pilot takes a single-engine plane he's barely flown before at night over water -- was ruthlessly suppressed by the network bigwigs. "No speculation!" they thundered about any real coverage and expert commentary on what actually happened. We were left, instead, with mindless mumbling about the Kennedy curse, Camelot, Jackie O's "brave" fight with cancer, and a ton of phony hokum about what a swell guy John John was really and he took the subway just like everyone else, and he'd have been a real inspiration and example to today's youth if only he'd been a real inspiration and example and so on...
JFK the sequel had a little boomlet a few years ago when he was reputed to be Madonna's latest boy toy and she agreed to pose for the inaugural cover of George. He had, by now, become a has-been, the publisher of a magazine with declining circulation and ad pages.
Apart from proving that ANYONE can pass the bar exam, given enough expensive tutoring, time and retries, he was never associated with anything of the slightest social import or significance. His friends and family -- Christiane Amanpour, Tom Brokaw, Maria Schreiver -- tell us what a kind-hearted, gentle and private soul he was. So the grieving of the very rich I understand, but for the rest of us, there was nothing for us to grieve about, there was no there there.
The venality and sheer unprofessionalism of the bourgeois media --even by bourgeois standards--becomes more evident with every passing crisis, scandal and "event." The whole "whitewater" "scandal" was as phony as a three-dollar bill and could not stand up to even the most cursory examination. Lewinsky was even worse. The horror! That a middle-aged man would actually accept the sexual favors of a young coquette who threw herself at him! Quick -- bring me my smelling salts -- I'm going to faint from shock!
Is it any wonder the one institution people in the U.S. trust less than the government is -- you guessed it -- the press?
The celebrity millionaire press corps to this day doesn't get it -- Clinton's ratings went sky high not DESPITE the Lewinsky scandal, but BECAUSE of it. How could people "forgive" Clinton for lying, they ask. They still don't suspect that the reason working people "forgive" him is because we can't forgive the prosecutors, the press and the politicians having asked about it in the first place. And I say working people because the exit poll matrixes from the Congressional elections show it was a decidedly class-differentiated phenomenon. Something else they forgot to report.
There is, I think, a real opportunity in this country, a real opening, to offer people an alternative journalism, but I don't see any individual or group with the resources to do it willing to undertake the task.