Posted on | December 17, 2012 | 33 Comments
Just wrote a long e-mail to a friend who, in reaction to last night’s 3,000-word rant about the nature of mental illness, described some of the emotional issues experienced by relatives of those usually non-emotive people with Asperger’s syndrome.
Depending on the severity of the affliction, what happens in such cases is that people who have to cope daily with the problem end up adjusting their mental categories of “normal” behavior. This is true as much for other disorders as it is for Asperger’s. Friends and relatives of Lindsay Lohan grow accustomed to her patterns of behavior — the relapse, the binge, the crash, the rehab, the court hearing. They’ve coped with it so often it doesn’t really seem extraordinary to them.
I keep recommending Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations as a guide to understanding a lot of what causes these problems. Not every kook or weirdo or celebrity basket case is a narcissist, but whenever you see people who can’t ever seem to take responsibility for their own problems, there’s usually a narcissism issue somewhere in the vicinity.
Everybody’s got problems in life. There are few people so psychologically healthy that they couldn’t occasionally be diagnosed as kooky. My sarcasm is obviously pathological, and co-blogger Smitty has a fondness for obscure puns that clearly puts him in the abnormal range. Unfortunately, the National Institutes for Mental Health turned down my grant application to study the unusual proliferation of weirdos in the blogosphere, so the diagnostic categories remain hopelessly ambiguous.
Nor have I been able to find a publisher for my proposed book, I’m OK, You’re Kind of Weird, But Bill Schmalfeldt Is a Raging Sociopath.
These are just the morning wisecracks, kind of a warm-up exercise to begin another day of relentless sarcasm. TV news today is full of somber seriousness, and it’s driving me nuts:
“Special coverage of Our Nation’s Tragedy will continue, right after these advertisements for laxatives and car insurance.”
Networks pay millions of dollars a year for the services of news anchors who can pretend that what they’re doing is anything other than a carnival sideshow to sell the advertiser’s product. News for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Read — these lucrative televised spectacles inspire less cynical scoffing than they deserve. Nothing like a national tragedy to boost ratings, after all, and you know full well that the correspondent now peering grimly into the camera will be chuckling merrily with his colleagues as soon as the Breaking News Update is over. And why shouldn’t he chuckle? He’s getting paid handsomely to report this tragedy, and charges his travel expenses on the company AmEx card.
People who say they hate “the media” usually mean they hate TV news, a hatred shared by those of us whose medium is the written word. Another book I frequently recommend is Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, quite possibly the most important book you’ve never read.
The author, Neil Postman, was a man of the Left and you’ll find some characteristic liberal jabs in the text, but his larger point transcends partisanship or ideology: TV sucks, it is by its very nature an anti-intellectual enterprise, anathemic to rational discourse.
My problem is that watching this stuff — or at least having the TV in the room tuned to cable news while I’m typing, so that the chatter goes on, even though I seldom actually watch it — is more or less a professional obligation. Every blogger is a media critic of sorts, although in the hyperpartisanship of the Obama Age, liberal bloggers only criticize Fox News, whereas we conservatives are expected to aim at Liberal Bias.
News flash: Fox News sucks, too.
Even without liberal bias, TV news sucks. For a couple hours today, I suffered through Fox News Channel’s lachrymose coverage of Our Nation’s Tragedy, until the goopy emotionalism became too much and I switched the channel over to MSNBC — I Watch, So You Don’t Have To™ — because I’ve met Bill Hemmer, I like Bill Hemmer, and I didn’t enjoy my embarrassment at Bill Hemmer’s participation in this Plastic Grief Festival.
Change the channel and hate those MSNBC guys. It just feels better to hate them than to wriggle with psychic discomfort watching Fox.
TV is very much about emotion, and the show-biz aspect requires that the performers attempt to exemplify the appropriate mood, conveying by their expressions and posture and tone of voice how we’re supposed to feel about what is being reported. When they’re reporting mass murder, the anchors and correspondents and commentators are required to convey compassion as if they’ve got a monopoly on caring.
This display of empathy is annoying to any reasonably intelligent viewer, who understands that he is watching a performance, and that the people putting on this show are doing so because they are paid for it.
Chuck Todd and Chris Jansing don’t care more about shooting victims than you do. They’re just getting paid to act like they care more than you do. This is show business, after all.
You’re not supposed to point this out, and nobody on TV news will ever mention it. And we’ll be back with more cynical sarcasm, after this word from our sponsor, Amazon Associates!
UPDATE: Other than just a way to fill up the blog with content, generate traffic, and try to reap a little revenue, this is a type of media criticism we get too little of, namely the kind that focuses not on what is said or shown, but on the medium through which it is said or shown.
We don’t think about this enough: How is communicating via the written word different than communicating through sound and images?
Neil Postman thought a lot about that, and how the constant presence of TV in our lives has changed the way we think. Postman’s book The Disappearance of Childhood examined especially how television has shaped the lives of children. Considering as I say that Postman was a man of the Left, his insights and opinions on this subject are marvelously agreeable to common-sense conservative ideas about parenting.
Postman wrote these books before the rise of the multichannel cable TV phenomenon, DVDs, video downloads and online gaming, but what he writes about TV as a medium has a general value to understanding these newer developments in media culture.
Even blogging has its own inherent tendencies, so that it’s probably a bit jolting when I end an update by saying, we’ll be back after this word from our sponsor, Amazon Associates!
UPDATE II: John Hoge on the deranged gunman:
There are people who are mad, so completely bonkers, that they truly aren’t responsible for their actions. There are also folks who know right from wrong and who choose evil. Some of these may have a biochemical imbalance in their brain chemistry, but they still know what they are doing and choose not to moderate their behavior.
We’ll be back with further news updates. Meanwhile, MSNBC — which spent the entire year dwelling on (a) the War on Women and (b) the importance of taxing greedy rich Republicans like Mitt Romney — has become all-gun-control, all-the-time. It’s painful to watch.
UPDATE III: Returning to the subject of mental illness, I just got off the phone with Cynthia Yockey, who promises further discussion of (a) eliminating the veal pens known as “gun-free zones,” and (b) how to deal with kooks.
You may disagree with Cynthia, but it’s important to remember she’s what some ignorant bigots call a “lesbian,” afflicted with a condition that tolerant, sensitive and enlightened experts recognize as Penis Aversion Disorder. Don’t hate her. She’s a victim.
Speaking of victimhood, the effort to understand what caused Adam Lanza to commit this awful atrocity in Connecticut can sometimes seem like an effort to portray the killer as a victim in his own right. In truth, the murderous nutjob was always a creepy little weirdo:
At Newtown High School, Adam Lanza often had crises that only his mother could defuse.
“He would have an episode, and she’d have to return or come to the high school and deal with it,” said Richard Novia, the school district’s head of security until 2008.
Adam Lanza would sometimes withdraw, Novia said. “[He] could take flight … and it wasn’t a rebellious or defiant thing. “It was withdrawal.”
When people approached him in the hall, he would press himself against the wall or walk in a different direction, clutching his black briefcase.
We’ll be back with more news, commentary and arguably inappropriate sarcasm, right after this word from our sponsor, Amazon Associates!
UPDATE IV: Instapundit discusses “the instinct toward moral bullying and control coupled with appalling ignorance.” This could describe MSNBC programming today. Or any other day, for that matter.
It’s important to distinguish between (a) sarcasm directed at the media and (b) any disrespect toward the families grieving in Connecticut. For example, if Ezra Klein of the Washington Post says something heinously stupid — and predictably, he did — you can and should mock Klein witih every joke in your arsenal of ridicule. Ezra Klein is no more entitled to respectful discourse than is, for example, Adam Lanza. Klein is paid a six-figure salary by the Washington Post to serve as an in-house Democrat Party propagandist, and deserves all the mockery he gets in return.
Speaking of which, some ignoramus commentator on MSNBC’s Gun-Control Telethon (now in its fourth day) just spoke of the NRA as “the gun manufacturer’s lobby.” Thanks to the commenter who brings up this quote from Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80′s:
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”
No one could possibly argue with that. Except an ignoramus on TV.
UPDATE V: Once more, some of the best stuff on the blog is written by our commenters:
I studied at Bradford University, home to the National Museum of Film, Photography and Television, and I got a bloody good insight into the psychology and sociological impact of televisionboth as a technology and a medium. I learned how the combination of high frequency flickering, soundscape and imagery combined to generate a mental state that bypasses all of the conscious and subconscious checks and balances to — in essence — reprogram the Id itself.
TV is dangerous. Really dangerous. Psychologically unbalancing.
The same commenter explains that I’ve incorrectly described the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. So I got it wrong, because I’m not “just a blogger,” but also a professional journalist.
A big part of what I try to do — and what Hunter S. Thompson so brilliantly did — is to demystify journalism, which is too often portrayed as requiring a species of gnostic wisdom to which only the Enlightened Priests of the Esoteric Cult have access. Once you’ve been inside the temple and met the supposed Wise Men, it’s hard to maintain that reverential attitude toward the cult and its putative wisdom.
UPDATE VI: When Neil Postman died in 2003, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to write this for the British Guardian newspaper:
The influential American media critic Neil Postman would probably have appreciated the irony that his death, from lung cancer at the age of 72, quickly gave rise to tribute pages on the internet – if only because he never used the internet, did not own a computer or even use a typewriter. His 20 books and more than 200 articles were all written in longhand.
Postman was deeply suspicious of the common American belief that technology can solve all mankind’s woes. He was fond of asking about various innovations, “What is the problem to which this is the solution?”
A professor of media ecology at New York University, he was outraged that billions of dollars were spent in the 1990s to connect every American classroom to the internet: “Why? Is there clear evidence that children learn better when they have access to the internet? The answer is no.” . . .
Read the whole thing. The only occasion in my career when I’ve ever cashed a check denominated in pounds.