The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Furnishing Your Tidy Little Mind

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.

 

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  • gloogle gloogle

    Stacy, you have articulated pretty much my feelings regarding Network TV “news”. Diane Sawyer is the poster child for the emotional, smarmy, usually cloying coverage of virtually any subject du jour. Please tell me what her soft-focused, botoxed, helicoptered presence in Newtown added to the coverage of this tragedy. I can’t tell you for how long I have been instinctively changing the channel when she appears on the old cathode-ray tube. GAAAH!!

    Well, this is your blog, so I’ll stop here before my comment becomes longer than your post… :-)

  • robertstacymccain

    Oh, yeah: “Parachute journalism” — some town you never heard of makes the national news, and suddenly the streets of the town are lined with TV satellite trucks, and folks in the local coffee shop are talking about who got quoted in the New York Times and who got two minutes on CNN. There probably ought to be a movie about that.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    Oh, come on, Stacy, if you believe that you probably believe prog celebrities would hold megabuck parties the night after a major disaster in their own city, or take generators and supplies away from relief efforts for a promotional sporting event… oh, wait…

  • http://marezilla.com/ Zilla of the Resistance

    What’s painful to watch for me is that every time an unspeakable horror is inflicted upon innocent people and the TV news covers it, they not only make it non-stop coverage of that awful event 24/7 but they give it its own THEME MUSIC. I can’t stand it. If this horror had happened in my town, I don’t think I’d want those media goons sticking their cameras and microphones in our grieving faces either. Whatever happened to letting people in unimaginable pain have a little bit of privacy?

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    Early Friday Night I was watching some of the local news and, of course, they already had their reporter on scene, but behind him at this sports field was an unbroken line of news vans with their satellite dishes.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    As I wrote somewhere else: those vans will be there a month from now.

  • Archonix

    Two things to say here.

    First, I grew so fed-up with television that I abandoned it completely a couple of years back and I have not looked back at all. I learned all I needed to know about the damn thing when I was at university – 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.

    I do watch the occasional film or television program, in the same way that someone might smoke the occasional cigarette. It’s a pleasurable vice that I keep to a minimum for health reasons. I would never stoop to watching television news. It’s like crack.

    Secondly: I’m a little wary of your characterisation of Aspergers as “emotionless”. My wife was diagnosed with aspergers several years ago (a genuine diagnosis too, not the faux-self-diagnosis that internet nitwits and arsewipes use to justify their lack of basic human decency) and she’s anything but emotionless. Rather the opposite.

    Aspergers is characterised by lack of social ability, apparent lack of empathy and an inability to process crowed situations. Higher functioning autistics lack the ability to process and filter out extraneous environmental conditions. Put one in a crowded room and try to talk to them, and they won’t be able to focus in on what you’re saying because they’ll hear everything with equal weighting. They’re wide open and haven’t the ability to prioritise information. Not because of a chemical imbalance, but because their brains are physically wired differently. The compensation for this lack of social ability tends to be unusually high intelligence and problem-solving skills.

    And, believe it or not, aspies are extremely empathic. Extremely empathic, to the point where they’re overwhelmed by it and have to shut down their feelings entirely.

    The solution is environmental control. Aspies will typically isolate themselves into an environment where there aren’t any distractions and where they aren’t required to interact with other people. They’ll gravitate toward professions and tasks that require their full, undivided attention, in unsocial conditions, or at unsocial hours. It’s how they cope with the world. Take that away (as, tragically, most social “care” programs will do by taking them out of productive activity) and they have a tendency to snap. Most of the time they become verbally abusive. Violence only occurs in the most extreme cases.

    So there. :D

  • PoliticalClownParade

    Oscar Wilde once said, “The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”

    You cite Lasch and Postman’s work while trying to describe the “plastic grief festival” and I, too, find that Bill Hemmer is not vying for a Peabody Award but rather an Emmy.

    Do the network and cable outfits honestly believe we must be guided through our sorrow in an orderly fashion,
    chronicled by endless babble that serves no purpose other than filler until the next advertisement for women’s hygiene products, or male enhancement?

    You could have saved some electrons and boiled your thoughts down to a quote from your icon,Hunter S. Thompson, who blithely said, “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.”

  • Lightwave

    There’s a name for this.

    “Disaster porn.”

    And at every juncture it is invoked to give more power to the state. That’s the real reason why in the internet era, cable news still exists. Propaganda.

  • http://twitter.com/texasps Paula

    Finally, someone has the guts to tell the truth about the obvious!! Thank you Stacy for pointing out the absurdity of the MSM reaction to the shooting. It has been sick and disgusting!!
    This gave the Dems an avenue to bring up the gun control laws when they should be addressing the mental illness aspect of the situation. Also, no one has looked at how violent video games have desensitized gamers and might trigger weird reactions from people with mental illnesses, having trouble with reality.
    IMHO The gun was not the culprit in this tradgedy, it’s was our culture and lack of proper care and understanding of mental disorders.

  • yestradamous

    One of the children who died lived in my town for a while last year before her family moved to CT. Her picture and story has been one of the more recognizable ones in the national news this week. Yesterday, her principal from her old school here held a press conference. A PRESS CONFERENCE, no doubt egged on by the local media, to discuss the little girls time at the school, and her awesome impact on our community, etc. No offense to anybody, but she was 6 years old. Maybe I’m just too cynical.

    I can’t stand any of this.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    It’s all part of the same mentality that leads to those foolish roadside memorials.

    The MSM won’t stop until they’ve interviewed the doctor’s and nurses who were at her birth.

  • Wombat_socho

    “You know the bubble-headed bleach blond, comes on at five?/She can tell you ’bout the plane crash, with a gleam in her eye/It’s interesting when people die/Give us dirty laundry!”
    I think Don Henley summed it all up perfectly in that song.

  • slp

    Stacy,

    TV and newspapers are the same. The purpose of the news stories is to lure readers to buy the newspapers that are filled with paid advertisements. As a newspaperman, your job was to fill the “news hole.”

  • Edwd Haas

    Dear RS:: I wish more of your readers picked up on your frequent references to Lasch and the Narcissism opus. And followed that with reading Haven in a Heartless World, for the “family policy” origins of some of these problems. The late Dr. Lasch owes you some royalties

  • SomeoneNotNamePat

    Just a quick note. Autism is not the same as Asperger’s although they share some but not all symptoms, and neither is a mental illness. Also, neither have anything to do with narcissism. As a parent of an autistic child, I tend to encounter children from each group, and my child is in special classes at school that generally wind up containing children from these two groups.
    You pretty much never hear about Aspergian meltdowns, but parents of autistic children are very familiar with autistic meltdowns. While people who don’t know from personal experience tend to lump these meltdowns together with temper tantrums, a temper tantrum to an autistic meltdown is like a bb gun compared to a .45ACP, e.g. most temper tantrums don’t last for two to four hours before a child can regain some semblance of self-control.
    99.9 percent of the time, my child does fine, but if something triggers a meltdown, they can become a danger to themselves and others. As they get older and stronger, the stakes go up. My child has never injured another child, but other autistic kids at school have injured teachers or aids to the point where they needed to go the emergency room for stitches. For this reason alone, it’s hard to understand why Adam’s mom had firearms someplace he could get to them. It’s not hard for me to imagine something happening where Adam Lanza would kill his mom. An autistic man just beat his own mother to death in New York, I think, not too long ago. What’s harder to understand is how this could turn into a long journey culminating in the murders of all those children and adults at the school.
    As a parent, I feel the same outrage as all other parents. But one of the hard parts from this tragedy beyond the torment all parents feel at seeing the lives of other children being taken and imagining the horror of losing your own child in an act of senseless violence, is to hear people speak about autism like they know something when their only real exposure was watching Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man”.
    People on the outside just have no idea.

  • http://wizbangblog.com/ Adjoran

    One disturbing side effect of these so-called “tragedies” (the classical definition of tragedy was when a hero contributes to his own demise due to a flaw in an otherwise sterling character, it is not just any sad event) is that the entire site is henceforth rendered unusable, and made into a memorial.

    It is quite appropriate to create memorials, but to use an entire building/site as one tends to memorialize the murderer as much or more as the victims. A visitor to Oklahoma City passes the site of the Murrah Building – what ONE NAME pops into his head? It’s not that of a victim, is it?

    So naturally the taxpayers just write off multi-million dollar investments, one after another, because a vile and evil criminal has somehow made the location of his dirty deeds “sacred ground?”

  • http://evilbloggerlady.blogspot.com/ Evi L. Bloggerlady
  • http://www.leftbankofthecharles.com/ Charles

    The worst is the police press conference that doesn’t start on time, and the mindless filler drivel that gets said by the TV news supporting cast who have to kill time during the indeterminate wait. Most of these lesser cast members can barely read a script, and their extemporaneous remarks expose them as the stupid small-minded people they actually are. I feel embarrassed for them just watching, and then I feel embarrassed for myself.

  • http://twitter.com/richard_mcenroe richard mcenroe

    There are reports, I don’t know how authentic, that the mother actually trained her son to handle firearms.

    I’m reminded of the Rebecca Schaeffer shooting here in Los Angeles, where the brother of the schizo killer had actually given him the gun, on the theory, he said, that if the killer felt more “secure” he would be calmer.

    The gun laws in LA worked to keep a gun out of the schiz’s hands. He couldn’t buy one. The gun laws in CT kept a gun out of the shooter’s hands; a shop refused to sell to him.

    But laws can’t prevent human stupidity.
    Laws can’t prevent human viciousness. Once he killed his mother, the shooter had all the time he needed to circumvent whatever security she may have had on the guns.
    And laws can’t keep dangerous, violent unbalanced people off the streets. Indeed, they have been rewritten to keep them there, while a bloated and jaded bureaucracy spends vast sums of money year after year failing to keep track of them.

  • Another Voice in the Dark

    Speaking with a friend of mine who happens to be a professor at a 4 year university he had a very insightful theory about the “school gunman” we’ve seen pop up over the last 20 years. With the Columbine kids, Va Tech, Aurora and now Connecticut the nut jobs all have something in common. They are all products of the liberal K-12 school system.

    For the last 30-40 years we have been telling every child that they are special little snowflakes that can achieve whatever they desire. Unfortunately this is real life and this is not the case. All indications point to each of these guys to be of above average intelligence. They were probably fed line after line of BS by their K-12 teachers but once they got into the higher education system they were shocked to discover that they were not the perfect little snowflakes they were told they were. Va Tech? Failed Student. Aurora? Failed PhD student. Connecticut? Who knows yet?

    The K-12 system did this guys a huge disservice by not preparing them to “find their place” in the greater social order. Once they were in the real world they had no idea how to handle it. Some are lucky and end up overcoming it. Some just end up smoking pot in their parent’s basement. Some snap and kill a bunch of kids.

    My friend is appalled at the quality of incoming freshman these days. It takes a full 3 semesters to get them up to speed and ready for college. He sees students displaying the same tendencies as these nut jobs, but thank god we haven’t had any incidents here. Yet. There will always be crazy people, but this system seems to help create more of them. Don’t expect any blame to fall on the education system. This is definitely the NRA’s fault.

  • http://boogieforward.us/ K-Bob

    This is good stuff, Stacy. Thanks.

    As to the issue about where he got the guns, I don’t believe for a second that laws would have prevented him from carrying out a tragic act resulting in death. The Oklahoma City bombing should be all folks need to prove that point (but sadly, many leftists demand totalitarianism to feel safe).

    We discussed this here at the house, and agreed that if we had a member of the household who was troubled, addicted, or, let’s face it, nuts, we would remove our guns entirely, and make sure most knives weren’t sharp or easily available.

    That’s just part of gun safety, as far as I’m concerned.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    And God forbid a private property owner removes a roadside memorial from his land.

  • http://thecampofthesaints.org Bob Belvedere

    I wish we would start calling ‘news anchors’ what they really are: news readers. Most people can read and dress half-way decently, but few of the people who go into that profession have ever spent any time learning.

  • Finrod Felagund

    What he said.

  • Finrod Felagund

    There’s a sequence in the movie Cars where that happens.

  • bilejones

    My grandmother used to say: “All folk’s are queer except me and thee, and I’m none too sure about thee.”

  • PoliticalClownParade

    I read your post and am sympatico with your assessment. I quoted you heavily in this post:

    http://politicalclownparade.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-world-breaks-everyone-and-afterward.html

  • http://twitter.com/kylekiernan Kyle Kiernan

    I stand in admiration of the mighty thwacks you deliver with aplomb unto the hippopotamic hypochondriac landmass we all know and veer suddenly away from in public, dear old Bill Schmalfeldt. He’s gone a bit off on me lately, oh well c’est la vie.

  • http://www.leftbankofthecharles.com/ Charles

    Yep, but most of what they read isn’t even news.

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