I just returned from the DC Correspondent's Dinner (which I attended as a member of The Creative Coalition, an organization devoted to the restoration of arts funding in education -- more on that later) and as I tried to make sense of the disconcertingly diverse menu (bulgar wheat and crab salad appetizer, steak-fish-chicken entree, all-you-can-drink grain alcohol trough) I realized I was standing at the nexus of the modern American media, the confluence of politics, news and entertainment.
Here, like a virtual Switzerland (even Arianna wore a fetching designer dirndl!), the cream of all three genres mingled freely and giddily, interacting and crossbreeding with no impediments or animosity. It was a scene which would utterly flummox the ideological foot soldiers, whose raised fists, misspelled signs and froth-flecked rants at their feverishly vilified opponents would make one think the United States is on the brink of a major kanipshin. And after all, isn't she?
And then I had my "road to Damascus" moment (thanks to Google Maps) about the Media (or what it has evolved into). Please allow me to explain, using my most florid prose and untethered metaphors.
To a great degree (leaving out the weather, though I am starting to have my doubts about that, too) the Media's goal is to reconfigure a reasonably intelligent citizenry into a panting audience of ravenous, paranoid zombies, create and/or exploit a series of threats for the express purpose of conveniently providing an equally contrived cure for which the zombies will gladly pay, thereby providing the creators with a self-perpetuating surplus.
Sounds like a 1950's drive-in movie monster made from rubber, carpet fringe and several hundred choice pages from Atlas Shrugged.
But it's not. No longer content with analog-era relics like the stolid delivery of the day's events, occasionally interrupted by benign warnings about the evils of "ring around the collar" and other small-potato syndromes which appealed only to a specific demographic of housebound hausfraus and impressionable insomniacs, they have taken it to the next dimension: the large scale construction of a virtually air-tight environment with built-in problems and built-in solutions; an environment, the function of which is predicated on its inhabitants never needing to leave its confines (lest they find out that their "world" is all a bunch of malarkey).
By piggybacking their digital re-creation upon an existing biological infrastructure (hope, expectation, fear, pride, etc.), the consumer (née citizen) twitches to newer, fresher, more profitable monsters, boogie men with beards and bombs and silver-tongued devils who bow and have brown skin.
Taking the lead from the father of modern PR spin-meistering Edward Bernays (...no relation to the sauce), our current crop of media entrepreneurs leave no corner of our culture unexploited. There's juice to be squeezed from every last pixel. In their scrupulously contrived world, there's simply no money in civility, no money in being patient, thrifty and wise. And along with callously herding the minds of American citizens, they are also merely being faithful capitalists, so, really, how bad can they be?
Wait. I'm just passing the last bulgar wheat kernel. Okay.
Now that we've all been edified by these exhaustively researched conclusions what is, as Tiger Woods might have said regarding his trusty mashie, the upshot?
Well, the first thing we need to do is reinstate the one crucial element which has been purposely deleted from the landscape, one which the designers have deemed an impediment to their profit-driven province:
Time to ponder. Time to analyze. The time which has lately been highjacked by instant action/reaction and sleek, sexy, high-tech impulsiveness that wires behavior formerly regulated by conscience and informed judgment, all to execute its imperative: to consume, consume, consume its products without question.
That's what I saw.
In other words, the truth behind Our American Media (and to a certain extent Our Modern World) lent those who picnicked along the banks of this Foggy Bottom Lake Victoria and dipped their bunion-warped feet into the carbonated, crystalline pool, a cool serenity, a deeply felt reassurance that all our woes as articulated by the talking heads are no more than products on a shelf, produce to be squeezed, thumped and weighed for salad. We ate, we drank, we laughed until our sides ached. It was a massive, delirious circuit-jerk.
That serene reassurance, however, is denied the audience downstream, where the clever constructs become embedded in daily discourse and have real -- not virtual -- consequences.
That said, take a page from our president: stay cool as a cucumber. Use psychological jujitsu. Let the other guys freak. And if you eat bulgar wheat and steak drink a hell of a lot of water.
Follow Steven Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TheStevenWeber