Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Our Dog has Fleas and Ticks

In the public library, they only let you work on the computer for one hour a day, so I had to move fast. My advisor at the Employment & Training Center said I should remove all the dates I listed in the “Work History” section of my resume. He said it would help me avoid “ageism”. Just yesterday, I was part of the Wave of the Future. Now, I had to resort to trickery to avoid being drowned by it. What should I do for an interview, spike my hair and wear surf shorts? Aging. Like rust, you never see it happen.

So, point, click, delete, backspace and repeat, repeat, repeat. Then save and I was done. God bless Bill Gates for making it easy for us techno-dunces. The trouble was, I still had about 45 minutes left, said the little clock in the lower right hand corner of the screen. Why let it go to waste? So I clicked on the little blue “e” for Internet Explorer.

I logged on to Google to catch up on the news. That day’s headlines focused on Georgia’s alleged “Runaway Bride”, who had resurfaced in New Mexico, safe and sound.
I won’t insult your intelligence by recapping the details, since they’ve been splashed across every screen and page between, well, Georgia and New Mexico. It is the ultimate 21st Century American scandal. Maybe. Yet again.

This situation provides a golden opportunity to take the Higher Ground, and so I will. I am not going to judge 32-year old Jennifer Wilbanks of Duluth, Georgia. That job is for her community, her family and more importantly, the law. Eventually, if it becomes clear that her disappearance was consciously planned beforehand, then Wilbanks will and should be subjected to the full extent of the law. But as of this writing, the complete story remains unknown. Further commentary at this time is, of course, speculation.

However, at times like these, the thinking person or someone like me, who’s bored and has too much spare time, steps back and asks themselves two questions. First, “Can any good come out of this mess?” Second, “What does this mean to the rest of us?” And I’m proud to say that doing so has revealed one hard truth for which I’m happy to break out my dissection tools and examine. Namely, that there’s a symbiotic relationship between Hollywood, the media and us---the American public. Yep, I tried to ignore it too, like the plaid sport jacket Dad wore to my college graduation. But after this story, nothing doing. It’s like there’s a tick, fat with blood, hooked onto the back of an even fatter flea that’s anchored to the hide of the biggest, heftiest Labrador Retriever the world has ever seen, and there ain’t a can of flea powder in sight. But one might be on the way.

It’s a premise emerging from the Wilbanks story that I must accept, if only hypothetically, because it was so widely noted by the media with typical sledgehammer subtlety. Namely, that Life imitates---oh, do I have to finish it? Unless you haven’t looked at a TV since Bush Senior was president, you probably noticed that the Wilbanks story bears the slightest resemblance to a certain Julia Roberts movie that’s in heavy rotation on HBO every other week. Okay, then, guess. If you said “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” congratulate yourself---you’ve just won this month’s "Culturally Oblivious” award.

Again, we don’t know for sure (yet) if the “Runaway Bride” film, or any film, influenced Jennifer Wilbanks’ decision to skip town. But it has been well-established that movies, imaginative products portraying fictional characters in make-believe worlds, do often influence real people in our real world. How many 40-something guys trooped off to overgrown Little League baseball camps after watching “Field of Dreams”? “Million Dollar Baby” spurred a flurry of female interest in boxing. Liquor store owners reported a nosedive in sales of merlot, after the wine was famously snubbed by Paul Giamatti in “Sideways”. And these are just recent examples. Movies are just entertainment? Not for many people, clearly.

Allow me to pick a few nits and say that this just seems. . .wrong, somehow. Adults using movies---or any entertainment---as roadmaps for real life. Need advice or guidance? Don’t consult family, friends or clergy. Forget the wealth of actual human experience available in any public library. No, turn to fantasy and expect the idealized circumstances there to transplant themselves to usually-flawed reality. (Okay, call me a hypocrite for the Andy Garcia move I pulled in “The Snark Job Interview”. Desperate circumstances often lead to desperate measures. But did it work? Exactly. So I know what I speak of.) Evidently, there are persons out there who, in times of trouble, rather than calling the authorities, will send noble Fido out for help instead. Apparently, lonely businessmen are wandering through big cities tonight, expecting to find beautiful and witty ingénues working the streets, who they hope to marry and find the happiness they long for. The line between fact and fiction isn’t blurred; it has been erased.

If there does turn out to be a connection between the Wilbanks situation and the “Runaway Bride” film, what will happen? It will effectively harpoon Hollywood’s tired claim that actors, in the characters they bring to life, aren’t role models. Perhaps then, people who seem so anxious to reap the benefits that artists enjoy will also accept the responsibilities accompanying artistic endeavors. Knowing that audiences invest entertainment with such relevancy might even result in more thoughtful, considerate and at last, superior products than what’s playing at the multiplex today. (Okay, let me dream.) And that will take care of the flea.

But what if there’s no connection between Wilbanks and a movie so lame that even Lucille Ball, had it been pitched to her in the 1950s, when lame was cool, would’ve passed on it? Then the tick’s handiwork will be revealed. You know, the tick that goes by a variety of names: CNN, Fox News, USA Today and others too numerous to list here. It was the tick who took this spark of similarity that 6 months earlier, might’ve been an overlooked blip on the Associated Press wire, and fanned it into the fire of controversy it has become. And for his own benefit, don’t you know.

Around the time Jennifer Wilbanks caught a bus to Albuquerque, the news media was suffering from an acute news drought. Oh, there was plenty of news---the war in Iraq, the lousy economy, etc. But those are so 2004, huh? No, our tick needed some N * E * W * S! Newspaper and magazine-selling news! Log-onto-our-web site-as-a-registered member-for-just-$19.95-and-get-the-latest news! Let’s-give-our-buddies-on-“Nightline” and “20/20”-something-to-chew-on-because-their-ratings-are-dropping news! Besides, how much more could they squeeze out of a weird-by-any-standards pop star who’s so washed up, a stint on “The Surreal Life” couldn’t help him? No, opportunity knocked and Wilbanks was her name.

So the media took the proverbial ball and ran with it. The “Runaway Bride” tie-in provided convenient soundbites and leads for a thousand and one newscasts and articles. Journalism majors might argue that the film reference served as a cultural shorthand of sorts, helping audiences who are swamped with information already to figure out the who's, what's and why's in a quick and easy way. These are the same Journalism majors I’ll be competing with for a job at Wal-Mart this summer. You might be ahead of me here and if you are, then hurray for you. You might’ve realized that this “shorthand” the tick provided us with is really laziness in disguise. But go a step further and see it for what it truly is: something evil.

“John,” you’re probably saying, “it’s time to go back on your meds. Surely, evil is too strong a term, especially when there’s so much afoot in our world today.” But I disagree. Instead of listening with an open mind and exercising your mind to form your own opinion, the movie reference promotes the use of an intellectual “Cliff’s Notes”. Tying a real-life misfortune to sugary Hollywood pap shoe-horns that event into a preconceived situation, with a built-in set of values and judgments. In short, it discourages the audience from thinking. The tick does your thinking for you. The agency supposedly devoted to making you an informed person makes you a misinformed person, for its own financial gain. And isn’t that evil?

Hmm. That’s for you to decide. But when the Jennifer Wilbanks story has played itself out, how will our world be different? We'll be more diligent, right, gang? Now that we’ve figured it out, the flea and the tick shall be removed, out of here, never to return! There’s the good we were looking for! From then on, we’ll live in a better world, one with substantial and responsible entertainment created by artists bent on expanding the audience’s horizons, and a news media that will present honest-to-God news objectively, with plenty of room for thinking and forming one’s own opinions. Right, friends?

Me neither. Most likely, it’ll play out this way: the Jennifer Wilbanks story---once all the particulars are known---will be made into a syrupy, overwrought TV movie. I’ll bet Shannen Doherty and Christina Applegate are already auditioning. And when it premiers, the movie will be the lead story of the evening on your local TV news. You can count on that.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jacqui said...

John! If my husband talked as much as you type I would have an endless supply of earplugs! Just kidding (or am I? Tee-hee).

Your blog is quite interesting and I think you've gotten yourself a new reader here. I shall forever be looking for updates on your job-hunt status. Someone as comical as you would fit in where I work in an instant! Unfortunately, the commute from IL to CT could be a little time consuming ...

Love your views on training in the sales field - you hit the nail right on the head! So, completely, right on the head it's scary ...

Now do tell - what was your major in college or did I miss it on your blog?

And, thanks for checking my blog out. It's nice to know I have another reader out there other than my pal littletail :-)

2:38 PM  
Blogger Le chameau insatiable said...

1- thanks for passing by and leaving this cool comment, i like compliments, come back anytime.
2- 45mn to write this post? i'm impressed, takes me forever for the same amount of words. especially in a library.
3- i've had shitty jobs all my life, so i find it hilarious to read your stories. Bukowski wrote something like: it's not sufficient to be working a shitty job you're also expected to be interested in it....

6:10 PM  

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