Tuesday, April 21, 2009

maybe Colbert is real, and the circus is fake

David Dark has done it again:
...In light of the con, it’s often a pleasure to turn to The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, perhaps especially when we consider Jon Stewart’s framing of his presentation, “And now … the fake news.” It unmasks the con that is news production, news as whatever will momentarily soothe our minds, news that presumes to name itself unfake. While the paradoxical authority of satire’s unseriousness would be undermined by a claim to legitimacy (”Listen to me! I’m serious now!), it’s hard to resist the suggestion that the real news is being meaningfully broadcast through a satirical presentation; that the only popular attempt at news analysis on offer is coming at us through comedy. The fake news is the news. Picking up on this note, Bill Moyers once remarked that he wasn’t sure whether the form Stewart and his team are practicing is parody or satire. Stewart replied that what they’re actually practicing is a new form of desperation..

... I recall a televised conversation between David Letterman and PBS’s Charlie Rose. When asked to draw a comparison between what he does and what was accomplished by Johnny Carson in his years on the air, Letterman remarked that what his team delivers is essentially “circus time,” with things being lit on fire, dropped in water, and thrown off of buildings. Letterman isn’t happy with this state of affairs. It isn’t as if trying to make conversation with the last person to get voted off the island is Letterman’s preferred vocation, but an exhibition of literal nonsense appears to be what’s required. He stressed that he could never really know for sure, but playing in the big leagues in the unending competitiveness of prime time seems to allow for no pause in circus time. He wants, after all, to stay on the air.

With heartbreaking candor, he expressed a preference for the kind of television associated with Tom Snyder and Rose himself, the exhilaratingly legitimate moment of people talking to each other and other people tuning in from far away. But could he risk it and keep up with Jay Leno and The Tonight Show? Would he remain, as the saying goes, commercially viable? Not necessarily. He has to play it safe. Back to throwing stuff off of buildings—back to whatever it takes.

Before the cameras, David Letterman can’t talk to the kind of people he wants to talk to. He can’t quite facilitate the stories he’d like. His show can’t show what he wants it to show. He can’t do what he wants to do without losing access. Access to what? Power? Influence? Like everyone else, he has to guess at what the biggest chunk of viewers want and then deliver it. And what haunts him is the feeling that the guess might be wrong. Maybe the viewers want what he thinks he can’t give them. The medium, in this sense, is devastatingly limited. The competition for viewers is a race to the bottom. I’m reminded of Fred Friendly’s observation that the producers of television broadcasts are so powerfully and amply rewarded for doing the wrong things that they aren’t inclined to ask what might be, television-wise, right and good and promoting of psychological health. Success makes a failure of the medium’s content...

...It is rumored that the Spirit of the Lord is being poured out on all flesh and that all flesh shall see the salvation of God. With the word (sung or spoken) now radically possessed by the second-class citizenry, poetry and song become a witness more reliable than the “official” status quo. A new way of talking and listening is born. There are all manner of news networks abounding, and the revolutions might occasionally be televised. The cosmic plainspealk that is everywhere will often help us overcome and articulate what Pete Seeger calls “the ocean of misunderstanding between human beings.” In the ancient Near East, the New Testament’s word of life under Roman rule would be very different from what the Empire was in the habit of telling itself about itself. The subversively truthful report we call good news brings mythic realities down low...

-David Dark, © 2009 by David Dark, excerpted from The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.

full article


  1. Funny, I think this gets at what I was trying to do here..


  2. a haunting clip there..
    Radiohead works well there

    here is a follow up post:


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!