When Reality Shows Got Worse
A young Black man is shot knocking at the wrong door.
A young woman is killed after her car pulls into the wrong driveway.
And then there are the police shootings.
People are trigger-happy, and I know when it got worse – back in 2016 when a real-estate grifter and reality-show character ran for the presidency. He was sending a message to a huge segment of America that it was time to get tougher.
Just look the sneers and cheers behind the bad actor, as he goads them into action. People were getting dumber, by choice, and a swath of the country welcomed his message to gear up.
America as a reality show was on my mind as I read an analysis of the late Jerry Springer by Jane Coastan in The New York Times on Saturday.
She describes Springer as a kind of Dr. Frankenstein who got caught up in his own monster, but she also suggests that he knew what he was doing, all along. Reality shows pay well.
I never watched the grifter’s show (having met him a few times) and I never watched Springer’s show, either but I did pay attention to him because he was another Queens guy (Forest Hills HS) and had gone into politics in Cincinnati when I was living down-river in Louisville.
Turns out Springer and the more dangerous reality show buffoon were both descended from Germany – one was a Jewish refugee, born in a makeshift maternity ward in the Underground in wartime London, the other whose father attended Nazi Bund rallies and lived in posh Jamaica Estates, Queens.
They both understood their audiences. One went into politics to play to the angry white people in America, the other went into television to play to people who liked life on the violent and kinky side.
The young grifter also knew the violent side – somebody who would know has told me about the grifter’s father being bandaged all over, recuperating at home after some kind of organized beating. Lesson learned: Just give some orders and people will go out and break some bones. That’s what he was suggesting at his rally in Las Vegas in February of 2016.
His subtle political message: How he would like to punch that heckler. Just let me at him! But America has become too soft to allow that kind of frontier justice. Still, thanks to the gun merchants and the Republican lawmakers and the sour Americans waiting behind their front doors, we have quickie frontier justice – and students being shot up in school, and legislators banning the elected messengers. Plus, Charlottesville. Good and bad on both sides, right?
America has always had guns. I moved to cover Appalachia in 1970, and some journalist pals at the Louisville Courier-Journal (now terminally Gannett-ized) told me about the television journalist in 1967 (from dear, sweet Canada!) who ignored the warning not to intrude, and was shot dead. The recluse served a year. Yes, I thought about that every time I needed to knock on a door in some distant holler.
But now the violence is spreading. People go to political rallies, packing. The grifter is finally facing legal justice, after a wasted year from the sclerotic Justice Department. And good grief, he's threatening to run again.
RIP, Jerry Springer. All he did was give Americans what they liked in bestiality and incest and brawling. Seems so innocent now.
4/29/2023 11:34:39 am
George, How correct you are! It's much a commentary on what a large part of the American consumer population wants and, in different ways, is willing to pay for, in order to be entertained, attentive and aroused. Hence, American public gets, whether on the tube or movie screen: anger, outrage, insults and, ultimately, violence. I never could watch Jerry Springer, the Apprentice, Tucker Carlson, or Jeanine Pirro. Not at all what our parents and teachers taught us on how to behave as children and adults.
Alan D Levine
4/29/2023 01:16:35 pm
Interesting how the three of us avoided watching the three programs. I am convinced, by the way, that Drumpf talks tough because he knows no one will let him get into a fight. He impresses me as a physical coward.
4/29/2023 11:51:54 am
My grandpa came from Germany my grandpa from saxony and my grand mother from heiderot in the Rhineland. My father grew up in Hamburg during World War One
4/30/2023 10:38:49 am
Jean: It is a good point. I realized the German contribution to the US in places like PA and Texas. The first time I was around the next generation in late 1970s was when I covered religion and went to an ecumenical community in Burgundy, France, called Taize...they had a summer gathering for the youth of Europe...and I got to meet German kids who spoke English well...also a German theologian and family....Also, we loved your father's home town of Hamburg during the soccer World Cup of 2006...staying in a Marriott on JFK Strasse. "Respect the common." Right on.
4/29/2023 01:18:52 pm
My wife and I just returned home from a week in Montreal. Walking to dinner the other night in downtown Montreal a fight broke out between two guys over a parking space. They jumped out of their cars screaming bloody murder but as my wife pointed out, it would resolve itself without anyone being shot.
4/30/2023 10:44:21 am
How civil. As opposed to the guy who mowed down 5 neighbors when they complained about his shooting off his gun at night. I remember one of my early trips to Houston with the Mets in mid-60s. Vic Ziegel and I went to some jazz place way out of downtown....and while we waited for our return cab, we could hear people firing their guns in the air....just because....GV
4/29/2023 09:23:53 pm
George, you nailed it once again. Essays like this make me feel better, inspire something like hope.
4/30/2023 10:53:08 am
Tad, thanks for the note. Maybe you noticed my parenthetical reference to the beloved Courier-Journal now terminally Gannett-ized. I didn't go into details but my-friend-the-doctor in the Highlands told me recently that the Courier-Journal building has been shut down, and the paper run from corporate HQ. When I was there 70-72, the Bingham family maintained the C-J as one of America's great mid-size papers. I had a little cubbyhole in that building and access to great journalists...What a tragic turn, GV
4/30/2023 01:11:40 pm
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.