Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2003 / 25 Shevat, 5763

Media Person

Media Person
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Into the Pity Pit | The week found Media Person filled with an uncharacteristic and unwelcome emotion. A wave of pity had washed over him. Frankly, it was sickening. This abhorrent welling up of compassion had cracked MP's dike of habitual scorn for humanity, and he felt nauseated by the influx. Surely, he thought, there must be some medication to control it. But the local pharmacist was unhelpful.

Perhaps, Media Person conjectured, it was the arctic weather at fault, bringing with it the scary realization that he could be transformed into an instant popsicle right in his comfortably appointed middle-class hovel should the furnace, for any of a thousand reasons, accidental or terrorist-related, suddenly quit.

That would make sense, because the offensive sentiment had crept in while MP was perusing a Chicago Tribune article on the travails of local TV news reporters working outdoors in the cold. Normally, Media Person regards such individuals the way Simon Cowell would look upon a terminally ill, poverty-stricken orphan who happens to sing off-key as he stumbles through a subway car on his one functioning limb, i.e. with undisguised loathing.

But these poor TV drudges were being criticized not for their bland superficiality, their banal cliches or their refusal to look ashamed, but for their hats. Yes, their hats. "All of us get e-mails about hats," a WMAQ reporter told the Tribune. "People say, 'Well, we're not really happy with the selection of hats your reporters have.'"

What kind of lunatic populace have we raised in this country? Here we have an occupational group long notorious for its thrall to image, which has now finally bowed to medical necessity and covered up while standing in blizzards to perform the vital duty of explaining that the snow blowing about is actually "white stuff," and for this they are subject to opprobrium. Outrageous! Insufferable!

You know, it is an indisputable truth that the hat that will both flatter your face and keep your ears warm has never been made. And yet some smug ninny cozily ensconced in the glow of his oil heating will gripe at the shivering on-camera wretch who, but for his North Korean infantry war surplus forage cap with the genuine mongoose-fur earlaps, would lose 75 percent of his body heat through his alarmingly porous cranium. He knows he looks like a dork. He asks only to be allowed to survive, and for this he is pilloried. Pity the poor devil.

And pity such as Lara Flynn Boyle an d Sharon Stone. When, Media Person demands, did we all become such avatars of good taste in this country that every publication must have a page devoted to mockery of actresses' clothing? ("Can you believe they wore this stuff?" -- New York Post headline.) If this were France or Italy, you could understand it. But America, land of the overweight and world capital of sneakers and sweats?

Media Person hates to get personal but really, what makes you think that you'd look any better at the Golden Globes? You say you'd wear the classic little black number that goes so well on any occasion? Hah! You don't understand how it works when you're famous. Your doorbell rings urgently, and there stand Dom Dolce, Steve Gabbana, Manny Blahnik and that horrible Versace woman. They tear the classic little black number right off your body (nothing sexual going on; this is purely professional) and swathe you in a transparent teal taffeta toga and high-heeled titanium mukluks, and you are powerless to resist because they are Fashion Itself and you are insecure.

And Media Person pities you. You look ridiculous, and you know it. And now 60 million people have to rub it in? It is petty, and it's a pity, my pretty.

The problem with pity, though, is that once it gets rolling there's no way to stop it. Media Person soon found his pity becoming promiscuous. He found himself pitying the ramous* Osbournes upon reading that their ratings are down. Poor Ozzy. He thought America loved him, but it was only his freak appeal the people glommed onto; and now that the novelty's worn off, they're moving on to other freaks on other "reality" shows, and the channels are swimming with them.

American Idol alone was enough to send MP pity production rocketing to record heights. One would-be pop star after another was reduced to tears by the judges' news that they had no talent whatever. And the rejected contestants of Joe Millionaire are all over the newspapers weeping that everyone thinks they're gold diggers. Week after week, we create new ridicule victims.

Media Person blames himself. You may not be aware that it was he who started this whole making-fun-of-people thing back in the late '50s. Little did MP know it would some day change America from an earnest, humble nation to a bunch of smart-ass wisenheimers getting off on deriding their fellow humans. Media Person repents. He wishes he'd never started. He pities everyone, even Simon Cowell. But most of all, he pities himself.

*Attention dictionary writers: New word! Means "rich and famous," MP claims credit.

JWR contributor Media Person -- a.k.a Lewis Grossberger -- is a columnist for Media Week. Comment by clicking here.


01/15/03: Not My Cup of Joe
01/09/03: It was back in '03
12/17/02: Did you get taken?
12/05/02: Mathers of importance

© 2002, Lewis Grossberger