Into the Woods

What distinguishes us as a species — besides our singular ability to destroy all creation — is that we tell stories.

We’ve been telling stories for thousands of years. Our stories try to make sense of our world, and our place in it. Our stories can be fanciful, allegorical, misleading, even literal.

They can also be dangerous.

In politics, stories are called “narratives”, a means to cast the events of the day into a broader context. Each presidency has a narrative, a set of themes that come to define an “era”. As time passes, this can become a useful shorthand — looking back on the Kennedy Era, or the Nixon Era, you can already start filling in details before another word is mentioned. Stories are very efficient.

Narratives are not, in themselves, pernicious — we’re human critters, that’s what we do. But narratives presume narrators, and that’s where the problem arises, especially in the moment. Everybody wants to be the narrator of the ongoing story. Everybody wants to define the moment. Especially dramatic moments, where the story takes an unexpected turn.

One of our most durable stories is about growing up, coming to adulthood, accepting grim responsibility and abandoning feckless youth. We love that story, especially when it involves the powerful among us. We all want to be Shakespeare, casting Prince Harry into immortality, even if all we have to work with is Falstaff.

Or rude mechanicals.

A few weeks ago, a friend told us that his new girlfriend binge-watches CNN, apparently in the hope of “staying informed”. We explained that the effect would be exactly the opposite, that the more you watch, the less you know. This isn’t because CNN lies to your face like Fox News, but instead because the few useful facts you might glean are buried in hours of useless chatter, and your time would be much better spent pursuing other sources.

And then we stumbled across an interview with Jeff Zucker. Zucker leads CNN these days, but he’s also a network veteran who made his bones running the Today show in the 90s. And if you think that explains everything you need to know about him, an efficient story that resonates far beyond its few words, well, you are correct.

But you might also want to know this: Zucker “casts” CNN. Its pundits aren’t chosen for any wisdom or insight they might impart, not even to fulfill some old-school quest for “balance” in its coverage, but to become characters in the CNN Story, that neverending reality soap you can’t miss for a day. You’re not tuning in for a Progressive or Internationalist perspective, but to hear what your TV pals Van or Fareed have to say, and what plot that evil Corey is up to.

It’s as if Paddy Chayefsky didn’t write a movie, but a manual.

But it’s easy to ignore CNN, as we strongly advise. It’s much harder to avoid narratives that turn up all over the place in “straight” political news, purported coherence that dangerously obscures the facts. Big Wins here. Major Setbacks there. Pivots in-between.

And always, everywhere, the moment when the Boy becomes a Man, and the Man becomes a President.

Even if the man is a septuagenarian Peter Pan who never grew up.

18 comments:

8:11 pm • Saturday • April 8, 2017

I’ve been very impressed by the coverage in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. Holee focke, I can’t believe I just wrote that, yet there it is. We’re all in the resistance now.

8:30 pm • Saturday • April 8, 2017

Zucker is probably the man most responsible for making CNN the biggest joke in journalism next to Faux. It was tolerable during the Bush years, but not even now.

8:32 pm • Saturday • April 8, 2017

@¡Andrew!: And then there’s Reuters:

“The Republican-led Senate on Friday gave Donald Trump the biggest triumph of his young presidency, confirming his Supreme Court nominee over stout Democratic opposition and restoring a conservative majority on the highest U.S. judicial body.”

That’s a classic Narrative Lead that completely misses the story and sets my teeth on edge.

12:33 pm • Tuesday • April 11, 2017

The Kushner Family Passover Haggadah from McSweeney’s. Brilliant.

4:02 pm • Tuesday • April 11, 2017

@SanFranLefty: And Sean Spicer chooses to usher in Passover with… tone-deaf remarks about the Holocaust. I can’t even.

6:59 pm • Tuesday • April 11, 2017

@mellbell: I’m reluctant to look up Tantrum Spice’s CV and see which educational institutions have failed us this time, though Twitler and DeVoid are all the proof we need of the failure of our nation’s private schools.

7:59 pm • Tuesday • April 11, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Don’t worry — in college, at least, they recognized what a tool he was.

8:29 pm • Tuesday • April 11, 2017

Is it bad that I snicker every time Nicole Kidman’s Neutrogena wrinkle cream commercial comes on? Girl is infamous for her nips and tucks.

9:04 am • Wednesday • April 12, 2017

@mellbell: Her face hasn’t moved since 1998, which is incredible given her profession.

I’m in awe of Jane Fonda, who looks better at 79 than I do at 42. I guess I’m about the age now that she was when she filmed On Golden Pond. She’s fairly open about her nips, tucks, and sucks, and as I recall, she chimed in to an interview about her beauty secrets recently with “you wouldn’t believe how much this face cost.” Best plastic surgery I’ve ever seen.

Now let’s hold a moment of silence for Meg Ryan and her facial reupholstery disaster.

1:12 pm • Wednesday • April 12, 2017

Chelsea Handler on Tantrum Spice:

“He’s so stupid. He can’t possibly be that stupid naturally.

He actually is telling different lies every day and getting in fights. I also wish I was in that press room so I could get up and be like, ‘how do you feel about working for this man who says one thing on Wednesday and another thing on Friday?’ And actually ask him questions that you can prove that he lied about. Instead they ask him serious questions as if he’s got a f**king answer. He doesn’t know what to say. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

1:26 pm • Wednesday • April 12, 2017

@¡Andrew!: Ron Ziegler would know what to say.

1:36 pm • Wednesday • April 12, 2017

@nojo: It’s a shame he doesn’t play a more substantive role in Nixon’s twitter feed (@dick_nixon, for the uninitiated).

1:05 am • Thursday • April 13, 2017

@¡Andrew!: I’m going to have to force myself to stay awake Saturday night to see Melissa McCarthy’s brilliance on this “Holocaust Centers” craziness.

And w/r/t face lifts – I agree that Jane Fonda’s are better than most, I would add Sheryl Crow to that list. She looks better now at 5o-55ish than she did when she was 30 pre-work. On the men’s side, Harrison Ford and Bruce Springsteen have had excellent face lifts that are extremely subtle. The secret is to keep some wrinkles/sags in there versus creating a mask.

Other apocryphal shitty ass facelift besides Nicole’s & Meg Ryan’s is Renee Zellwegger’s.

I can’t afford any of their excellent surgeons, so I am what I am.

4:10 pm • Thursday • April 13, 2017

@SanFranLefty: Even though I loathe the aging process, I decided years ago that I wouldn’t have any kind of cosmetic surgery, even if I could afford it. There’s something inspiring about growing older authentically on your own terms and defying your age, which led me to exercising every day to slow down the clock successfully so far. I see men at the gym in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond who’re in great shape and maximizing their potential, and that is so encouraging and energizing for me.

That said, I can’t believe that no one has offered me steroids in all the years that I’ve been lifting. I’m the same size that I was when I was 17–don’t I look like I could use some freakin’ steroids over here? (Note to self: Google where to buy the steroids).

8:07 pm • Thursday • April 13, 2017

Jeezus, I’m on a phone call for 90 minutes and the world goes to hell.

11:41 pm • Thursday • April 13, 2017

@¡Andrew!: With you on that completely. And while I’m far from the “my body’s a temple” crowd (liquor and rich foods are too enjoyable), I’ve also never pierced, dyed, or tattooed anything. Just don’t see the point in messing with it.

2:51 pm • Friday • April 14, 2017

@nojo: What, just because two psychotic, fat man-babies may spaz out and blow up the planet this weekend?

3:12 pm • Friday • April 14, 2017

@¡Andrew!: And then we’ll never see Last Jedi.

Add a comment