Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shove it Up Your Mine Shaft

About three weeks ago I happened to be watching the news and I caught a bit of the story about the rescue of a bunch of miners trapped in a mine down in good old Chile.  I vaguely remember hearing about the story periodically during the past couple of months, but I didn't really pay much attention because I was either too busy A) working B) thinking about and/or watching THE DARK KNIGHT C) podcasting (check out Cylon Bingo dudes and dudettes) D) masturbating or E) some combination of the four (I won't spoil the fun by telling you which ones).  As I was watching the story unfold I realized two very important things: One, there aren't a whole lot of hot female newscasters, and; Two, the news is really fucking boring.  It occured to me as they were showing the miners being rescued after being stuck down a giant shaft (boo-yah!) for sixty-something days that the problem with the news is that the people involved in reporting it take themselves way too seriously and they have absolutely no idea how to construct a compelling narrative.                
There seems to be this misconception both by those that work in the media and among the common folk that in order to report "the Facts" with a capital F that it needs to be done with a complete disregard for entertainment value.  This is a load of bullshit that lets people involved in the news media (be it written, televised, or on ye olde radio) get away with presenting world events in the most boring and least engaging way possible because it is done in the name of "journalistic integrity."  "Journalistic integrity" is just a euphemism for "lazy" and "untalented."  Journalistic integrity and entertainment value are not inherently mutually exclusive.  The prime example that I can provide is THE DAILY SHOW featuring the lovable Jon Stewart.  Not only is it wildly entertaining but it is also arguably the most accurate and significant portrayal of news events that is being broadcast today.  For some reason because it's presented in a comedic way THE DAILY SHOW is looked down upon a lot of people as if soemthing being funny somehow mystically makes it less legitimate somehow.  But if you look at the way Jon Stewart et al cover American federal politics or the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I mean closely look at the analysis they provide, you would realize that  THE DAILY SHOW is the most informative news show out there and that if America was smart they would elect Jon Stewart as president.  The simple fact of the matter is that comedy is analysis.  One of the keys of comedy is looking at the absurdity that already exists in the world and exposing it.  Jon Stewart didn't make the conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq land the American government's inept way of approaching it ook completely ridiculous - it already was completely ridiculous.  That's the great thing about THE DAILY SHOW: the writers have one of the best jobs in the entertainment industry because the situations and politians that they cover are so absurdly ludicrous that the jokes practically write themselves.  I don't think the fact that THE DAILY SHOW is presented as the archetypal news show -the newscaster behind a desk reporting on the stories of the day- is not intended to be ironic.  These people aren't pretending to report the news or reporting news that never happened.  THE DAILY SHOW is a legitimate news show that maintains journalistic integrity while making me laugh my ass off.

So one of my questions while watching the ordeal of the Chilean miners was: Why can't all the news be presented in such an entertaining way?  And it doesn't necessarily have to be comedic.  And it doesn't necessarily have to be in the typical newsroom fashion.  I'm talking about movies.  They are becoming a viable way to present important news stories.  And I'm not just talking about big political events like JFK's examination of the assination of JFK.  There's a movie that just opened this weekend called 127 HOURS.  The reason that's it's so prevelent in my consciousness right now is because not only is it based on a true story and it is a story that I am actually familiar with having (vaguely) paid attention to the story a couple years back.  127 HOURS basically covers the gruelling 127 hour ordeal of mountain climber Aron Ralston who goes out for a bikeride and somehow ends up with his arm trapped under a giant bolder.  Long story short, the baddass motherfucker has to cut off his own arm with a Swiss Army knife, climb out of a canyon, and make his own way back to civilization and, being in America, terribly overpriced and unaffordable healthcare.  All reviews I've heard about this movie so far make it out to be a work of cinematic genius.  It stars James "So Good" Franco and is directed by Danny Boyle and while I haven't yet seen the film I'll bet dollars to doughnuts that this movie will not only be more memorable than the original 2003 news story, but it will also be more emotionally engaging.  And I mean, really, what's the difference hearing about this story in 2003 and 2010?  The only thing that the purveyors of this information have now that they didn't have back then is greater perspective.

For some reason, again, movies that portray actual events are seen as somehow inaccurate.  Now in some cases this is true (looking at you U-571) but for the most part I don't think these movies aren't any more - or less- accurate than any story presented in most "legitimate" newscasts (THE DAILY SHOW aside).  Somehow we've been mind-fucked by the established to equate objectivity with truth and subjectivity with fiction.  The truth is that no matter who presents the news -whether it be Walter Cronkite or Oliver Stone- he is presenting it from a certain point of view.  And it's virtually unavoidable.  I say virtually because there is an objective reality that occurs independently of our perspective and it is possible to approach objective reality through language, just as it is possible to approach absolute zero under laboratory conditions.  But the truth is that real life is usually pretty fucking boring and we need to add something to spice it.  The media tries to spice things up without appearing to spice things up.  That's the conceit of journalism: we are expected to believe that they are reporting objective reality wholesale but at the same time they have to be the middleman and make it palatable for mass consumption.  Then you throw in individual biases of the reporters, mass biases of the networks or organizations putting out the story, incomplete facts, inaccurate sources, stress caused by deadlines, and good old fashioned human error and you can't help but be subjective. 

The thing with the movie industry is everybody knows that it's not objective.  It's completely subjective.  But that doesn't necessarily make what they say any less true.  A movie is generally acknowledged to be somebody's point of view so that tension between accuracy and entertainment that the media produces melts away.  This is why you can have a movie like BLOW which not only portrays an actual person and actual events and still have graphic portrayals of violence, drug use, and (if I remember correctly) nudity.  Besides which, most people are not capable of conveying their own story.  The simple fact of the matter is that Liam Neeson can be a better you than you.  You are most likely inarticulate in front of a camera.  You are most likely unable to emote effectively.  You probably aren't even all that attractive, or at least photogenic.  In all respects Liam Neeson is not only a better person than you, but he can captivate audiences, and if there's a nude scene I've also heard that he's hung like a clydesdale, which will reflect positively on your character.    

"So what does all this have to do with a bunch of dudes trapped in a mine in Chile?" you might be asking yourself.  Well, very little actually.  Or maybe a lot.  The other thing that really struck me while watching the coverage of this crisis was how media conscious we have become.  Almost every reporter who reported on the story made some reference to the fact that if these dudes survived the ordeal they were going to be able to sell their stories.  Now, whenever there is a traumatic event that occurs anywhere in the world and it reaches the attention of national and/or national media it's pretty much a given that any survivors (or the next of kin of the victims) are going to be able to sell the rights to their story to a reputable studio (or, as a last resort, FOX) for a bazillion dollars, buy an island somewhere in the South Pacific and spend the rest of their lives watching INCEPTION while doing blow off the fake tits of blonde strippers who can't speak English.  (Well, at least the bazillion dollars part.)  Even the dudes trapped down in that mine shaft knew the financial potential of their predicament.  One guy even kept a journal, a fact which in the media tended to overshadow other more pressing aspects of the story like: how were they dealing with going to the bathroom,  how were they getting food and air, the psychological effects of being confined in such a small space, and exactly how long does a group of heterosexual men have to be trapped a hundred (or so) meters below the Earth's surface in a hot, confined space before they resort to full-blown homosexual relations. 

All of this is fine, though, because I'm sure they'll touch on this kind of stuff in the inevitable movie adaptation.  And I'm sure the the film will be a lot more engaging and (more importantly) profitable than the news stories.  This story of the Chilean miners trapped in the miners is, above all, a message of hope: the hope that eventually something tragic will happen to me, hopefully without maiming me permanently (maybe being trapped somewhere underground), and I'll be able to live off the residuals for the rest of my life.  Now if I am attacked by a rapid jaguar, struck by a meteorite, kidnapped by terrorists or crash land on a mysterious tropical island with a giant smoke monster, the first call won't be to law enforcement or emergency services, it will be to my lawyer to immediately start shopping around my story to all major studios (even FOX).  The most important question in any emergency situation now isn't "How can I make every day count if I survive this?"  Now it's "Who should play me in the movie adaptation?"  Some people reading this might think that I'm being sarcastic or criticizing our hyper-media consciousness, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  I'm all for anything in our society which can potentially make me a multi-millionaire overnight.  I just hope that my crisis happens before Liam Neeson retires.


  1. Replies
    1. I'll assume that you're lost deep in thought after being inspired by my insight. Either way, thanks for stopping by.