Notes from Underground


The popular pseudo-scandal

Dance of the dummies



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Like nearly everything else, media scandals have been dumbed down in recent years. It used to be that in order for a matter to be categorized as scandalous, some notable actually had to do something bad. But times have changed. Today, it's enough merely to say something bad, or rather, something that, even if correct, is determined to be beyond the bounds of acceptable commentary. After that, things fall out in a predictable manner. All actors read dutifully from the same script, with only mild variations from incident to incident depending on minor contingencies.

Examine the vast majority of pop-culture-fueled pseudo-scandals of the last few years, and you'll find that they hardly differ one from the other. The only things that change are the names of those involved. The resultant trajectory of events is so monotonously familiar by now that it brings to mind the "Mad Lib" game, where a story is already told and it's up to the reader to supply amusing specifics here and there.

There are three movements to the "controversial statement by a celebrity" symphony that plays before us every few months. First, news of the scandalous proclamation is broadcast far and wide; and that task, we can be assured, is assisted by whatever arm of the political establishment believes it stands to gain from raising awareness of the awful words that were spoken. Useful dummies operated by one hand or another — "left" or "right" — of the political ruling class then respond to the outrageous words with Pavlovian bursts of drearily predictable righteous indignation and furious but utterly unimaginative vitriol.

Things reach a fever pitch of rehearsed outrage until the second stage of the process, when the initial speaker of the offensive words feels extreme pressure to recant and apologize. The impression is given that the aggrieved parties (whoever they may be, and their identity changes from "scandal" to "scandal") have extended an olive branch, that they will drop their grievances over the horrible words uttered by the hateful bastard if the bastard in question abases himself, grovels, and begs for forgiveness in a properly obsequious manner.

What is to be marked at this stage is the complete disingenuousness of almost all of the apology-clamorers. The people in a snit about whatever was said have generally made up their minds that anyone who would say such a thing is beyond the pale and cannot be redeemed. Moreover, their puppet masters know that portraying the enemy as lacking any sympathetic qualities whatsoever is better for business, because it keeps their minions usefully infuriated. Thus the call for an apology is bogus, because a man can legitimately accept an apology only if he thinks the apology signifies something legitimate.

In fact, the demand for an apology is a political move. It's a self-serving way for the puppet masters to seem as though they're not just cynically exploiting the circumstances for their own benefit. When the groveling apology eventually comes (as it always does), its text will be scrutinized, and invariably it will be found to have "not gone far enough." Further apologies will then be forthcoming, and the more the apologizer abases himself, the less slack he will be cut. Further demands will then be issued that he forfeit his livelihood, that he be fined or arrested, or that he be made to pay, dearly. How much? We are never told, because the idea is to keep exploiting the programmed and rehearsed outrage of the puppets. Therefore, no limits on punishment or abasement are ever set.

In the meantime, a third movement gathers force: the backlash. After all, the second arm of the political establishment has its own minions, and sees its own possibilities for advancement once those on the other side have overplayed their hand. And they almost always do overplay it, for one consequence of unleashing people's hatred is that hate, given dominion, knows no bounds. The increase in irrationality and disproportion will eventually provoke a backlash from those who see that it has "gone too far." It is important to note that, as with the other side's machinations, those of the reactive side reflect no particular concern about the justice or injustice of the embattled celebrity's plight. They're simply seizing on a chance to wrest power away from their adversaries.

And so, as the pseudo-scandal winds down (and they all do, eventually), nothing truly changes. Each side of the political sham-spectrum has found a way to benefit. Each, it could be said, has its own reward. And most of the population — those paying attention, anyway — remained ensnared and enslaved, either by the Republican "Right" or the Democrat "Left," just as they've been trained to be.

Though the inventory of pseudo-scandals from the last two decades mostly involves public figures under fire from leftist liberals for politically incorrect declarations of one kind or another (Jimmy the Greek, Andy Rooney, John Rocker, Trent Lott, and Don Imus come to mind among others), the establishment Right has recently shown itself equally adept at exploiting imprudent remarks against their own heroes and mascots. Just look at how President Obama had to rush to "recalibrate" his rash condemnation of the Cambridge police after the Republican establishment sycophantically and opportunistically played the familiar riff of cops' being wonderful, dutiful, salt of the earth, blue collar, the backbone of America, etc., and certainly incapable of acting "stupidly." And just consider how David Letterman was forced into humiliated submission after drawing the ire of Alaska's GOP queen bee, Sarah Palin, following his "top ten list" crack about her daughter's getting impregnated by a randy New York Yankee.

The scandal cycle shows no signs of stopping. In fact, I fearlessly predict that sometime in the next year or so, someone famous or semi-famous will say something stupid or insensitive, and the entire process I have outlined here will run its course yet again. Just watch.

Or better yet, don't.

August 29, 2009

© 2009 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

Mr. Nowicki's personal blog is Dyspeptic Myopic, at www.andynowicki.blogspot.com.

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