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The Madness of MokcikNab
Motives, movements and melodrama in the life of a thirty something mum.

Monday, April 17, 2006
Sorry Murrow, We're Burrowed in Too Deep

Where'd all the good people go?
I've been changin' channels
I don't see them on the tv shows
Where'd all the good people go?
We got heaps and heaps of what we sow
Jack Johnson, Good People

I was drawn to watch Good Night, Good Luck mainly for two things. First, instead of Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, Good Luck reminds me of a substitute newsreader who used the same phrase to end his newscast, but because he didn't have quite the same standing or panache, it ended up sounding like he was hoping the viewer would get laid afterwards. The second thing is George Clooney. I'm miserably jaundiced when it comes to pretty faces. I didn't think he could write or direct and wanted the film to prove me wrong.

So what did I think? I thought the film was a little patchy, and that a lot of reel time was perhaps wasted on incidental plots and a fat lady singing jazz, although Dianne Reeves did sing beautifully and I am now going to look for the soundtrack. However, Clooney's in-your-face message more than made up for his slight lack of craft. I wish he had made this film a little bit further up in his auteur career, when the direction and storyline could have been tighter, and he could have better conveyed the sense of persecution and stifle of the McCarthy era. But I realise he must have wanted to do this film now, at this time, when the moral of the story couldn't have had a greater significance.

The story started out with Murrow giving a speech at the Radio Television News Directors Association Convention in Chicago, in the autumn of 1958.

It is my desire, if not my duty, to try to talk to you journeymen
with some candor about what is happening to radio and television.
And if what I say is irresponsible, I alone am responsible
for the saying of it
Our history will be what we make of it.
And if there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now
and there should be preserved the kinescopes of one week
of all three networks
they will there find recorded in black and white, and in color
evidence of decadence,escapism
and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live
We are currently wealthy, fat,comfortable, and complacent
We have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information
Our mass media reflect this

The speech in the film is a distillation of the actual keynote address, which you can read in full here, and which has even more quotes to justify the current disenchantment my friends and I feel about television in general. Like for example :

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation. Heywood Broun once said, "No body politic is healthy until it begins to itch." I would like television to produce some itching pills rather than this endless outpouring of tranquilizers. It can be done. Maybe it won't be, but it could. Let us not shoot the wrong piano player. Do not be deluded into believing that the titular heads of the networks control what appears on their networks. They all have better taste.

Or this :

To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.

This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful.

Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.

Unfortunately, we can only take comfort in knowing that we're not unreasonable to think something is not right.

I'm afraid things have gone so much worse since 1958, that the damage is perhaps irreversible. In the very same speech, Murrow lamented that television and radio have "grown up as an incompatible combination of showbusiness, advertising and news". Here and now, there is political patronage and personal ambition thrown into the molotov cocktail. The media has world domination; and all of us born after Baird cannot escape it.

George Clooney, whose father Nick was a TV anchor and radio host, must have wanted Good Night, Good Luck to be a kind of roadsign to steer us back in the right direction. Unfortunately, I think the people who wanted viewers to go on this trippy detour knew exactly what they were doing. To them, there was no mistake.

Here's a test. Do you like the above piece or do you like my next question :

Of all these TV doctors and interns, who would you rather sleep with :

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A. Dr Gregory House

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B. Dr Derek Shepherd

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C. J.D

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D. Warrick Brown (okay, he's in forensics, not medicine, but hey, he can play doctor with me)

and for a bit of irony,

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E. Dr Douglas Ross

You were actually considering the answers, weren't you? See? I rest my case.


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