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October 4, 2015

TV 101: Why we need public figures who lie to us (and how TV screws that up!)

by Jay Black, posted Mar 11th 2009 10:02AM
I am so gonna ponder the hell out of you!Because I tend to hang out with mostly hobos and philosophy majors, about 90% of my conversations wind up in hypotheticals about the kind of superpower I would most want. While I don't yet have an answer to that worked out, I have figured out the superpower I would least want: mind reading.

Think about just how awful it would be to read another person's thoughts:

You would know for certain that your wife fantasizes about other people in bed (probably your friends). You would know for sure that your father doesn't brag to his friends about the $110 a month you make as a semi-professional blogger. You would know just exactly what websites your husband is looking at with the "private browsing" function turned on in Safari (and you would be blinded by them).

It would be horrible. And that's just the kind of world TV is making for us.

My father once scared the hell out of me. He said, "Next time you go flying, look down at the guys doing maintenance on the engine. Then realize, they care just about their jobs as much as you care about your job."

This was an awful thing to say, because I don't care very much about my job. Any single chance I get to slack, I take. If I were working at an airline and I saw a few loose rivets, I wouldn't think of all the people that might die in a flaming wreck, I'd consider how much work it would take to tighten those rivets versus what I brought for lunch that day. If it's a good lunch -- I'm thinking pizza with meatballs on it -- the people on that plane are going to die.

Now, I'm pretty sure that all of you would be just as irresponsible as me. But I can't know for certain that you suck as bad as I suck because you cover the stench of your real personality with a bountiful perfume of lies.

I'm not criticizing you for this; I'm happy that you lie to me. If I found out everyone was as bad as I am, I might as well transport myself to Mars and hang out with Dr. Manhattan and his big blue penis for all eternity.

See, I need to think that I'm an exception. I need to think that I'm a horrible, rotten person and that those people working on the plane are much better human beings than me. I know that's not true, but as far as I'm concerned, that lie is as important as the wings for keeping me in the air.

It's even more important that my public figures lie to me, especially politicians. I want to think that the people leading me are smarter and more moral than me. The idea that President Obama might be watching the same rerun of Beverly Hills Bordello on Showtime OnDemand that I'm watching doesn't make me feel more connected to him, it makes me feel nervous.

I'm an idiot. I don't want my leaders to be like me.

So, I expect them to lie to me. I want them to lie to me. In the deep, dark places of my heart, I know that they aren't better than me, but in the same Orwellian doublethink that allowed me to believe Kristy Thompson turned me down for a date senior year because she really did want to "preserve the friendship," I'm able to ignore the lie so as to maintain my sanity.

This is where TV knocks on the door, Larry-Dallas-style, to ruin everything.

In the last 20 years, the reach and availability of TV has grown to Kirstie Alley proportions. We've gone from 3 channels each giving us 30 minutes of news at 6 o'clock to almost a dozen channels blowing news at us 24 hours a day.

CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and all the other channels have a financial incentive to expose the lies we know our public figures tell. Because even though we know that public lying is part of the social contract, nothing gets people watching TV more than a really good scandal.

Scandal is the oil that keeps the cogs of these channels moving smoothly. They thrive on it, and will do their best to create it.

Right now, at this very moment, there are literally hundreds of reporters running down thousands of leads, all with one goal in mind: destroy the lie that these public figures have crafted for us. They are praying to Jesus that President Obama once cheated on his wife. They are baking pies for Buddha in hopes that Michael Phelps discovers crystal meth. They are lighting cigars for Jobu in order to assure another DP wanders into Christian Bale's eyeline.

Your first thought might be, "Big Deal! So what if they expose the lies!? Maybe those people shouldn't try to act so perfect all the time!"

If it were 30 years ago, I'd agree with you. A few scandals here and there made sure our public figures carefully maintained their lies. It kept their lying honest.

But with today's news cycle, it's literally impossible to hide your true self from the cameras. And, as we've already determined, everyone's true self is actually a pretty awful thing.

What we're headed for here is an apocalypse of truth. If TV keeps turning its unblinking eye on the people we need to pretend to trust, we will destroy one worthy person after another, tearing them down only for having committed the crime of being human. Then what would we be left with?

In Larry Niven's Ringworld series, the Puppeteers created a birth lottery that made sure that only the very lucky got to have more than one child. Eventually, this evolutionary pressure led to Teela Brown, a woman actually bred for luck.

I believe that TV News is doing to our public figures what Pierson's Puppeteers did in Niven's novel. Only, instead of selecting for luck, we're selecting for "ability not to be found out to be the fraud that we all know in our hearts that you really are."

Natural public figure selection is going to result in people who so believe their own BS that no amount of truth or scandal can destroy the public's faith in them. Instead of public figures who lie to us out of cynicism or because the social contract necessitates that lie, we'll have public figures who actually believe their own lies.

What will those public figures look like?

Pretty scary, I know.

The solution is a simple one, but I'm not sure if we have the collective will to actually carry it out. What we need to do is this:

Stop caring.

When scandals erupt -- when an otherwise good governor decides to get a little sumpin' sumpin' on the side or when a sports star decides to fill his body with random hormones -- instead of consuming this information like it was a big deal, just ignore it.

If TV won't let us maintain the necessary lies that keep our society running, it's up to us to do it ourselves!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go freebase some cocaine with the high-priced prostitute I'm cheating on my wife with.

(Jay Black is a comedian and writer who is best known as the person who repeatedly suggested to Zack Snyder: more penis. For more information about Jay or to catch one of his live shows, go to www.jayblackcomedy.com.)

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I actually really enjoyed this blog and I agree with most of what you are saying, espcially the stuff about being a slacker and the loose screws on a plane. I've never considered that everyone else in the world could slack as much as I do and it is scary because if I were working on the plane I might ignore it too.

March 18 2009 at 12:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Felipe de Leech

That girl up there's got a pretty mouth, and I heard she's loyal too.

March 14 2009 at 3:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Uhm...you do realize that politicians and scandals have been subjects to discuss since the time of the Greeks?

March 11 2009 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to dukrous's comment
Jay Black

Of course. The point I'm trying to make is that media coverage has expanded somewhat since the Bronze Age; the number of professional lives lost to scandal have increased accordingly. Babe Ruth wouldn't have been allowed to play baseball had he been reported on in the 30s the way we report today.

March 11 2009 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jay Black

By the way, my apologies for the choppy nature of that reply. I'm banging these out on an iPhone and my fingers are decidedly more pudgy than Apple's ideal user.

March 11 2009 at 11:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It's ironic you put Rush's photo in your article, since he's been proven right 99% of the time. I guess that's why you didn't mention him specifically in the article at all.

March 11 2009 at 10:39 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Gordy's comment

Proven right about what? He is a truly sick, deranged man. Though that gives him too much credit for humanity, of which he has none.

March 11 2009 at 11:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike Davis

Gordy's right.

Except for the mixing-up of the Constitution & Declaration of Independence. And, well, http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1895. Oxycontin is a harsh mistress.

March 11 2009 at 11:14 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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