by Leonce Gaiter
Unemployment benefit payouts hit a 26-year high. Foreclosures up 30% from a year ago. Layoffs abound. 43 states face budget deficits, forcing them to cut jobs, programs, and funds for education and social services.
A major story on CNN.com is, “‘Mad Men’ star’s hair is ‘bane of my existence.’” The Fox News front page promises Glenn Beck on the “Washington State Christmas Scandal.”
Economists fear deflation and depression. Two of the Big Three automakers may not survive through the end of the year.
The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker writes about a 27 year-old on Facebook, and a Hillary Clinton cardboard cutout. Jackson Diehl luxuriates in a bubble bath of quid pro quo and self-congratulations for his attendance at a Bush photo-op.
Food stamp usage nears an all-time high with more than 31.5 million Americans using the program. Americans are losing their livelihoods and having trouble buying food to eat.
I sense a disconnect.
The country is in serious trouble and a significant segment of the mainstream press hasn’t got a clue how to handle it. They appear tone-deaf and increasingly trivial. During the bubble years, the press learned to hawk self-promotion, triviality and political boosterism as “journalism.” They became insiders, members of a ruling court, not detached observers or, heaven forbid, muckrakers. They shed the ink-stained wretch image and became privileged, cosmetically altered insiders, intimate with power and happy to knead that intimacy into power of their own.
A lot of journalism became a gossipy exercise in snark and sniffy outrage during the Clinton years. With 9/11 and The Bush ascension, the profession morphed into a jingoistic orgy of access amplification–who knew the highest ranking who from whom to get the latest, probably deceptive administration spin.
The rest of us put up with it. During the Bubble Years, weren’t we all destined to be rich? Just watch that high-tech 401k grow 27% a year; get that “liar” loan and watch your home value double. We all identified with wealth and power; we dreamt we’d have it. We weaned a whole generation on that illusion. Politics reduced to celebrity gossip and international affairs to jingoistic sound bites–it suited us fine. We were untouchable.
Even 9/11, through which we might have examined our place in the world and our exercise of power within it, instead led us to pull further inward, to howl not only at the guilty, but at the whole world. We were like kings insulted by peasants, desperate to re-establish might. So we broke things.
Now, suddenly, the prospect of plenty disappears; government actions have actual consequences–and not just for anonymous foreigners in godforsaken deserts. One congressional bill might mean the difference between having a job and not–between keeping your house and homelessness. But much of the mainstream press–particularly the television press from which most of us get our news–don’t adequately address this. They don’t do the hard work of explaining why this is happening or how it might be stopped or where it might end. They shake and shimmy to the gossip and the spin. They are so obsessed with their roles as insiders and removed from the lives we lead that they continue to partner with the powerful as spin conduits (The Washington Post‘s Frank Ahrens rehashed the old right wing wish for Mitt Romney as “car czar”- because “he has autos in his DNA,”- since his father was chairman of American Motors. Obviously, it’s his birthright, like a throne), or desperately clutch a sensational local story like the Blagojevich affair and construct hypothetical Rube Goldberg-like connections to the president-elect to justify their excessive, prurient interest.
The press doesn’t know how to handle our descent into darkness; and neither do we. We’re still in denial. Just as the financial kings Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson have attacked this crisis piecemeal—let’s throw a little money here to handle this part, a little interest rate adjustment there to handle that part–we’re not acknowledging the big picture. Our eyes have been so blinded by 20 years of bright and shiny things that we can’t fathom an America generally re-cast in sepia and gray.
But yes, the next job on the chopping block might be mine or yours. Your credit cards might readjust to 26% for no reason. Next year’s health insurance bill might rise 30%. The fire department might not come when you call due to crisis-induced layoffs. How many of us acknowledge that we might be sustaining ourselves with food stamps?
We haven’t seen the worst of this. We hear that again and again. Obama keeps telling us, but gas prices fall and we convince ourselves that all will be well. Blagojevich kindly distracts us with sleaze. The Fox News dancing girls dazzle us with smiles and the pundits gossip and chatter at one another as if there’s nothing more substantive to say or do.
Our dreams, along with our toys, are vanishing. The press and the public pretend not to notice. The first stage of grieving is denial. We’re doing such a damned good job of it, I dread the day we get to anger.
Raised in New Orleans, Washington D.C., Germany, Missouri, Maryland and elsewhere, Leonce Gaiter is the quintessential army brat-rootless and restive. He began writing in grade school and continued the habit through his graduation from Harvard. He moved to Los Angeles to work in the creative and business ends of the film and music industries. His nonfiction writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, and in national syndication. His thriller “Bourbon Street” was published by Carroll & Graf. Chapters of “Bourbon Street” as well as additional fiction and non-fiction writings are available on his site: www.leoncegaiter.com