By Brian M. Howle
When I took this gig, I more or less promised by publisher that this would be a humor/stories-of-life kinda column. Because if nothing else, I’ve experienced a lot of stuff, and I possess my dad’s quick wit. Fortunately for me, I also possess my mother’s gift of words and a love for crafting virtual reality via the King’s English. And I sincerely hope that anyone reading this on a regular basis understands sarcasm, cynicism, dark humor, facetiousness, sub-references and emotional response. ‘Cause today, we’re pushing all the buttons, pulling all the strings, hitting all the raw nerves, and quite possibly burning a few bridges before I’m through.
Awhile back, some Republicans were having a hissy-fit because someone was hummin’ “Blowing in the Wind” near the Oval Office, when lo and behold an actual world-safety situation broke in Iraq. In response, our government – i.e.; the President, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, advisors and congressmen – decided enough was enough and started lobbing a few cruise missiles around ol’ Saddam. And faster than you could say “anal retentive”, the immediate knee-jerk response of those Republicans was to start screaming, “Wag The Dog, Way The Dog, this is life imitating art imitating life”. Apparently, those boys saw the movie, and must have gotten ahold of some bad popcorn laced with LSD, which blurred their ability to distinguish between reality and make believe. What irked me most at the time was the fact that this military response to Saddam was carried out by a president who is a Democrat, dealing with a problem left over by his Republican predecessor’s administration.
I mean, is there anyone out there who honestly thinks that if we just forgot about Saddam – and kept on stamping our feet, shaking a stern finger and arching our brows as we clenched our teeth while admonishing, “Saddam, for the LAST time, put that biochemical weapon down! … I mean it, young man, don’t you dare make me turn this aircraft carrier around!” – that he would just go away?
By the way, I hope you enjoyed that 74¢ a gallon gas we guzzled away in our SUVs, ATVs, Humvees, Jet Skis and BMW M-3s, ‘cause that was the payoff for the Gulf War, not human rights violations. I thoroughly enjoyed the cheap gas, as I drive a POS.
Back to the current world. The Inquisition is over (well, maybe, since Ken renewed the lease on the copiers for another year), Monica has written an excellent accessory for your bird cage, and we were happily settling into a refreshing pattern of slow news days. Then the media god “Overkilleus” smiled down upon the ratings woes, and bestowed Slobodan Milosevic upon them.
“Oh, thank you, thank you, Overkilleus,” wept Sam Donaldson, struggling to keep a small, seemingly dead animal positioned on his head. “Surely, you have saved us all from cable market loss!” Sam joyously exclaimed.
“But Overkilleus, what have we done to receive such a gift, how have we proven our worthiness to you?” implored Wolf Blitzer in his best Hugh Downs voice.
“Hey, can it, Cable Boy, I still have a follow-up question,” snapped Sam, the ferret on his head snarlingly nodding in agreement.
Overkilleus put his mighty hands between the two men and pushed them apart, frightening the ferret, which lunged for a boom microphone that swung down and hit Wolf in the forehead, reproducing his legendary forehead knot from a hastily prepared live feed from the Pentagon during Desert Storm.
“That’s not fair! Now everyone’s gonna watch CNN to see Wolf’s knot!” screamed Sam as he wrestled to break the ferret’s grip on a transmission cable. “No one will see or hear my from-the-hip, take-no-prisoners drivel!”
“Now, now, Sam,” Overkilleus lovingly consoled him, “Don’t you worry about those ratings. I’ve got Allyson Floyd and Nina Sossamon on your lead-in locals, you’ll get your ratings.”
“Oh, bless you, bless you, Overkilleus,” Sam blurted out as he began weeping uncontrollably again. “What can I ever do to show my appreciation for your generosity?”
“Lose the ferret,” Overkilleus said as he helped a stunned Wolf to his feet.
“Cut me, cut me, Nick!” Wolf deliriously begged a nearby sound engineer. “I’ve gotta do this for Adrianne! YO ADRIANNE!”
“Come on, Wolfie,” chortled Overkilleus as he steadied the cable icon and unwrapped his earpiece from his trench coat epilets. “Let’s go call Connie Chung and pretend to be Newt’s mom blistered on Tequila!”
There was a time when war was taken seriously by everyone. Editorial opinions and political cartoons were just as abundant, but they didn’t consume our every waking moment, and we stayed focused on the gravity of the matter. Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley and Walter Cronkite didn’t trivialize the news, they just reported it.
I distinctly remember the birth of ABC’s “Nightline” with Ted Koppel. The Iranians had just stormed the American Embassy and taken the hostages. “Nightline” began as a crisis-coverage production, slated to disappear with the hostages’ release. But as the ordeal dragged on, the world witnessed the advent of the “Crisis du Jour Logo”, complete with immediately recognizable theme music. Theme music – for a crisis update. Oy vey …
Well, I guess it served its purpose in preparing us for the ‘90s. CNN’s haunting string-laden orchestral little number, created exclusively for that judicial travesty known as “O.J.’s Day Off”. No kidding, I actually read in one of the national news magazines at the time, one reporter’s description of the music, something like “the violin’s high, soaring melody symbolizing Nicole’s and Ron’s tragic deaths, contrasted by the cello’s low, ominous presence, representing O.J.’s dark and ominous alibis. OY VEY.
Oh yeah, someone explain this one to me, ‘cause I’m really having problems with this one. During World War II, did we announce to the entire world our military strategies, troop placement options, time tables, troop numbers … stuff like that? Did we ever notify the Axis powers that we were running a little low on specific bombs? Did we send the enemy our public opinion poll results? Or was “Loose Lips Sink Ships” just a clever Yankee propaganda slogan?
Today, if we’re sending in F-117A stealth jet fighters, there’s a blueprint rendering of the plane, complete with vital stats like range, armament, top speed, etc., filling in the “blue screen” over the news anchor’s shoulder, followed by a video clip of where the plane is based, meeting the people who built it, interviewing townspeople on how they feel about “their plane” engaging in such a dangerous mission. And sometimes, they even feature the pilot, time permitting.
Unless, of course, the pilot is shot down and captured, or as has happened as this is being written, soldiers are captured by the enemy. Then you’re gonna learn just about everything there is to know about them. Less than 24 hours after their capture, each of the three American soldiers had their bruised, stoic faces boxed in the color-coded graphic, offering little personal facts about each one’s high school years, favorite music, favorite hobbies … Reminds me of that bio on the gatefold pages of the Playmate of the Month. And that bothers me.
As the NATO strike against Milosevic’s thugs became imminent, Serbian TV psyched up the faithful by broadcasting “Wag The Dog”. Can you imagine that? Frothing up the dogs of war by comparing their impending punishment to a fictitious yarn about a U.S. President fabricating a war in the Slavic Theater of Operations.
I can’t fathom anyone being that desperate to bolster their venom and hatred here in America.
No matter how self-serving, self-feeding or self-glorifying the media becomes, Americans must tolerate it. Regardless of sensationalism or hyperbole or rhetoric, underneath the high-tech production values and eccentric profound revelation lies the very soul of freedom and a free society. Our system isn’t perfect, and may never be without faults – but the beauty of it is that we can change it, if the people so desire. We have the means to change without civil disruption and mayhem, and we call it Election Day. In Kosovo today – as in Bosnia before – Milosevic has not only taken away the Kosovar’s rights, he’s taken away their existence, their lives.
My father served in World War II, a war in which this country heroically committed its sons and fathers, with patriotic determination and complete unity, and ultimately prevailed. My brother served in Viet Nam, a war in which this country tragically committed its sons and fathers, with no stomach for the price of victory and in complete disarray and division back at home, and ultimately failed. The lives of over 50,000 Americans – 50,00 brave and honorable Americans – were sacrificed for a pointless end game, which consisted of no end game.
So, we have two distinct choices to make as Americans. We can continue to lead the world in promoting what is right, because there are some things worth fighting – and dying – for. Or, we can stick our heads in the sand and let the rest of the world fend for themselves. The main drawback to that decision is that one day when we feel a tap on our shoulders and pull our heads up, we’ll find the world overrun with Slobodan’s and Saddam’s soulless followers. Then we would have to kill for the sake of killing, not for the sake of freedom.
Whatever direction our involvement takes, I hope the American people take a united and fervent stand. My personal wish is for some unforeseen intervention – say, the President of Brazil hosting a peace conference where warring leaders could samba their differences away, or even the realization of the prophecies’ accounts of the Tribulation (since we are in the final days of the millennium).
If it’s not the latter, I would look forward to a future encounter between Overkilleus and Arthur Kent, NBC’s “Scud Stud” from Desert Storm, who zoomed from star to oblivion following the Gulf War.
“Oh man, Overkilleus, I can’t believe you’ve called me after all this time!” an uncontrollably excited Kent would gush. “So, what’s the assignment? Beirut? Rwanda? China?”
“No, I have a much bigger task for you, Arthur,” Overkilleus would say, lowering his voice in importance ass he puts his arm around Kent’s leather-jacketed shoulder. “I want you to find out the truth about something the world needs to resolve.” Overkilleus slowly looks up at a map on the wall. “I want you to go here,” he says as his points out Washington, D.C.
“Wow … D.C. … So, what is it? The President? Congress? The Supreme Court? PACs? Sex scandals?” Kent babbles excitedly.
“A ferret.” smiles Overkilleus.
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, April 8, 1999.