Ebola is running rampant! Terrorists are bombing and shooting the crap out of Europe! ISIS is taking over Iraq and Syria! Governments are falling and ISIS sympathizers are taking their places! Russia is being a possessive jerk and won’t leave Ukraine alone! Asia based airplanes are disappearing and falling from the skies! North Korea is crazy! China is sinister!
Not one of those declarative sentences cover our domestic problems and yet they’re enough to induce a panic attack. Most of those declarative sentences are straight forward and they’re enough to induce a panic attack.
Now turn on the news. What do we see? Fox and CNN and MSNBC allowing their pundits to wax ineloquently about the further dangers in our near future.
We generally allow the news to run on our television all day. Most companies I’ve worked for had news channels running through the entire day. I often feel surrounded by all the things out of my control. Where do I find sanity when all of the speculation and analysis becomes too much?
It used to be NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams. After listening to to the constant “what ifs” Brian was a sea of sanity. The “This is how it truly is” guy.
I enjoy Brian because he is not the stodgy newscaster of the supposed Golden Age of Television. He’s not Walter Cronkite and thank God for that. He’s engaging, direct, and funny. He has an eye for aesthetics and yes, he tells a good story.
In our house we refer to him as Big Head Brian. This was started after his many appearances on Comedy Central when his giant floating head would spar with the host in short segments (more on the Comedy Central thing shortly). I enjoy nicknames as they imbue my news with familiarity. We call Pete Williams of NBC News Uncle Pete. We’re aware the two are not related, it just adds to our experience. I shout out greetings like he’s a returning character from Cheers.
I waited to write about this because I wanted to see how it played out. In the end I believe Brian will be back. It may not seem like it will come out this way as there is much speculation about his possible replacements and what this means for the current status of the news.
There are no spoilers in this paragraph. There’s a scene in Ocean’s 13 with Matt Damon’s character being encouraged to turn snitch by an agent. The agent tells the alleged thief that he’ll be locked away so long it will be as though he never existed. People will act as though he’s dead and begin telling his stories as their own.
Okay, it’s not exactly the same thing as what’s going on with Brian Williams but this scene was the first thing that came to my mind as all of the explanations came out.
Thirteen years is a very long time. Think back to where you were and the people you knew. It’s likely that some of the people you knew then are no longer in your life. It’s also likely that people you currently know have no knowledge whatsoever of the people you once knew.
People tell stories. People tell their friend’s stories, generally giving that friend credit (someone once called this three levels of I don’t give a shit which I find hilarious).
Eventually the stories morph:
My buddy Steve went to Seattle to watch Pearl Jam, went to the wrong bar and saw Neil Young perform at a small club.
Back in the day my buddy went to Seattle and saw Neil Young at a club
Man, we took a trip to Seattle and met Neil Young
Did I ever tell you about the time I had drinks with Neil Young?
This happens over the years partly because of ease of telling (notice the first change is a shortened version but still accurate). Then because the person remembers the story so clearly, and like a decade has gone by and yes,they’ve been to Seattle once, it turns into we. Then he’s telling people who wouldn’t know this story and if he’s the one having drinks with Neil it is a better story and no longer third degree I don’t give a shit AND, somehow, that’s actually how he remembers it.
How do we memorize things? Through repetition. What’s a story constantly retold? Repetitious. Add in a psychological game of Telephone and it all makes some sense.
Colbert essentially retired his show in December and two months later Jon Stewart, fresh off of the release of Rosewater, has announced his retirement. That late night pairing was my second dose of sanity in this chaotic, Breaking News world.
We’ve all heard that factoid people drop left and right when they’re current on the world’s happenings. Most millennials get their news from Stewart and Colbert and they’re better informed than any Fox viewer, at a minimum. Insulting to Fox, funny and true, which is beside the point but had to be said.
Why were they so popular and educational? Because similar to the show Drunk History and their effect on actual history, they made it fun to learn about politics, geo- and domestic.
Why sort through 10 run-on sentences filled with fifty cent words and that say nothing while watching CNN when a segment on The Daily Show will break it down concisely in less than 5 minutes? It boggles the mind.
I remember when Brian Williams began making his appearances. It helped audiences see him as more than a news guy, introduced young people who normally wouldn’t be interested in him to take another look. His being on Comedy Central, on trusted programs, gave him credibility with the Comedy Central viewers.
It also gave Comedy Central some credibility though they didn’t need that thanks to other stories and segments but it was a nice bonus and needed mentioning.
The sky is falling and Brian Williams is nowhere to be found. By his choice and the network’s but in seclusion. A trusted family member has been ostracized. Do we ban Cousin Billy from the dinner table because he tells a tall tale whenever he comes? Or do we chuckle along and retain the important stuff like the fact that Cousin Billy is about to be a dad or his wife received that promotion?
Who will be the next voice to soothe our weary souls? John Oliver is doing an amazing job on HBO but he visits us once a week and in seasons. Larry Wilmore is quite interesting but the new show is awkward and will take time to bloom, much as Stewart and Colbert’s freshman shows once did.
I have no answer but I do have a thought. Run, Brian Williams, do not walk, run back to those cameras and give us a YouTube channel, make a deal with Amazon Prime, SOMETHING!