Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In Loco Parentis (Monster Trucks and Dead Ducks)

Ed Murrow warned us in the 50's that TV could turn out to be little more than a box with wires and lights; Newton Minnow in the 60's called it a vast wasteland. Today, it's America's cheapest baby-sitter. Just plunk the kids down in front of the tube and go about your other business. As I've noted before, Madison Wisconsin is the world's home office for nanny-staters....everyone must be protected by state, federal, and municipal government from all ills and threats, real or imagined.
In that spirit, local TV news is fully on-board, with regular feature segments about how to be a parent, how to care for your child, how to protect your child from the horrors out there (real or imagined). So, when the annual Monster Truck event was held here this past weekend, and the announcer/promoter accidentally stepped out in front of one of the behemoths and was almost literally ground into the dirt at the floor of the Dane County Coliseum, the local TV's went into full-protect-mode. Hundreds, if not thousands of children were there and witnessed the horrible and untimely death of the man. The first round of news stories centered on the mothers who were there with their children, and how traumatized the children were, and how tragic it was. The second round of news stories featured the videotape of the hapless announcer, looking to his left as one of the giant trucks bore down on him from his right. Clearly, the photographer(s) had captured the moment of impact, but the news bosses "tastefully" stopped the tape a nanosecond before the eight-foot-tall left front tire of the monster machine mowed down the six-foot-tall man. And then they ran that loop about five times to make sure we understood what had happened. Presumably, the traumatized children weren't in the TV audience to see it all unfold again, several times over.
The second-day lead at one of the local TV's was "How to Help Your Children Deal With The Trauma Of The Dead Monster-Truck Announcer". (Is anyone seeing any irony here yet?) One of the reporterettes was dispatched to find a suitable expert, who gave the ground-breaking advice that if the kids wanted to talk about it, the parent should talk with the child about it; if the child didn't want to talk about it, the parent shouldn't attempt to force a discussion; and then, the piece de resistance: if the child seemed troubled about the incident even after talking about it, the parent should consult a psychologist. See how helpful TV is?! Who would have thought of that, on their own??
The very next story on this particular station was about a couple snowmobilers in the next county over, who mowed down somewhere between 50 and 60 ducks on the frozen surface of a river. We were treated to shot after shot of the dead ducks, close-ups of the blood and guts on the ice, close-ups of the dismembered and bloody bodies of the ducks, and a medium-shot of municipal workers, stacking up the duck bodies about five high on the shoreline. Two and a half minutes of dead ducks, all in glorious hi-def.
Is it just me who senses the cognitive dissonance of spending two and a half minutes telling you how to deal with a child who's been traumatized by something they've seen....followed by two and a half minutes of close-ups of bloody, dismembered dead ducks? And - I'm not making this up - the dead ducks story was followed by a commercial for the Pheasants Forever event in town this weekend. TV- ya gotta love it.

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