When I read that Rush Limbaugh fell for a hoax that was said to be a college thesis by President Obama, I immediately thought of the old joke. What’s the difference between Rush Limbaugh and the Hindenburg? One is a flaming Nazi gasbag, and the other is a dirigible. This doesn’t come to mind just to diss the MahaRushie, though. It ties everything back to the best hoax we’ve had lately, the sage of Balloon Boy (aka Crawlspace Boy) Falcon Heene. The two events share more than being a hoax because they are both more about the victims of the hoax and exactly what they believe – or want to believe.
I have to confess a special fascination with Balloon Boy for the simple reason that I saw his father’s appearance on “Wife Swap” a few daze earlier. The short version of this story is that I do not always get my choice of teevee channels, which is to say we don’t always watch cartoons. I saw Richard Heene as an arrogant, abusive bastard who went far out of his way to repeatedly and with great delight ritually humiliate a guest in his house. The guy is, in short, scum. When I heard that he was involved in the saga of the runaway balloon, I knew something was wrong.
Why did the media buy his whole story? Obviously, they didn’t bother to check it out in the rush to get better pictures. But what was more important was how eager they were to believe exactly what they wanted to believe. Right there, in front of their cameras, was a great story that would bring them viewers by the thousands! What was actually happening was, at the moment, completely unimportant. What they believed, or were willing to believe, mattered.
This is a common problem in today’s world where entertainment and reality have completely crossed. We are, as the book tells us, amusing ourselves to death. I am sure that I am guilty of this from time to time as well, more easily believing stories in the nooze that show things really are pretty screwed up. But anyone practicing “Free Reading”, as I call it, can actively take in things that may not seem exactly right and file them away. I have to say that I at least try to listen to things that I don’t necessarily want to believe.
Which gets us back to Rush – and his audience. When Rush was informed that he was the victim of a hoax, he let everyone know. He then promptly showed the real problem when he was compelled to add, “But we know he (Obama) thinks it.” That’s exactly what his audience cares about, after all. Rush tells them what they want to believe in the first place, and out of all the information available to us his audience will believe anything that paints Obama as a dangerous radical. That’s why they listen – not to be informed, but to have their opinions reinforced.
If that makes Rush’s audience sound like idiots, I have two things to say: Yes, I think they are in fact being pretty stupid, and they are also being very typical of people responding to the barrage of information that overwhelms their senses on a daily basis. We live in times made for people like Rush, and in the end there’s little difference between him and the reporters who ate up the Balloon Boy story.
It’s all another example of the closing loop between entertainment and nooze, two different concepts in broadcasting that have recently gone right past each other without stopping. As long as we all believe exactly what we want to believe, and little more, our fate as a culture is pretty much sealed. All I can hope is that the rash of hoaxes continues to the point where a little street smarts builds and people learn to distrust everything they hear, not just the stuff they don’t wanna hear.
Until that time, a truly well informed person probably pays no attention to the national media at all, since what most outlets spew is not only useless, but based on false choices and outdated ways of looking at the world. It’s actually net negative information most of the time. Once we all figure that out, we can simply turn off all the stories involving lighter than air machines and lighter than air fluff and have better lives for it.