Whatever happened to ordinary news? You know, the plain ol’ boring stuff that your parents watched because they felt more connected to the world, or they were supposed to or … well, they just did. It was the broccoli of teevee to most kids, and they grew up wanting desert for dinner. Today, we have that dessert in the form of Infotainment.
There are still real news shows, but a 24 news channel has to fill the time with a lot of Cheez Doodles snack nooze. Infotainment leaves us bloated but not full, fat but not happy. And that’s where it gets weird.
Funny infotainment is one thing – there’s always something to laugh at. But the stuff that makes people angry about nothing? Jeez.
There’s little doubt in my mind that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are re-inventing infotainment for a plugged-in generation. You can’t get jokes like the ongoing “Mess o’Potamia” without knowing at least a little bit about Mid-East history. News is often funny because so much of it doesn’t seem to make much sense at all. The alternative is to sit down and try to explain things, as I do, which takes up gobs of time that they just don’t … wait, I was talking about 24 hour nooze channels, right? Nevermind.
We have funny. That’s good enough.
Fox News usually takes the other infotainment route, choosing to make people angry about things that don’t seem to make sense. Why people enjoy being angry, I’ll never know. The old gag, taken from Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, is that “Comedy equals tragedy plus time”. It’s also self-parodying, especially as delivered by Alan Alda over and over.
The translation of this into infotainment is “Jon Stewart equals Gretchen Carlson plus one day”. The Fox host goes on a tear about nothing – or, even more fun, on something that utterly misses the point – and then gets skewered for it on the Daily Show. That’s the famed “news cycle” for many small stories that become the Cheeze Doodles of our news diet.
Two problems come to mind. Not every tragedy becomes funny with time. Here’s a guide:
John Kennedy: Not Funny
Richard Nixon: Funny
Adolph Hitler: Not Funny
Col. Klink: Funny
9/11: Not Funny
Muammar Gaddafi: Funny (sort of)
Bill Clinton: (Mostly) not Funny
George W. Bush: (Mostly) Funny
When the news is breaking, however, there is no time. You have to force the gags, which is probably why getting people riled up is common infotainment. It’s that much easier than finding the twist that turns angry into funny. This still doesn’t explain why anyone would want to watch it, however.
Comedy Central has no corner on funny nooze, even if you count about half of “South Park”. NPR turns it into a fake game show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” for gags that more or less write themselves. Editorial cartoonists have been at it as long as newspapers have been around. Infotainment has always been there as surely as eating your broccoli got you dessert, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be funny stuff.
But angry infotainment pitching outrage in great detail remains popular. Why? I dunno. I’d like to think that people watch the very pompous and proper grumpy-grumps to make their own jokes at home. Why not? People taking themselves way too seriously has always been a staple of a good jokes.
Of course, you can always make fun of the old fashioned boring news your parents watched if you just want gag fodder. Just about anything beats getting angry about nothing on purpose.