Decade of the big con careens toward an end

Tiger Woods

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On some Sundays, I buy The New York Times almost exclusively to read Frank Rich. At its best, his commentary captures not only the state of American politics, but also of American culture.  So as sick as I am of the Tiger Woods’ saga, I paid attention this morning when Rich nominated Tiger Woods not only as “person of the year,” but as one more symbol of the decade of America suckered.

The first decade of the 21st century, Rich notes, was one in which Reality TV dominated our television viewing habits, and the big con, by companies, celebrities and a president, played many of us for chumps in real life.

Notes Rich, this was the decade when Enron was named by Fortune for six years running as America’s “most innovative company.”  It was the decade in which President Bush and his minions convinced us that “preventive war” was necessary to keep Saddam  Hussein from launching weapons of mass destruction. It was a decade in which we thrilled to the home-run records of sluggers McGwire and Bonds,  celebrated the financial brilliance of Bernie Madoff, marveled at the gripping story of balloon boy and placed Tiger Woods on a pedestal of sportsmanship perfection.

LIes all.

But could we have known better?  Often, yes.

Does Rich expect us to become a nation of cynics?  Not from my read.

Instead, he seems to be saying is that Americans — including the American news media — are too quick too often to buy the Hollywood script instead of taking time to look beyond the hype and spin.  He writes:

As cons go, Woods’s fraudulent image as an immaculate exemplar of superhuman steeliness is benign. … But the syndrome it epitomizes is not harmless. We keep being fooled by leaders in all sectors of American life, over and over. A decade that began with the “reality” television craze exemplified by “American Idol” and “Survivor” — both blissfully devoid of any reality whatsoever — spiraled into a wholesale flight from truth.

In a contemporary world of glitz, hyperbole and flash, truth too often falls into the shadows.  Perhaps it’s time to dust off Walt Kelly’s famous Pogo cartoon and apply it in a different context:  Perhaps, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”

About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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3 Responses to Decade of the big con careens toward an end

  1. Caitlin Kelly says:

    The more toothless the press, the more fawning they are — making deals with flacks and gatekeepers, as has also been reported — the more we’ll get duped. The more newsrooms are stripped of smart, serious veterans who want to focus on news, not celebrity garbage, the more of this you will see, hear and read.

    The media are utterly complicit in this. You can only “look beneath the hype and spin” if you have a rep — i.e. editors and reporters and producers with teeth — willing to do so. I doubt this is a priority when so many celebs get unquestioning coverage.

  2. Jerry Lanson says:

    You’re right, and it’s scary. This is the time we need a more vigorous press. And it’s running scared as its profits dwindle and running thin as veterans take buyouts or are laid off as too expensive to keep.

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