cynicism, journalism, personal, politics, tv

Why bother with news?

The Washington Post has informed me that I’m not the only journalist with decades of experience who’s gotten pretty bloody tired of “news.”

Then one day a journalist friend confided that she was avoiding the news, too. Then I heard it from another journalist. And another. (Most were women, I noticed, though not all.) This news about disliking news was always whispered, a dirty little secret. It reminded me of the scene in “The Social Dilemma,” when all those tech executives admitted that they didn’t let their kids use the products they had created.

Amanda Ripley, WaPo

The basic problem is simple.

Negativity.

“Whoa, whoa!” you say. “News may be negative, but we need people to be informed!”

Sure, but it doesn’t have to be so negative. And viewers who dwell almost exclusively in the negative (Fox and MSNBC infotainment) are not well-informed. Satirists may do a better job of informing the public than journalists do, given the numbers from a 2007 study that showed viewers of The Daily Show were better informed than most.

Even if you’re smart enough to avoid watching the people whose job is to make you afraid to change the channel, your knowledge may skew toward the negative.

You probably know about monkeypox. Or new COVID subvariants. Or the Jan. 6 committee hearings.

Did you know 9 billion COVID vaccine doses were administered in 2021? How about the new Ebola vaccine? How about the disappearance of the Victoria flu virus that used to kill hundreds of thousands of people each year? Did you hear about Biden expanding protections for waterways and wetlands? Maybe the restoration of biodiversity in the Thames? Expanding abortion rights in Latin America? Support for same-sex marriage in the USA rising from 27% in 1996 to 70% today? The global decline in coal production? The tuna populations that have rebounded after years of overfishing?

You may also be taken in by sensationalism, even if you’d consider that story “positive.” How many times have we heard Trump is on the verge of being ruined or arrested? How many of the stories along those lines mention the fact that he continues to be relatively unscathed even after his fraud settlements, his sexual immorality, his use of the White House to enrich himself and his family, everything we already know about Jan. 6, etc., etc.? And we’re supposed to believe that he’s finally going to prison because he yelled at a Secret Service agent to take him to the Capitol?

Suppose we actually consumed news in a constructive way?

Back to Ripley’s WaPo piece: “There is a way to communicate news — including very bad news — that leaves us better off as a result. A way to spark anger and action. Empathy alongside dignity. Hope alongside fear. There is another way, and it doesn’t lead to bankruptcy or puffery. But right now, these examples I’ve listed remain far too rare.”

I don’t know how to reach low-information voters and explain the realities of climate change, COVID prevention or domestic terrorism. What I do know is that we’re not going to fix the problem with doomscrolling. It’s not a coincidence that the longest song on the new Metric album, maybe the longest they’ve ever done, is called Doomscroller.

I’m trying to find a way to find good stories while we have such a high signal-to-fear ratio. The battleground area for me is my Gmail, my subscriptions and my filters:

  • Washington Post: I don’t get the full daily newsletters I used to get, but I’m sticking with Must Reads and the Post Most in the hopes of catching those stories that aren’t all doom and gloom.
  • The Guardian: I’ve re-subscribed to the daily briefing because I need to know what ran in the sports section. They usually have some good reads in culture and other sections as well.
  • The Atlantic: Their specialty newsletters such as Up for Debate, The Third Rail and Galaxy Brain are good for alternate viewpoints.
  • USA TODAY: Their fact-check newsletter is good.
  • Vox: Unsubscribed
  • Mic: Unsubscribed. Sorry, Millennials.
  • The Bulwark (conservative anti-Trump): I’m down to one of their many newsletters.

And I get a couple of roundups. Pocket has some good reads that its users save. Something called 1440 has a Daily Digest that quickly covers the top stories but has a bit of serendipity as well. On my phone, I can check my personalized Google News briefing and Apple News, which also lets me check out stories I spot from The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and a lot of lifestyle, sports and music magazines.

It’s not perfect. I love having one Apple News subscription that covers a lot of magazines and daily news sources, but I don’t need yet another roundup of today’s doom.

Finding the healthy mix, though, is worthwhile. Mental health is a serious issue. Don’t sacrifice yours when there’s no need to do so.

comedy, tv

Farewell to a great SNL group

Once upon a time, Saturday Night Live went through waves of wholesale changes, allowing us to divide the show into several eras.

Original

1975-80: The original Not Ready for Prime Time Players dwindled from their 1975 debut to the end of their fifth season in 1980. Chevy Chase left after one season and change, later replaced by Bill Murray. Next out were John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, leaving the core of Murray, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner to be supplemented by the quirky duo of Al Franken and Tom Davis, later joined by Harry Shearer and some cast appearances by band member Paul Shaffer and an array of bit players.

(Coincidentally, as chronicled last week in a marvelous WaPo oral history, Radner, Shaffer, future SNL cast member Martin Short and Short’s SCTV castmates Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin had all appeared together in a 1972 production of Godspell.)

Lorne-less

1980-84: Lorne Michaels, the man now synonymous with his show, departed after that 1979-80 season along with the entire cast. Enter a new group that couldn’t carry the torch aside from a young featured player named Eddie Murphy, though Gilbert Gottfried went on to an entertaining career. Only Murphy and Joe Piscopo survived the 1981 clearout. The cast overhauls were a little less drastic the next couple of years, and four 1982 and 1983 arrivals — including Jim Belushi and a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — carried over to the next season …

1984-85: Producer Dick Ebersol, best known for his distinguished career in sports, swung for the fences in this unique season packed with established talents such as Short, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, Rich Hall, Pamela Stephenson and the prodigal Harry Shearer.

Carvey/Hartman to Sandler/Farley (via Myers)

1985-86: Michaels returned in 1985 and started from scratch, building around the hot-at-the-time Anthony Michael Hall and some people who would eventually be huge — Robert Downey Jr., Randy Quaid, Damon Wayans and Dennis Miller. It sucked.

1986-95: So on top of the complete overhauls in 1980, 1981 and 1985, SNL had a near-total clean slate, keeping only Miller, Jon Lovitz and Nora Dunn. Then, just as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw the benefits of his job-saving class in 1986, Michaels brought in a show-saving class — Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Kevin Nealon and Victoria Jackson. Add Mike Myers (and briefly Ben Stiller) in 1989, and you have a strong case for the show’s all-time best cast.

That group evolved slowly over the next few years. Departing (in order, more or less, though some cast members returned for occasional appearances): Dunn, Lovitz, Miller, Hooks, Jackson, Carvey, Hartman. But the cast kept swelling with the additions of (among others) Chris Rock, Chris Farley, Julia Sweeney, Tim Meadows, David Spade and Adam Sandler. (Most of the others were women, and unfortunately, this was not a time in which women were developed into stars on the show.)

The loss of Hartman in 1994 nearly destroyed the show. Myers stuck around for increasingly infrequent appearances, and Michaels once again reached out to get some veterans who were, to some extent or another, already recognizable — Michael McKean, Mark McKinney, Chris Elliott, Norm Macdonald and Janeane Garofalo. Unfortunately, no one told Sandler, Spade and Farley that they weren’t in charge of the show, and they ran it into the ground. Garofalo fled after a few months of being underused, citing a sexist atmosphere.

Time for another clearout. McKinney and Macdonald stuck around along with lower-profile castmates Tim Meadows and the recently added Molly Shannon.

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journalism, tv

The state of paid media, 2019

Here are the things that can be supported by advertising …

Traditional TV networks, which continue to produce high-budget shows even as ratings are a small fraction of what they were.

Cable/other TV channels, which produce high-budget shows even as ratings were never that great in the first place.

PlutoTV, which must be watched by at least 10s of people. (Seriously — it’s utterly impossible to get schedules, so who watches unless they’ve simply exhausted every other possibility?)

Some YouTube channels

Terrestrial radio

Here are the things that can be supported by a mix of advertising and subscriptions …

Satellite radio

ESPN

The Wall Street Journal

The Washington Post

The New York Times

Here are the things that can be supported by subscriptions only …

Consumer Reports (phew!)

Netflix and its gazillions of original shows

Hulu’s original shows

HBO

Here are the things that no one has figured out how to support …

Newspapers

Magazines

tv

Rebuilding Springfield

I’ve been playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out for a while. It throws a lot of buildings and characters at its players, and I’ve grown tired of trying to cram them in.

I went through and “stored” many of the buildings in town. I left in place a couple of areas that I liked:

  • The park complex: Krustyland, Itchy & Scratchy Land and a nearby zoo
  • The sportsplex
  • The Vegas strip
  • Religion Island: Churches, a Buddhist temple, etc.
  • Prison Island, not including the minimum-security jail by the beach
  • The boardwalk

Everything else is being remade, and I’ve started with transportation. My roads and monorail lines took a lot of awkward turns, and I’m straightening things out a bit.

I’ve staked out a couple of new areas — the rural area and the North Pole/Canada, which has some but nowhere near all of the Christmas properties.

Here’s what I had …

And here’s where the rebuild stands …

Sept. 24 update:

  • Springfield Heights is full of houses and a couple of essential conveniences (Kwik-E-Mart, etc.)
  • Springfield Park faces an exclusive neighborhood, a bit like Central Park or some parks in Chicago. The country club is just southwest of it, and then a few vineyards are nicely placed between that and the shore. The amphitheater is tucked away next to the mountains and the shore.
  • The Governmental Plaza (northeast of Springfield Park) exists but needs some work.
  • The Vegas Strip remains intact with some minor tweaks.
  • The Technology Park and North Pole/Canada (following northeast) are more or less complete.
  • Religion Island and Prison Island remain in place southeast of the Governmental Plaza. Follow the river to the sea, and you get a strip of restaurants and eventually the old mill, with another historic building next to it.
  • The Sportsplex (concrete area southeast of Prison Island) hasn’t changed.
  • The Shopplex is adjacent to the Sportsplex, anchored by Springfield Mall. This area needs work.
  • Between the Sportsplex/Shopplex and the shore, I have a couple of strips of businesses and restaurants. The last strip before the boardwalk is a dumping ground for now — I’m placing things I want to see before I move them to a permanent home.
  • The theme parks — Itchy & Scratchy Land, Krustyland, Efcot’s World Showcase and the zoo — take up most of the southeast-northeast diagonal. Northeast of that is Shelbyville.
  • Next to Shelbyville and the zoo, I have a hodgepodge of entertainment (drive-in, demolition derby) and schools for people who’ve messed up (Rommelwood). This needs work.
  • Capital City is northeast of the DURE block.
  • The dirt area is farmland, which will eventually have many more wheat and corn fields, with Kamp Krusty all the way north. The airport is south of that. The schools are sitting awkwardly next to the airport and Efcot — I’ll move that to the strips between Krustyland and the country club.
  • Finally, Medieval Land is still a happy anachronism between the Technology Park and farmland.

politics, tv

Need insulin? Visit the land of curling … and one heroic medical researcher

Things I did not know: An Ontario scientist named Frederick Banting sold the patent rights to insulin, the life-saving drug for diabetics, for $1.

“Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world,” said the Nobel Prize winner.

A century later, Canada is once again bailing out diabetics — this time because of the willful ignorance and idiocy of those of us who live south of the border, The Washington Post reports.

As is so often the case, The Simpsons predicted all this …

movies, tv

Sex on the big screen — no, not Game of Thrones on your 65-inch HD in the basement

Murder! Guns! Graphic war scenes! A man tenderly running his hand …

Whoa, whoa! We can’t let our kids see that!

Our sensibilities about sex and violence have always been a bit hypocritical. Jamie Lee Curtis taking off her top in Trading Places? That’s an R rating. A film strewn with death? Today, PG-13. In the old days, just PG. Even the original Star Wars had a high death toll, though it was just rebel pilots vaporizing or stormtroopers doing the Wilhelm scream.

Obi-Wan: “Only Imperial stormtroopers are so precise.” Family Guy: “I hit a bird once.”

Meanwhile, on cable, language restrictions are completely out the window, and some people even have s-e-x. As someone who jumped on the Game of Thrones very late in the show’s run, I started to wonder if part of the appeal was that people got naked. Very naked.

From Saturday Night Live:

Emilia Clarke: Remember when we had sex in Season 6?

Kit Harington: Yes, I do.

Clarke: Did you know they filmed that?

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday is wondering when moviemakers will catch up.

To be sure, there’s precious little to mourn in the death of the kind of ogling soft-core wish-fulfillment fantasies that male directors foisted on viewers for nearly a century. But is abstinence really our only option? With young filmmakers being co-opted by the Disney-Marvel complex, and with millennials and Generation Z reportedly having less sex than their predecessors, the new chastity on screen feels like a prudent but not entirely welcome new normal.

And it’s better than having kids learn about sex from porn.

(Yes, this clip is very explicit.)