Once, determined to improve lackluster ratings, a cable news and opinion show signed up two gargoyles. The program needed more sass, more sizzle, according to broadcast consultants. Nobody stayed tuned to plodding, in-depth discussions of issues crucial to the survival of the republic anymore. To begin with, who could define “in-depth” in a way the program’s “target demographic” would understand and, furthermore, who cared if you could or not? Even earsplitting ad hominem attacks were so last season, these consultants argued, citing the latest poll numbers to prove their case. Market research, conducted on select groups of diehard viewers, showed they were just as likely to hiss at the screen with the volume turned off as turned up. The same was true for hammering their keyboards in “tell us what you think” E-mail responses to questions about a newsmaker’s private life or potential for indictment. It was all in the theatrics of the show, the producers of the program were told. Thus the recommendation of gargoyles. When the first two were rolled into the studio and positioned opposite one another, these same producers collectively held their breath. What would the audience response be? Would mere ghoulish grimacing flashed across the screen be enough? Would viewers be satisfied with that and not demand more? Would it be the kiss of death that the gargoyles weren’t saying anything, intelligible or otherwise? When the response boards lit up and the program’s Internet server overloaded, however, producers could finally exhale and shake hands all around. Clearly it didn’t matter in the slightest whether the gargoyles said anything worth listening to or not. Derision, sarcasm, misrepresentation, emotional appeals, false analogies, red herrings, forced laughter, sniggering innuendo, outright slurs—none of these, not even a thousand of them, equaled the impact of a single shot of gargoyles pulling faces at each other and the studio audience. The savings in production costs were obvious. But equally so was the realization that even the fast-talking hosts of these programs could be replaced by rigid ideologue grotesques for additional savings. Day after day, night after night, simply propping up a cardboard host in front of the cameras would provide all the introduction needed for the gargoyles as the true stars of the show— Those snarling, split-screen caricatures of thought caked in bird droppings.
Copyright © 2005 by Geoffrey Grosshans