Media relations is a hideous profession. You rarely know what’s going on, but people think you do and consequently don’t trust you. Then when you finally hear what’s going on, you have to immediately get word out. Now! And you’re about to hit “SEND” when Legal calls with changes, or your entire computer crashes, or you realize you should be using Version 9 not 8. All the while, the shrill screams of the EVP of Communications is subjecting you to a battery of sensory disorientation torture the likes of which would make Jack Bauer blush.
FUCK!!! I abhor it. And in spite of earning my living as a flak catcher, I manage to keep out of the ugliest parts more or less: talking to press, dealing with the wires and distribution lists. I hate that crap. Just being near it stresses me out. I am a reflective, big-picture person who prefers not to get caught up in the minute-to-minute fits of passion.
Regardless, the Imus furor this week provided a lot of fodder for a student of media to reflect upon. Whether or not you believe it was “right” for the honchos to fire him, the fundamental economic issue is what, in my opinion, motivated the action. Sharpton, Jackson and others stoked the flames and created a commotion. The media covered that commotion tirelessly, and public opinion was stirred. Advertisers recognized the negative consequences of supporting Imus, and promptly withdrew their sponsorships. Without advertisers, Imus was no longer an asset to the media companies that employed him, and due to the bad press he had become a liability to boot. And boot him, they did.
What’s so disturbing about the Imus flap is how so many people jumped into the fray not because they really care about the impact of the nasty words on Rutgers players or our larger society, but because they saw it as an opportunity — to grandstand, put others down, relieve their own guilt, and to get attention. The most hypocritical part of it for me is the fact that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were leading the public outcry, and were not adequately called out by the media for their own past racist remarks. And when they were confronted, they just swept it under the carpet with confounding double-talk. For example, this is what Meredith Viera said to Jackson on the Today Show, followed by his ponderous non sequitur reply.
MEREDITH VIEIRA: But people do say stupid things some times. And Reverend Jackson, I apologize, but some of your critics reminded me of 1984, and I remember it as well. You were running for president, and you referred to New York City as “Hymietown.” And you were raked over the coals for that. A lot of people said you were anti-Semitic. And it took you seven days to apologize, and then you begged for forgiveness. So what’s the difference between that and this?
JESSE JACKSON: Well, if it’s repetitious and if it’s a pattern, that is one question but the broader context here I must say is Shaquanda Cotton being sent to jail for seven years for pushing a hall monitor. We come out of March Madness, with all the blacks on the basketball court. UCLA had 132 [black?] freshmen admitted last year. And the Final Four, 26,000 freshmen in those four schools, 2,000 were black. Last year, more black men in jail than college in every state. That’s a context. In some sense this spark hits a dry field.
What?! I just have to say it again. Hymietown Hymietown Hymietown Hymietown. Did we really forget? Or is it that we are so uncomfortable talking about race in America that we’ll overlook a major issue like this rather than confront it? Apparently the answer to that, by and large, is yes. And although I am distressed about the media’s self-serving navel-gazing throughout the affair, I think the final outcome is a good one: people are thinking and talking about the issue of race. And businesses are getting on board with consumer activism: they understand that people are more informed and enlightened than ever before — they care about corporate social responsibility and will withold dollars from companies they perceive to be immoral.
In unrelated news, I saw Grindhouse last night. I thought it was good, but too long. A shame, because had it been shorter, I might have loved it. They needed to cut 15 minutes out of each story (there are two mini movies — one by Robert Rodriguez and one by Quentin Tarantino). It’s tough when you’re dealing with creative geniuses like Rodriguez and Tarantino — no one has the courage to rein them in and say: “Dudes — cut it back. Audiences don’t want to see you sucking your own dicks for 3 hours. They want a good, exciting story with memorable characters that plays out and wraps up within a reasonable amount of time.” The studio let the directors run amok on with mastubatory extended dialogues and pet fetishes and then wondered why the movie didn’t do well. Harvey Weinstein was quoted in The New York Post as having said:
For me, this comment was a red flag: any time you start blaming the audience for not understanding, you need to take a step back and consider whether you’re respecting them enough. Grindhouse aspired to force feed moviegoers, and they didn’t like it. Americans want most things supersized — but not our content portions. Content is ubiquitous. We can almost get any content we want, on any device, at any time. So, Harvey, why in the hell would we want to sit down for three uninterrupted hours with your prescious goods? Most of us can’t even sit still for 30 minutes to watch our favorite TV shows featuring characters and stories that we already care about. Besides — the films won’t work split apart. They are two mini pulp tales that don’t have enough substance/context to stand on their own. They belong in a package, albeit a smaller, more aptly wrapped package.
Bottom line: Great idea, fabulous material, but flawed execution. Still definitely better than most things out there, though. And definitely not for the squeamish.