Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dude, Where's My Teleprompter?

One late night, years ago, we were channel surfing and stumbled across of all things a rerun of Barbara Walters interviewing former President Reagan about his Hollywood career. Okay, it was fluff, but enjoyable. Why? Perhaps because deep into the Clinton administration, seeing the former president--a respected statesman with a unique and rich background in both the private and public sectors--seemed very reassuring.

Recall that the media bias in favor of the Clinton candidacy was palpable in 1991. In many ways the media gave the relatively inexperienced governor from Arkansas a free ride. Perhaps if the media, for example, examined the allegations detailed in Roger Morris' book Partners in Power, there never would have been a Clinton presidency.

But the dominant media cheerleading (which also extends to Hollywood, academia, and elsewhere in the information stream) for Obama in 2008 was like a free ride on rocket fuel. Journalists who, for instance, had no problem finding their way to remote areas of Alaska didn't lift a finger insofar as the Chicago candidate's background, qualifications, or agenda.

As we noted in a previous post, this celebrity- and media-driven candidacy turned the presidency into an entry level job for a fundamentally unqualified, albeit charismatic individual. Forget political party or ideology, if any; the American people deserve a highly experienced man or women in the White House. A big spending, limelight-obsessed machine politician--enabled by a large staff and a compliant media--on the ultimate ego trip...what could possibly go wrong? Well, we've already seen many miscues and broken campaign promises by this president and his roster of ineffective bureaucrats. The London Telegraph points out that during the campaign, Obama's campaign speeches evidently convinced crowds that he could make the world a better place, "while giving precious little indication as to how precisely he intended to achieve this messianic goal." [Television news bias is pervasive in the UK (and elsewhere around the world), too: See The BBC can't kick its addiction to bias.]

Apparently many voters were drawn in merely by Obama's powerful but non-substantive oratorical skills. There is a lot to be said for the rhetorical presidency, the bully pulpit, and all that--provided there is substance to back it up. But when the American Spectator website published an item that Obama can't or couldn't make a move without instructions from his teleprompter, even during campaign town hall events, we thought (actually hoped) the Spectator was exaggerating.

But news reports about Obama's inability to function on his own at the podium have gone mainstream. So it turns out that all that soaring oratory is also a sham; just marketing. As someone said on another blog, the clothes have no emperor.

We can, however, look forward to a series of taxpayer-underwritten photo-ops, such as the superficial and gushing reporting of the president's recent European trip. There are even suggestions that Obama's meeting with the troops in Baghdad was rigged.

If the British press is to be believed, President Sarkozy of France (for his own reasons, of course) was able to see through the mist:
Mr Sarkozy is pouring cold water on President Obama's efforts to recast American leadership on the world stage, depicting them as unoriginal, unsubstantial and overrated. Behind leaks and briefings from the Elysée Palace lies Mr Sarkozy's irritation at the rock-star welcome that Europe gave Mr Obama on his Europan tour earlier this month…."The [French] President is annoyed by what he sees as the naivety and the herd mentality of the media," said a journalist who is privy to Elysée thinking.
Question: Would a first-term U.S. Senator without any real-world work experience have even qualified for, let's say, The Celebrity Apprentice?

Update: Subsequent to this posting, Donald Trump entered "the No-Spin Zone" and claimed he would hire Obama in an economic or financial capacity. Despite the name of the venue, we think that Trump was indeed spinning--perhaps to preserve his organization's viability for a future federal bailout or some other consideration from the administration.

Switching gears slightly, but not entirely...For a compelling portrayal of the obsessive quest for fame and the associated bankruptcy of the media, we give you the wonderful, but short-lived HBO comedy series The Comeback, starring Lisa Kudrow.

Kudrow (who created the show with Michael Patrick King) plays Valerie Cherish, a semi-delusional former TV star who is trying to revive her career with a minor part in a mindless sitcom. We've been told by a television industry insider that the series gives a very accurate picture of what really goes on behind the scenes in a sitcom production.

The twist is that Cherish is also being shadowed by a TV crew filming a reality show about her comeback efforts. It quickly turns out that Cherish only got the part on the sitcom to provide fodder for the so-called reality series. The reality show producers in turn heartlessly seek to manipulate events to make the content more provocative and heap further humiliation Cherish in the process. And Cherish makes it very easy for them!

The HBO summary describes the television environment as follows: "wrenchingly 'real' and ridiculously surreal, it's a world where success and failure are often determined by age, looks, and (perhaps less frequently) sheer determination."

Kudrow's character played is her own worst enemy. The hilarious and simultaneously sad events in the series practically make your skin crawl. Her efforts among other things to ingratiate herself with the cast and producers who tend to disrespect her, and to attract media attention to her new career aspirations, usually blow up in her face.

The self-important Cherish is oddly likeable yet infuriating at the same time. (Out of the blue, there is one bit of compelling dialogue in which Kudrow's character says she attended every field hockey practice in high school despite an injury that kept her off the playing field. But she almost breaks into tears on recalling that she wasn't allowed to appear in the team picture.)

So in the face of numerous humiliations on and off the set, the character keeps plugging away. As Wikipedia describes, the Cherish character "is willing to completely sacrifice her dignity to return to the spotlight."

Kudrow gave an outstanding and dare we say it, nuanced, performance, as did the many excellent supporting players, particularly "Mickey" (Robert Michael Morris), Valerie's loyal and eccentric hair stylist/gopher.

Sadly, The Comeback was not renewed for a second year, but the entire 13-episode run is out on DVD.

Further update: Obama's teleprompter crashes: