Yes. I know it’s the Weekly World News, home of Batboy. But it is funny.
The idea that every village has an idiot is an old one. Oddly enough, the term itself wasn’t seen in print until 1907 where it appeared in George Bernard Shaw’s “Major Barbara.” 
“I myself have had a village idiot exhibited to me as something irresistibly funny.”
Folklore has us believe that the village idiot served an important purpose in his community. Some say it was his “down-home”, uneducated way of looking at and dealing with problems that helped ground a community in reality. A wise fool. Others say that having an idiot around made people feel better about themselves. While I am not a social anthropologist, I tend to agree with the second group. After all, we tend to gauge our own worth by another person’s unworthiness, don’t we? Or is it just me?
Today’s Village Idiot
Today, when we call someone a village idiot, we are not measuring his worth to a community. Instead, we are measuring the exact opposite. These are the people depicted in movies and cartoons as the lost and maligned folks standing on a street corner spouting gibberish or holding a doomsday sign or going on at great lengths to blame the Illuminati or the Lizard People for all of the world’s ills. Sit down at a bar and some village idiot might explain that 9/11 was an inside job or that the Apollo moon landings were a hoax. While his conspiracy concepts fall apart with the slightest application of fact or science, he will always just shrug and say something about “sheeple” or retort with “That’s what they want you to think.” The number one character trait of the conspiracy minded village idiot is that he thinks he is smarter than the rest of us. With his keen eye and clever wit, the new village idiot can look at a picture of a guy on the moon and say, “Look. No stars. There’s all the proof you need. We never went to the moon.” Never mind the fact that he isn’t a photographer, doesn’t understand f-stops or exposure time and can’t get his head around the fact that starlight is actually rather dim. To him, no stars is proof enough. Because he is smarter than you. Even smarter than the guy at NASA who was running the whole fake moon landing dog and pony show.
In his own mind, he is brilliant. To the rest of the villagers, he is just an idiot. Mildly interesting, might buy you a drink if you listen while he pontificates, but still just kind of an idiot. His views never leave the village. He never gets that credit he feels he deserves.
Enter The Global Village Idiot
In the quaint old days of village idiocy, if a village idiot wanted to find a like-minded person, he had to travel to the nearest village and find their idiot. Now? We have the Internet and this technological leap has allowed all the idiots in all the villages all over the world to get together, bandy about various theories and issues and then pat each other on the back for being so much more clever than the “sheeple.” They now have a voice and a forum and this leads us to something I call the Global Village Idiot Syndrome (GVIS). Their lunacy is spreading around the globe, forum by forum, website by website. Now every single outlandish idea or thought or concept can be served up as fact and normal, non-village idiots are buying in. Don’t believe me? Donald J. Trump is the the Republican candidate for the presidency of the Unites States of America. Tell me that isn’t the work of a global network of idiots.
Historically, the village idiot (VI) was regarded as a source of humor or as generally harmless. Today’s VI is a force to be reckoned with and comes in many different flavors. Only a well organized VI group could have convinced Americans that the best way to stop gun violence is to buy more guns and carry them openly. Only a well organized VI group could be responsible for the return of whooping cough and measles. Organic food? Illuminati conspiracies? 9/11 truthers? Birthers? All contributable to the GVIS. Normal people are swept up in the VI madness, shrug and join up. In whispers and what-ifs at first. Then it’s blog posts, t-shirts and a Cafe Press page.
Global Village Idiot Syndrome is somewhat related to an information cascade. An information cascade occurs when people follow the advice and information of others while ignoring their own privately held preferences, convictions and knowledge. It is a herding effect. In even simpler terms, it’s why people don’t go into empty restaurants.
- I am in a new town and am hungry.
- I want seafood.
- The seafood restaurant is empty.
- The steak restaurant next door is full.
- I don’t want steak.
- Those people must know something I don’t.
- I will have steak instead of seafood.
While information cascade theory can be applied to almost everything including the rise and fall of the Stock Market, GVIS is strictly applied to society.
The Global Village Idiot Syndrome in Action
Transphobia is kind of a thing right now. Check the comment boards. I use the comment sections from stories posted on Yahoo! as my personal Doomsday Countdown Clock. We are 3 minutes to midnight folks. Six months ago no one cared who was in the stall next to them when using a public bathroom. Now? Panic, fear and anxiety accompany us into the bathroom. Why? Because at some point some village idiot decided that bathroom privileges are a birthright. And by that I mean, the right bathroom to use depends on what you were at birth. Boys rooms are for boys-at-birth and ladies rooms are for girls-at-birth. Throw away years of science, psychology and compassion because the Village Idiots have come up with a solution in search of a problem. Now, due to GVIS, good old-fashioned, short-haired girls are being harassed or pulled out of ladies rooms because they don’t look “girly” enough. Normal people are now peeking under the stall to make sure that someone else isn’t going to make them uncomfortable. Yes. GVIS is turning normal people, people who absolutely know better, into peeping toms. And how many trans-related molestations have occurred in these bathrooms? Exactly none. The average person is more likely to be molested in a public restroom by a republican congressman than they are a trans-person.
Village idiots love to say, “I don’t have to have a solution…it’s my job to point out the problem and present the facts.” While it’s often not their job and “facts” is an ambitious word for “stuff I read on the Internet”, without a solution, what’s the point?
So…how do we cure the Global Village Idiot Syndrome.
We don’t. We can merely manage the symptoms. Stay informed. Read everything, even things you don’t agree with. Learn what the other side actually thinks. Read their research and compare it to your own. Think and then think some more. If we can’t be critical, we end up believing that there are FEMA Camps, that we never went to the moon, that more guns is the solution to gun violence and that Donald Trump should be running this country.
It has been four long years since my last post. I started this blog what seems to be a long time ago for reasons I can’t even remember. Probably more of a thought exercise than anything. But as time went on, it became clear that I just didn’t have the drive or passion to keep posting thoughts or articles or photos or anything, really, on a daily basis.
The Tide Is Shifting
The more I read, the more I wade through the awful mess the Internet has become the more I want to vent. Take a look at any Yahoo! news post on any given day and scroll down to the comment section. It will be filled with the most vile, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ignorant screeds since the beginning of the written word.
For example, Yahoo! posted a story story, $35,000 Offered In Rewards In Milwaukee Girl’s Shooting. A 9 year-old African-American girl was shot and killed. Instead of genuine concern for the plight of the inner cities, of the proliferation of guns and gun violence, for the parents of this child, we get this from some guy whose handle is Skylar:
A breeder of future criminals died. She’s sucked society of more than $35,000 in her lifetime.
And from from Kaylee:
“This story has been updated to clarify that that Za’layia Jenkins was declared brain-dead ” … Isn’t that normal for blacks ?
I could go on and on, and some time in the near future, I just might.
Now what? It’s a good question. I have zero expectation that any of what I write here will ever be read. The Internet is a big place and this is a very, very small and un-publicized blog page. That won’t stop me, not for a while anyway.
Things I feel I need to vent on might include politics, education, unabashed hatred of everything that isn’t white, straight and Christian. The love affair we are having with guns right now. How ignorance has become not only a virtue but also an election platform. How the conservatives follow the fascist playbook, page by page, and never get called out for it. How modern journalism has failed this country. You know…stuff like that. So read. Don’t read. I don’t care. My next post will be a theory that I have been working on that I like to call The Global Village Idiot Syndrome.
It is always a trial to grab the attention of teenagers and to keep it once you have it. You would think that a guy who teaches television wouldn’t have much trouble. However, last November my lab was broken into and about $15,000 went out the window. It pretty much set us back 10 years. So now? Instead of working on newscasts we are podcasting. Podcasting is an audio program designed to share information, entertain and let people discuss whatever is on their minds. If podcasting sounds a lot like talk radio it is only because podcasting is exactly like talk radio. But it’s fun and the students seem to enjoy it.
America is heading into an odd zone and I have no idea when it started. The issues we find important are insignificant and the significant issues are always the fault of someone else. Gas prices, poverty and looming war are significant. Do we talk about these and offer solutions? No. Instead, people are pointing fingers and blaming the President. While the GOP is looking to place blame-bombs around the country, they are touring America, pandering to the religious right and pretending that discrimination is the safest bet for America’s future. And, as a people, we are allowing it. Again, I have to state that this is, at best, a little odd and, at worst, marking the end of our democracy, our country and our future.
You Women Just Need To Hush
How did contraception become a hot issue? I know that the issue began when the White House announced that employers who offer insurance to their employees must give the option to include contraception. Even if the employer objects on moral grounds. Of course, the moral objection argument is aimed squarely at churches where contraception is considered to be against doctrine. It is hard for me to believe that some of the people who are screaming about the audacity of the pill haven’t used contraception of some sort at some point in their lives. Whether we are talking about the pill, condoms, a calendar or something altogether different, there are people out there who just don’t want to be parents. And that is their right.
However, the GOP, the party of small government, doesn’t want some of you to have birth control available to you, not just at your job as a church secretary, but at all. And somehow, this idea is gaining ground. According to an article written by Connie Cass and Jennifer Agiesta, GOP candidate Rick Santorum “says he wouldn’t try to take away the pill or condoms. But he believes states should be free to ban them if they want. He argues that the Supreme Court erred when it ruled in 1965 that married Americans have a right to privacy that includes the use of contraceptives.” This is the same candidate who stated that John F. Kennedy’s stance on the separation of church and state made Santorum “want to throw up.” President Kennedy, in a speech he made in 1960 to Southern Baptist leaders, said, “So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.” Santorum is of a different belief. He obviously wants to be president and he obviously wants to push his religious agenda from the Oval Office and, in my opinion, that is the one place in America that doesn’t benefit from a religious agenda.
He Said What?!?
In his effort to connect with the blue collar, hard working NASCAR fans in America, Mitt Romney was at this year’s Daytona 500. He showed up just two days before the Michigan Primary and attended the driver’s meeting and toured the infield and spoke to people. That’s fine. I got a chance to interview Maureen Reagan when she was campaigning for her father in Dover Delaware at the Budweiser 500 in 1983. A NASCAR race is a great place to connect with “the people.” But where Ms. Reagan was open, honest and direct about why she was there and what she hoped to get out of it, Mr. Romney came across as a bit disingenuous. When asked if he followed NASCAR closely Romney said, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans, but I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners.” Of course he does. I don’t and out of the 150,000 fans in the grandstands, I doubt if many of them hang out with NASCAR team owners either. But this is a minor hiccup compared to Rick Santorum.
Mr. Santorum has a problem understanding that some people are not like him. His last great pronouncement against the president was to call him a snob. And how does Barack Obama wear his snobbery on his sleeve? He wants everyone to go to college or, at least, have a chance to go to college. For that, Rick Santorum says, “What a snob. He wants to remake you in his image. I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his.” Rick Santorum wants to be the candidate for lowered expectations.
Obama’s actual statement on higher education was actually well tempered and in line with American values. “And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.” It makes me want to wave a flag. And I have two in my office right now. An American flag and a United States Marine Corps flag. Rick Santorum, however, sees this call to pull ourselves up by our own boot straps as more liberal garbage.
Rough Seas Ahead
I am not sure where America is heading. The GOP wants to come across as God-fearing, hard-working friends of the common man. But while they are shaking hands at the Daytona 500 they are looking to legislate morality and cut funding to the poor and elderly. While they are claiming to be middle-class Americans, they are casually making $10,000 bets on TV and saying that $374,000 isn’t a lot of money. While they are proudly pounding the bible, they seem to forget what the good book says. They say that corporations are people, they say that birth control pills make women promiscuous, they say that college is for snobs. And all across the red states, voters believe that the GOP is the party for them. Sure they’re not wealthy and never will be. Sure they want their kids to be successful but now that makes them snobs?
I have no answers and I am not the least bit sure about how this election will play out. It worries me that voters will cast their votes for the GOP candidate solely for the reason that they hate him less than they hate Barack Obama, their records on the issues notwithstanding.
Why This Matters
The name of this blog is Teaching Television: Media, Education And Why It Has To Work Together. If our young people are not aware of the issues and how they affect their lives, they can never grow up to be well rounded citizens capable of making a difference. Instead of creating a nation of self-aware future leaders we are in danger of creating a generation of self-absorbed people incapable of solving problems or thinking on their own. And that is frightening.
When I was young, the TV news was very important. First, there was a half-hour of local news and then a half-hour of national news. The local news had all the news that happened in my viewing area and it left the national news for the networks. Local interest stories, local sports and the weather. I lived in Washington, DC so a lot of what passed for local news was also, to an extent, national news. But the bulk of the real news was handled by the networks and in my house, it was Walter Cronkite.
Walter Cronkite (November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009) was there when America went to war in Europe. He was a part of the “Writing 69th“, a group of 8 journalists who were allowed to go on bombing missions over Germany. He landed in a glider to cover Operation Market Garden and he reported on the Ardennes Offensive more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge. He was often called the Most Trusted Man in America and was a solid, solemn voice during troubled times including the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was a strong proponent of NASA and the American race to space. To this day, I can remember his barely contained glee as Apollo 11 landed on the moon. He reported from Viet Nam and he was always there.
Even as a child, I knew that Walter Cronkite was a very special man. He was serious and he was, obviously, important. I vaguely remember my parents making time to watch the CBS Evening News and I remember that Mr. Cronkite held my attention, even at a very young age. And as I look back, I have to wonder what he would think now about the sorry state of journalism in this country.
“Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.” ~Walter Cronkite
In Cronkite’s day, there were very few places to get your news. You could watch TV, listen to the radio or buy a newspaper. The TV news cycle was longer than it is today. There was a morning show and an early evening newscast. It gave the networks around eight hours to fill the upcoming news cast so stories were weighed against each other and only the stories that were deemed important enough to report made it to air. Of course that means that some of the “lesser” stories were passed by and left to the newspapers to report. It was a system that worked but that was not without some flaws. There was no way to report everything to everyone and make everybody happy. On the other hand, it also meant that network news time was not taken up with stories of drugged out celebrities who missed a court date.
Fast forward to the 21st Century. Now our news cycles never end. MSNBC, CNN, Fox, CNBC, CSPAN have all filled a void that might not have needed filling. Now, instead of filtering the news based on national impact, anything goes. In order to fill a 24 hour newscast the networks have to add a lot of fluff, celebrity news, talking-head “experts”, analysts and opinion. The problem comes when opinion masquerades as news.
Editorials have always been a part of the news cycle. A certain amount of opinion is necessary to get the pulse of a nation. But the editorial has evolved from a single page in the Sunday paper to iconic commentators who have managed to eclipse the issues they speak on. Rush Limbaugh was one of the first superstar radio talk show hosts. His strong conservative opinions reach millions and he is seen, by many of his listeners, as the final word on all things political. But his opinions are not news, they are not mainstream and, some, are not even based on fact. Remember, he is the one who played the song, “Barack the Magic Negro” on his program.
Fox news is another outlet that masks opinion as news. Never in my lifetime has there been a news network that has worked so successfully to be the propaganda wing of a political party. They show unflinching support of the conservative way of life to the point of attacking the Muppets for their stand on corporate America. Fox Business Channel host, Eric Bolling, said on air, “It’s amazing how far the left will go just to manipulate your kids, to convince them, give the anti-corporate message. Hollywood, the left, the media, they hate the oil industry. They hate corporate America.” The attack on the Muppets may have made prime time but it made little sense. Claiming that Hollywood hates corporate America is a lot like saying General Electric hates corporate America. Only an editorialist with an agenda would conveniently forget that film studios are a part of corporate America. When a movie like Toy Story 3 makes over a $1,000,000,000 worldwide, it should be hard to claim Disney is anti-capitalism. But Bolling did just that and no one called him on it. In spite of the fact that The Muppets (2011) was a Disney release, Fox claimed that “Hollywood” was indoctrinating our children in their left-wing agenda. Disney owns 10 TV stations, a dozen or so networks if you count ESPN as one network instead of 13. They own movie studios, restaurants, radio stations, merchandising companies and, if my memory serves, they have a couple of popular theme parks. And yet, somehow, Disney is anti-capitalism. News and opinion collide in a cloud of false outrage.
“Our job is only to hold up the mirror – to tell and show the public what has happened.” ~Walter Cronkite
Newsman Alfred S. Ochs took over the New York Times in 1896. He was facing stiff competition from the sensationalist papers of the time but wanted to build a newspaper based on reporting “the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.” I have to think that there are still journalists who know that they are not the story, that what they are reporting matters and that their own agendas, thoughts, preconceived notions and opinions are meaningless when telling the facts. But in a world where opinion counts as news, where bloggers are seen as journalists and where journalists want to be stars, I have to worry. Being a journalist should be a sacred trust. It should be an honor to report the news “without fear or favor.” It should be but it isn’t. There are no more Walter Cronkites to look up to. When Jon Stewart can become the most trusted newsman in America for anchoring what he calls a fake news show, it just might be too late.