Dick Cheney and the culture of entertainment

Posted: Feb 14, 2006 9:05 PM

Quick! Send the children out of the room! It seems … are you ready? It seems the vice president of the United States wounded a fellow bird hunter. And that -- I scarce can write for averting my eyes -- the White House didn't announce this bloody crime, this outrage, which reached the waiting world through a Texas newspaper, which was alerted by the vice president's host.
On the day before St. Valentine's, the blogs and the tabloids were squeezing the Dick Cheney story for every drop of juice: public embarrassment for one of the country's most serious public figures, the smell of conspiracy hanging over the whole episode. A sample of the former, from the New York Daily News: "Duck! It's Dick."

 Fade to Leno and Letterman.

 I love the media, don't you? Actually, I do -- some of the time -- having labored in their vineyards most of my life and treasuring, as I still do, quaint Miltonian/Madisonian ideas regarding the political necessity of free and open discussion.

 Where I part company with the knights of the blogs and the kings of late-night comedy is over the grisly P.T. Barnum culture of hokum amid which the really serious stuff plays out -- wars, hurricanes, budgets, bombings.

 No one ever said free speech had to be intelligent: a good thing, indeed, because half the time, you come to believe, it's stark raving dumb and detached from relevance to anything you might suppose matters, like, oh, the American people's safety.

 The Cheney story, kind of like last summer's Cindy Sheehan narrative, will die of pointlessness as soon as our culture of ridicule, and its front-men on the Internet, on TV and in much of the print media, find fresher hobby horses to mount. Nobody remembers any more (thank goodness) Gerald Ford's bouncing a golf ball off a bystander or eating a tamale without removing the shuck -- ludicrosities the media used to enliven the crucial campaign that gave us Jimmy Carter as president, along with stagflation and national retreat overseas.

 Seriousness just isn't what we expect any more: one reason, I'm sure, that a left-wing blog quoted Sarah Brady, of Brady handgun control fame, as saying, "I've thought Cheney was scary for a long time." "Scary" as in … well, what? I mean, does the lady think he's harnessing the lightning in some Transylvanian hangout, hoping to improve on Boris Karloff? Scary?

 But, you see, in our entertainment culture, nobody has to explain anything. A smirk suffices -- possibly because explanations require a brain wattage not so widely found as when the likes of Franklin Roosevelt, Cordell Hull, Dean Acheson and Bob Taft were at the summit of affairs. I'd bet a roll of Roosevelt dimes that a survey of certain blogs' "customers" wouldn't produce a majority able to say what job Dean Acheson held.

 So we heckle. Easier than thinking, that's for sure.

 What do we make of the Cheney affair? A grateful glance in the Almighty's direction might not come amiss. These accidents sometimes turn out badly -- as when the great Southern Baptist leader, George W. Truett, out hunting, shot and killed a friend. Over his long and fruitful pastorate, this awful event hung cloud-like. Cheney and Harry Whittington, the shooting victim, got off lightly.

 Something else comes to mind. The entertainment culture sometimes has about it the ferocity of a Roman-arena crowd. We enjoy -- come on, don't we? -- watching the rich and powerful squirm, as Democrats long have yearned for Duck-it's-Dick to squirm. With a large, heavily wired media apparatus standing by to relay the news 24/7, and even to canonize particular interpretations, the squirms come nonstop. (Not, I hasten to add, that Republicans, given the chance, would high-mindedly turn it down!)

 What has Dick Cheney's hunting escapade to do with the price of eggs? Let me guess. He was hoping to scare the chickens so they'd lay faster and fatten the profits of chicken-raising Republican contributors. Huh? Just what I would have expected to hear -- these days.

 Tell me more...