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FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JULY 6, 2012
LAUGHS AND GRIMACES ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
BY BOB FRANKEN
Is it asking too much for us all to lighten up a bit? Please? Case in point: The commentators and other political groupies were foaming at the mouth after President Barack Obama got some good-natured booing at his own recent fundraiser. This is not serious, people. He and they were having some fun. Do you understand that concept, puckered ones: f-u-n?
Non-baseball fans bear with me: Obama, a Chicago White Sox die-hard, was in Boston and clowned around to Red Sox fanatics (pardon the redundancy) about the fact that longtime Boston idol, third baseman Kevin Youkilis, had been dealt to Chicago. He thanked them with a smirk, and went on with: “I’m just saying. He’s going to have to change the color of his socks.” That, of course, was followed by a cascade of boos from his audience of paying supporters. “I didn’t think I’d get boos out of here. ... My mistake, you’ve got to know your crowd.”
He probably didn’t even think about the crowd of pontificators who would search for cosmic meaning and once again demonstrate that their lack of levity is really, uh, sad. Truth is, all the jousting needs some jesting.
This is not partisan. When Mr. Obama warbled to show off his inner Al Green, it was good for a few yucks, that’s all. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney seems to love puns. He let loose with a great one in a restaurant about serving eggs Benedict in a hubcap, “Because there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise.” That is a first-rate ad-lib. No analysis needed.
When I was in school trying to decide what to do with my life, I wound up on the press bus of a presidential campaign. I don’t remember which one, Adams or Jefferson. It doesn’t matter. What did was how inspired I was by the smart-aleck banter from the wretches covering the story. It was nonstop. It was wonderful. At that moment, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. That kind of juvenile irreverence and sarcasm is still very much a part of the reporting biz. It’s probably the one great tradition that the corporate suits have not been able to destroy.
Here’s why I mention it: I am among those flat-out antagonized by HBO’s “The Newsroom.” It is Aaron Sorkin’s latest attempt to show us how smart and literate a writer he is. He fancies himself the new incarnation of Paddy Chayefsky, whose masterful scripts included the brutally prescient movie “Network.” The problem is Sorkin’s depiction of a TV newsroom in which everyone spends most of his or her time navel-gazing about the sacred meaning of what we do with way too much reverence, far too little irreverence.
A late professional friend of mine suggested that the meaning of what we do could be captured in one word: payday. Maybe that’s a teensy-weensy bit flippant, since many of us in newsbiz still cling to the belief that we are the protectors of the people’s need to know. But the most important trait for us to do that job -- and withstand the fury of those with an agenda who don’t want people to know -- is an inbred skepticism. You’ve heard the saying: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
That mindset inevitably leads to the incessant wisecracking. Granted, most of it is immature, but it’s the background music in any newsroom.
Except, apparently, in “The Newsroom.” The show is burdened with the same clichéd, grizzled veterans and earnest young people that you get in any melodrama. So, my advice to you, Aaron, unsolicited though it may be, is to inject the inane banter. The same advice should go to those who play in the political arena: Yuk it up, folks. It’s all a joke anyway.
© 2012 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc