The Call to the Carpet from Behind the Curtain
By R. D. Flavin

Pollux!  It’s a bald-grinned detraction that Castor was put to the blade!
Though Icarus lied as he died, it wasn’t his wings that went soft.
So have a heart, when offered, take a bite and give it back.
Sometimes a soiled carpet is just a stained rug,
but dirty curtains are always better than clean blinds.

Lines attributed to someone by someone else.

"Flying Carpet" by Ivan Bilibin, anonymous 1888 illustration, and a small dog pulling back the wizard's curtain.

     Read on, all you tuggers of tales and players with yarns, barkers of bow and wow and fetchers of shticks, you fighters  'twist and 'tween the toothsome and toothless of science and fiction, as we middling Earthlings encourage the Venusian cats against the Martian dogs, for truth, justice, and the advertising revenue.  Rent my life, please, and don’t forget to try the tofu veal on days which begin with the letters T and S, when the young curd is exceptionally firm.  'Twasn’t long past, I’d curl the shag, ignore that stop-sign up ahead and enter the dimension of the imagination, always prefaced with: “But first, a word from our sponsors.”  Time, through with waiting beside the fiery wings, passes as a redolent gas informally beginning the shame and blame game.  We are as the summoned standing on the slush piles of giants before our desire exposed. 
Hear ye, see thou, touch not, and feel the shock and awe of media schadenfreude.  Looking at the headlines, I get a feeling some curtains must be pulled back, though others serve their purpose and should remain as a protection against those truths we can’t currently understand.  Or, something like that…

     We attempt to imagine the impossible and sometimes suffer because of it.  Our appetites for answers to absurdist questions increase with every new TiVolutionary recipe.  Those who wish to buy some Coke® for the World consistently avoid the obesity of the hyper-opinionated, as if soft cells and hard stuff were ever mutually compatible.  It’s like what Xenophanes’ second cousin (on his mother’s side) said, “If cattle and horses or lions had television, they’d watch programs with cattle and horses or lions yelling at them about how horrible and screwed up the World is.”  Okay, maybe Xenophanes’ second cousin (on his mother’s side) didn’t say exactly the same thing, maybe it was about op-ed newspaper pieces written by sheep and goats or that creepy creature that comes around the night before trash-pickup day, but we’ll never know for sure because …we weren’t there.  The point is that it’s in our nature to whine and complain.  Unfortunately, too much of anything, like negativity which borders on hate-speech, is a bad and most unhealthy thing.  Moderation and variety, folks!

Constipated conservative media-men: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, and Sarah Palin indicating her status.

     It’s always someone else’s fault whenever something goes wrong.  Xibalbá, even the Catholic Church won’t admit complicity with the sex and sexual abuse scandals and their cruel and transparent positions on divorce, abortion, and homosexuality (all hedonistic, yet necessary, facets of historical culture, but which could prevent some or any future legions of Catholics and buckets of Sunday donations).  It’s easier to blame someone else, particularly if one can make a dump-truck full of money from it.  We are an especially greedy species.

     Seniority must be acknowledged, even with jerks, and with a radio talk-show which has insulted humanist thinking for over twenty years, Rush Hudson Limbaugh III currently leads all so-called “conservatives” with self-righteous pomposity.  I won’t bother to attempt even a short list of his boners, though he’s been downright nasty with Pres. Barry, and I’ll just give him his due…  Rush, or “Rusty,” is a racist manic who could sell box-seats and a lap-dance at a lynching.  But, he makes money, his advertisers support him, audiences get their daily dose of bigotry from his brand of paranoid hate-speech, and until folks wise up and stop listening to his evil entertainment, I’m going to feel less safe on the streets of America than I should.  Death, taxes, and jerks; I must have misplaced the memo-meme.            

      With the advent of satellite and cable television, choices were given to consumers on a grand scale, though many of the choices were (and are) …not so grand.  Don’t want to look outside?  How about a 24-hour weather channel?  Tired of newsprint stains on your fingers?  How about a 24-hour news channel?  Sure, sounds great; I’ll take three to go and make them extra spicy.  CNN and MSNBC are outstanding in times of war or disaster, but when there’s not a readily apparent major news story to follow, there’s always the Fox News Channel.  See, Fox News is the New York Post of television news, in that while others would deliver a story about, for example, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on vacation, Fox News will feature in-depth speculation on why Putin has never been photographed wearing a dress, insist that the American government has long been aware of Putin’s lack of fashion sense, and bombastically and repeatedly demand that viewers call out their representatives in Washington for their failure to address an issue that only Fox News is covering.  It’s not distortion, it’s Fox News!

     The Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, hosted by William James “Bill” O’Reilly, Jr., is the highest rated political commentary program presently airing on the three major cable news channels.  Such factoids as O’Reilly’s success would seem to square with the 26.2 percent of the American population who suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. [1]  Please, I’m not implying that all of the 26.2 percent are followers of O’Reilly, as that would be grossly disrespectful of those unfortunate Americans who struggle with mental illness through no fault of their own.  Rather, I do insinuate (read: snarkily suggest) that most of The O’Reilly Factor’s viewers willingly subject themselves to an hour-long update of "Chicken Little" without the explanatory ending.  O’Reilly, the Crowned Crud of Fox News with an estimated three million viewers, rants doom and gloom mixed with allegations and accusations, usually toeing a slanderous line.  Yeah, I know what comes next, even Hitler had a mother and Charlie Manson’s songs were recorded by The Beach Boys and Guns $€N’ Roses, ...and O’Reilly likely provides for the steady employment of a 'toon-squad of lawyers who would probably otherwise be defending non-traditional deviants.  O’Reilly’s political commentary is destructive, never constructive, and always segues into a pitch to buy his books.  The O’Reilly Factor should be required viewing for all assisted suicides (just so they’re “clear” that real hopelessness, at least as marketed by Fox News, does exist).

     As if being told by O'Reilly that the sky is falling without a suggestion that anyone run for cover isn’t bad enough, the recent success of Glenn Lee Beck is proof positive that the claim of Fox News as “Fair and Balanced” is in actuality meta-Freudian self-deprecation.  Beck weeps and cries a lot on camera to show he’s willing to give the audience that little something extra (like doing a nude scene in a play, film, or photo shoot [Note: See Scott Brown and Fox below] though intrinsically less artistic and much more vulgar as teary-eyed crocodilians seldom wear clothes).  That Beck joined the Mormon cult as an adult, as opposed to being “raised” in an extended family of anti-government pioneer-Scientologists (read: lying whack-jobs), is as revealing as the title of his latest book, Arguing with Idiots, another best-seller among the walk-in closeted BSDM crowd.  The unsanitary inanity of Howard Stern and the various Opie & Anthonys is an acquired taste for reality challenged radio-listeners, however there seems to be a growing market for American suffering and those, like Beck, who pretend to wallow in it, while making wicked pisser capital hand over hoof.  Auto-erotic asphyxiation took out two of my boyhood heroes, cartoonist Vaughn Bode and the actor David Carradine, stuff happens and we move on, and I can only hope America’s growing fascination with gossipy pseudo-political finger-pointing and self-choking will soon level off and return to that nice niche next to the chips and dip and the Blu-Ray reissue of ST:TNG.  While we’ve somewhat agreed to “Leave Britney alone,” I’m confident that Beck and Fox News will stereotype the enemies of common sense and sensibility for some time to come.

     The latest, and arguably the best and worst, of “political commentators” to hire into the Fox News Channel is former Alaskan governor and 2008 Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States of America, Sarah Louise Palin.  For what it’s worth, and I mean this in a very unflattering and perverse way, “You go, girl!”  Tina Fey was up for replacing Gillian Anderson (Agent Dana Scully on Fox’s The X-Files) as my geek-love fan-chick, but then Tina shared her impersonation [Note: Son, that’s actually “sin.”] of Palin with us, and I’ve been uncomfortable ever since.  I still swear by Scully, I think Tina Fey is …a great writer and comedian, and I’m not going to comment further about Sarah Palin, because somewhere in Heaven my parents are yelling at me to shut up, don’t discuss her shaving habits, and provide a link to  America may be ugly, obese, and fail most standard knowledge tests, but it’s mine, yours, ours, and we move on.  BTW, I’m semi-Sirius about “You go, girl!”                    

Daytime televison divas: Barbara Walters of The View, Oprah Winfrey, and Judith "Judge Judy" Sheindlin.

     I’m not sure, just a hunch, but I think most talk-radio and so-called “political commentary” television listeners and viewers are male.  Look, my personal femme fatale and arch-enemy is addicted to Fox News, but I believe she’s the exception who’s broken the Rule.  Guys watch and listen to braggadocio and a call to forearms, while gals (according to a pamphlet I recently picked up on the street) have been known to eschew conceit over humor.  Occam’s razor shaves close and an increasing amount of gals enjoy the cutting edge of criticism as much as the guys.  And, daytime television programming has changed accordingly, with more ads from Gillette than Proctor & Gamble, reflecting a new/old dame demographic profile - the wonderfully wondering women.

     For many years, Barbara Jill Walters has been a significant presence on daytime television programming (with, of course, occasional evening appearances as well).  When I was a kid she co-hosted The Today Show and was a daily influence upon me, albeit for just a few minutes at a time, as I was always slurping down a bowl of cereal and rushing out the door to board a school bus.  Still, she was there and it was a comfort of consistency, of sorts.  As her career developed, essentially as “modern” television matured, Walters has remained a player extraordinaire.

     For the last dozen or so years, The View with Barbara Walters et al. has been a favorite daytime television fast-food (meh, …maybe Starbucks, if one insists).  We indulge in humor because we must and Walters has been a derriere of oodles of yolks. [Note: Still thinking about the Gildas and missing them.]  However, abandoning the quarrel-go-round, my best recollection of Walters is from circa 1983, when ABC and Ted Koppel’s Nightline was experimenting with different formats and held a “town hall meeting” discussion with exchanges between featured guests and an audience.  Walters was one of the featured guests and …she was calm, collected, confident, and cool, and without a trace of accent or forced “camera” persona, shared info and opinions with intelligent insight.  I know, we shouldn’t compare, but for the sake of analogy I’ll hazard a female George Will comparison.  It was a while back, late at night, recollections are like wine and aging, but I remember a smart woman who was comfortable with controversy.  I’ve never seen it again, unfortunately, yet I’ll never forget it.

     Carefully considering every keyboard strike, the reigning queen of daytime television is Oprah Gail Winfrey, may she shave well, often, and for many years to come (even after she “retires” sometime in September 2011).  She’s an industry benchmark (with “confessional” interviews) a corporation (Stephen King might have his own book-club to sell his many novels and collections of short-stories, yet Oprah has her own O Magazine), an entertainer (her role in the film, The Color Purple, though somewhat minor, was nonetheless well done and respectable), an activist for various causes, and probably a nice lady (yeah, I’ve teased her in the past) once you do a reach-around and get past her billionairess status.  Steadman issues, weight problems, and that silly Tom Cruise episode aside, I might choose to walk on that wild side of the street if I see her coming, but unlike my feelings about Rush Limbaugh, I feel better knowing that there’s an Oprah in the World.  However, make no mistake about this, we vote or not and we can change the channel and watch something or anything else on television if we want.  It’s about choices.

     Speaking of choices, television courtroom shows are as old as I am, that is to say, in 1957 three different programs debuted, Traffic Court (on the Dumont Television Network), The Verdict Is Yours (on CBS), and the drama, Perry Mason (also on CBS).  More were added, shuffled around to different time-slots, and cancelled in the years to come, with the modern-ish popular format of using actual defendants as opposed to actors, appearing in 1981 with The People’s Court featuring Judge Joseph Albert Wapner.  And, it follows, whenever something new becomes popular, there’s a rash rush of imitators and competitors.  The wannabes pass the way of the Nielson bias (e.g. kinda’ cute Judge Maria Lopez) while others provide an alternative.

     One such enduring (and occasionally endearing) alternative is the Hon. Judith “Judge Judy” Sheindlin (Ret.), whose television show, Judge Judy, is now in its fourteenth year, with at least three more seasons already contracted for.  Sheindlin’s tough justice at once suggests the model of a stern mother, but without the “wait until your father gets home” threat, as her rulings have legal standing and are often accompanied by explanations as to why a judgment went one way and not another.  Sure, there’s a lot of yelling and scolding, and some of those appearing before her bench seem to be off their meds, but her cases never go full-tilt “Jerry Springer.”  Judge Judy, in the Beantown market, airs just before supper and is like a stimulating apéritif.  Yeah, most daytime television flips between bland and fluff, but watching Judge Judy (so I’m told) imparts a genuine feeling of “There, but for the Grace of God, go I,” and I consistently renew my pledge never to make an appearance in either small claims of family court.  Okay, make that any court.

Television network news anchors: CBS's Katie Couric, NBC's Brian Williams, and ABC's Diane Sawyer.

[Note: Cue epic score à la “Tara’s Theme” from Gone with the Wind, or maybe R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” about Dan Rather’s 1986 bi-polar moment in Central Park.]               

     I grew up with some small dogs...  Ooops, wrong piece.  I remember Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News most of the time, but the Huntley-Brinkley Report was not too uncommon, and after 1970, the family television tuned in John Chancellor on the NBC Nightly News fairly regularly.  Until Cronkite’s retirement in 1981, he was the go-to guy in times of crisis.  Shortly afterwards, I switched to ABC and have stayed there since, with an occasional dalliance with CNN.

     In those pre-Internet days, my news came from Monday through Friday local daily newspapers and the New York Times on Sunday (news never happens on Saturdays), and I faithfully watched Peter Charles Archibald Ewart Jennings on ABC World News Tonight and Ted Koppel’s Nightline (often enough before Johnny Carson’s 1992 retirement from The Tonight Show, and most assuredly afterwards).  Of course, news delivery has changed with the Internet and I don’t have much to say about the current television news anchors.  I mean, I could say something, it would probably be kinda' mean (such as, admitting viewing habits involving The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report on The Comedy Channel), so manners should dictate that I veer off to conclusion without further mentions of carpets and curtains.

     Well, maybe just one more.  It’s a fact of human nature (and certain spiritual pursuits) that we all err from time to time.  When mistakes are made we are sometimes, to use an idiom from early twentieth century workplaces, “called to the carpet,” that is, ordered to the carpeted office of a supervisor or employer for reprimand.  The phrase “behind the curtain” is directly from The Wizard of Oz, but indirectly from a longstanding assumption that the source of true power, or an explanation of how things work, is hidden from us behind a veil embroidered with signs and wonders.  I submit for consideration the observation that much of what attempts to pass for legitimate political news commentary on the Fox News Channel is an insincere “call to the carpet” from those who hide “behind the curtain” of adversarial process with irrelevant conclusions (as in the case of the website:     

     While sketching out this column, there’s been some major news stories (e.g. the earthquake in Haiti, my vote against Scott Brown cast at the Cathedral High School Gym in the South End to replace the late Sen. Kennedy wasn’t enough, and McDonald’s has begun offering a creepy version of their Big Mac sandwich as the Mac Snack Wrap for $1.49).  News?  This morning on ABC’s This Week, the president of the Fox News Channel, Roger Eugene Ailis, announced that he’d pose nude in Cosmopolitan magazine for a hundred dollars, much less than Brown’s thousand dollar paycheck in 1982.  Barbara Walter (guest hosting for George Stephanopoulos) admitted to appearing in the same issue, but was clothed.  I’d like to say that I’m starting the year by missing bullets, but I’m afraid both images got through and I’m going to have to wash my brain to get them out.  Now, what to use?  Choices… 

[1]  Kesslar et al.  2005.  “Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey
     Replication.”  Archives of General Psychiatry.  62, 6: 617-627.

From Captain America: Reborn: #6 (dated March, 2010).

BTW, Cap's back as of Jan. 27, 2010!  Better late than never,

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