Anything But The Present
by George Carlin
Instead, we reach into the past. Our culture is composed of sequels, reruns, remakes, revivals, reissues, re-releases, re-creations, re-enactments, adaptations, anniversaries, memorabilia, oldies radio, and nostalgia record collections. World War II has been refought on television so many times, the Germans and Japanese are now drawing residuals.
Of course, being essentially full of shit, we sometimes feel the need to dress up this past-preoccupation, as with pathetic references to reruns as “encore presentations.”
Even instant replay is a form of token nostalgia: a brief visit to the immediate past for reexamination, before slapping it onto a highlight video for further review and re-review on into the indefinite future.
Our “yestermania” includes fantasy baseball camps, where aging sad sacks pay money to catch baseballs thrown by men who were once their heroes. It is part of the fascination with sports memorabilia, a “memory industry” so lucrative it has attracted counterfeiters.
In this, the Age of Hyphens, we are truly retro-Americans.
And our television newscasts not only reflect this condition, they feed it. Everything they report is twisted into some reference to the past. If there’s to be a summit meeting, you’ll be told all about the last six summits; if there’s a big earthquake, they’ll do a story about big earthquakes of the past; if there’s a mine disaster, you will hear about every mine disaster since the inception of mining. They’re obsessed with looking back. I swear I actually heard this during a newscast, as the anchorman went to a commercial break: he said, “Still ahead, a look back.” Honest.
“A look back: Hurricane Hugo, one year later.” Why? The anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. For what reason? The anniversary of the Bay of Pigs, Pan Am Flight 103, the hostages in Iran, the fall of the Berlin Wall, V-J Day, V-E Day, Vietnam. Who gives a fuck?
Bugs Bunny’s 50th birthday, Lassie’s 55th, the Golden Jubilee of Gone With the Wind, the start of the Korean War, Barbie celebrates her 35th, the 25th anniversary of the New York blackout, Bambi turns 50. Shit, I didn’t even like Bambi when I was supposed to, how much do I care now?
There’s really no harm reviewing the past from time to time; knowing where you’ve been is part of knowing where you are, and all that happy horseshit. But the American media have an absolute fixation on this. They rob us of the present by insisting on the past. If they were able, I’m sure they would pay equal attention to the future. Trouble is, they don’t have any film on it.
And so, on television news there is, oddly, very little emphasis on the present; on today’s actual news. The present exists only in thirty-second stories built around eight-second sound bites. Remember, “sound bite” is their phrase. That’s what they give you. Just a bite. No chewing, no digestion, no nourishment. Malnutrition.
Another way they avoid the present moment is to look ahead on their own schedules. The television news industry seems to revolve around what’s coming next. “Still to come,” “Just ahead,” “Up next,” “Coming up this half-hour,” “More to come,” “Stay with us,” “Still ahead,” “Also, later . . .”
They even preview what’s going to happen as little as one hour later: During the “Five O’Clock News”, the empty-headed prick who does the “Five O’Clock News” will suddenly say, “Here’s a look at what’s coming up on the ‘Six O’Clock News.” Then the empty-headed prick who does the “Six O’Clock News” will appear in shirtsleeves in the newsroom (to create the illusion of actual work) and tell you about several stories that the empty-headed prick who does the “Five O’Clock News” should already have told you about if he were really a newsman.
And so it goes, around the clock: on the “Five O’Clock News,” they tell you about the “Six O’Clock News”; at six O’Clock, they tell you about eleven; at eleven, they plug the morning news; the morning man promos the noontime lady, and, sure enough, a little after noon, here comes that empty-headed prick from the “Five O’Clock News” to tell you what he’s going to do . . . on the “Five O’Clock News.”
You know, if a guy were paranoid, he might not be blamed for thinking that the people who run things don’t want you dwelling too much on the present.
Because, keep in mind, the news media are not independent; they are a sort of bulletin board and public relations firm for the ruling class – the people who run things. Those who decided what news you will or will not hear are paid by, and tolerated purely at the whim of, those who hold economic power. If the parent corporation doesn’t want you to know something, it won’t be on the news. Period. Or, at the very least, it will be slanted to suit them, and then barely followed up.
Enjoy your snooze.