by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
July 6, 2009
CONGRESS FIDDLES WHILE THE PLANET BURNS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? If an oppressive government brutally kills its young and it's not reported, has it really happened? And if young people are giving their lives for democracy, does anyone care if a weird pop star has died?
Implicit in these questions, which have been running around in my brain all week, is the uncomfortable fact that I still really believe that news can change the world and the truth can make you free. Michael Jackson's death may have changed my mind.
The Iranian election dominated my consciousness last week. It was rigged from the start, although you wouldn't know it from listening to American television. Iranian "supreme" leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei personally backed current leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but he also hand-picked former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi to run against him. So no matter who won, meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Even so, the election results were so obviously phony that young people took to the streets. In doing this, I'm not sure how many of them supported Mousavi and how many of them simply felt that the results were an insult to their intelligence.
We'll never really know, because the crackdown was immediate. The state refused to extend the foreign media's one-week visas and escorted them to the airports. Then it arrested its native-born journalists. In fact, it arrested the entire staff of one newspaper that supported Mousavi - more than 40 people. It was shocking, and as I waited in vain for the international outrage I felt was sure to come, I was also remembering Tiananmen Square.
And I was trying to get my head around the fact that in 2000, when a different election was rigged, no one went out into the streets to protest. Instead, Americans shrugged and went back to their fast food and television. The country then entered a period that will be known forever as The Destruction of America.
The news from Iran was coming in drips and drabs, Tweets and blogs. People were still risking their lives for democracy.
And then nothing. Zip! Zero! Nada instead of Neda. The story abruptly ended. Why? Michael Jackson died.
Certainly Jackson was a great talent; he was clearly the best dancer of his generation. He also lived a tragic life. Who could be surprised that it ended early? The bigger surprise was that he lived so long.
The media instantly became obsessed. All of Jackson's considerable strangeness was trotted out for close examination. The coverage filled the television, newspapers and magazines. Iran disappeared.
While young men and women were risking their lives in the streets of Iran, and while their families were being charged for the bullets that killed them, did anyone also notice that North Korea's "dear leader" threatened to drop a nuclear weapon on America? That there was a coup in Honduras? That about 1,800 Vermonters have been called to fight a useless war in Afghanistan?
Of course not. It's all Jackson all the time, with a little Farrah and Billy Mays and a lot of Mark Sanford thrown in for good luck. Throw Bernie Madoff in the mix and you begin to see part of the problem. Can our media only handle news when it has a "face" or a "personality"? Was it only interested in Iran when Neda Agha Soltan became a martyr there? Did it drop Iran when it had more recognizable personalities to exploit?
As someone who believes that the truth - the painful, complicated, multilevel truth- can set you free, and that it's our media's responsibility to report the truth, what happened this week does not reassure me about America.
Iconoclastic writer James Howard Kunstler conflates Michael Jackson's death with America itself. The results aren't pretty. "Like the United States, Michael Jackson was spectacularly bankrupt," he says. "Like the USA, Michael Jackson was a has-been... . The little boy who grew up to be the simulation of a girl was really a werewolf. The nation that defeated manifest evil in World War Two woke up one day years later to find itself stripped of its manhood, mentally enslaved to cheap entertainments, and hostage to its own grandiosity. Maybe in grieving so exorbitantly over this, freak America is grieving for itself. "
America has had its revolution. It fought hard for its freedom and democracy. Has it really squandered them away in so wasteful a manner? If they had won, in the future would those Iranian youths be lying on a couch, burping potato chips, drinking beer and feeling intimately involved in the weird and awful life of someone they don't personally know?
Maybe America is the natural end game of human nature. Maybe, as Kunstler says, it is, "'The man in the mirror,' the gigantic, floundering Narcissus, sailing into the stormy seas of history." Maybe it's some other country's turn now. Maybe, if we depend on the American news media, we'll never know.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.