Maybe it’s somehow fitting that the Reagan weeklong funeral miniseries is being broadcast at just about the same time we were supposed to be sitting back in our living rooms and enjoying a virtual ten year reunion of the key players from the O.J. trial.
On one hand, I must admit that I enjoy the sense of community that television can create during times of loss or celebration. If something major happens, my first instinct is always to turn the televsion on (in fairness, that’s my first instinct in almost every social situation). It does provide a sense of community and focus in a culture that is largely absent of both (Fantasia’s American Idol finale providing a rare exception). It makes us feel better and more together as a country as we all sit shiva with the Reagans.
But the coverage of Reagan is now bordering on the absurd. Iraq has a new government, the U.N passed a resolution, Ashcroft is taking heat on the Hill and Shaq continues to be a immature chump during postgame interviews. Does it seem strange to anyone else that the positioning of Reagan’s casket in the plane enroute to D.C. is a top story or that CBS radio had an interview with an emergency services worker who explained his concerns that those standing in line to pay their respects were facing significant dangers because it’s really, really hot in the nation’s capital today?
This is where I think the O.J. anaology comes into play. Much like reality television, TV news herds find themselves attracted to two key elements in story. One element is that it be cheap and simple to cover that way the real work can go into graphics and theme music and the race to get the most appropriate experts to offer up some obvious analysis. The second element is that the story can be serialized. The Reagan story (like the Juice’s trial, shark bitings, child kidnappings, nannygate and Laci Peterson) has both of these elements.
It also has a massive political angle. Don’t take it from me. Take a look at the Bush campaign site that has been turned into a online Reagan shrine with tributes, pictures and of course, a donate-here button. It would’ve been a little more subtle to offer that kind of tribute on the White House page as opposed to a campaign page, no? Let’s recall that during the Reagan years, while ideological differences were extreme, we still considered our president to be a representative for all of us, not just his own party.
So let’s review. You’ve got a news story that is cheap and easy to cover (and involves no hard to pronounce names and places) that can be serialized and that is becoming more political by the day. I guess it could be worse. We could be watching a week’s worth of Kato Kaelin on Larry King.