. . . Thursday December 1, 2005

Dissent’s Descent

For the past few weeks, David Letterman has been excitedly promoting this week’s Late Show appearance by Oprah.

Is Letterman just aging gracefully or does this media moment mark the rock bottom point for edginess in America?

I give Oprah full credit for her amazing financial and marketing success. But something has gone terribly wrong if David Letterman no longer sees her as a prime target for satire.

Folks, she has a magazine that is named after her and includes a photo of her on the cover of every issue.

One could of course try to argue that this demise of tough satire and edgy humor is an affliction limited to Dave. After all, it’s not just Oprah. He even seems to be taking Madonna seriously these days (ironically, at a moment when she has become the most ridiculous).

But I don’t think it’s that simple.

Take Howard Stern as example number two. Howard’s whole purpose in life and media was to push the inappropriate envelope and make his bosses squirm even as they counted their cut of the ad revenues. But now Howard is leaving the broadcast world and the FCC and the other suits are left standing alone in the gladiator ring. Did Howard get fed up or did he sell out? Either way, how interesting is it to listen to a shock jock who everyone hopes will shock? What is there to push when you’ve evacuated the envelope.

In his most recent off the radio appearance, Howard was a Late Show guest. Did he shock Dave and make him squirm in his sub-zero studio? Nope, he spent most of his time singing the praises of satellite radio. His fans are shocked and his bosses are jacked. Sound like the old Howard?

The absence of dissent is even more evident in political circles. Today, plenty of politicians are getting on the anti-Iraq war bandwagon. But where were they when the momentum was blowing in the other direction? And even in this more dialogue rich environment, Congressman Murtha was still able to create a massive D.C. explosion with his suggestion that we need a plan to reduce the number of troops in Iraq. Forget your politics on the war for a second. How can open debate about the troop levels in a war zone introduced by a war veteran be a shock to the political system?

And what about the media? The latest scandals revolve around media types bending the rules to support the administration (Woodward, Miller, Novak). The water in New Orleans had to reach Anderson Cooper’s chin before we saw a little rage in the media (and in the end, what happened, Mike Brown got taken down?).

Maybe I am just too focused on the older generation. Maybe there is whole new generation of bloggers and other young people looking to fight the power. But I don’t see it. Kanye West drops a sentence about racism in America and that’s our new revolution? Most of today’s enthusiasm is less connected to political and cultural dissent and more connected to self-punishment in everything from shows like Jackass to the mass movement towards giant tattoos and self-mutilation masquerading as decorative piercing. Yeah, the hole in your ear is now the size of a silver dollar. That’ll teach ‘em.

Maybe this is all a set up. Maybe Letterman is setting a trap for Oprah and tonight he will rip her to shreds like the old Dave would’ve done.

Yeah right.

If you want to see that, better flip over to your Tivo’d episodes of Family Guy and American Dad. Who knows? The next revolution may very well be initiated by a cartoon character.

And given the current state of those defending the status quo, that just might make for an evenly matched competition.

Concentration is important!