Friday, March 23, 2007

All News, All the Time, Especially if You're Obese and Seven

We can do the innuendo/ We can dance and sing
When its said and done we haven't told you a thing
We all know that crap is king/ Give us dirty laundry
- "Dirty Laundry" by Don Henley, from his 1982 album "I Can't Stand Still"

I didn't eat yesterday/And I'm not going to eat today/And I'm not going to eat tomorrow
'Cuz I'm going to be a supermodel'
Cuz I'm young, and I'm hip and so beautiful
I'm gonna be a supermodel
- "Supermodel" by Jill Sobule, from her 1995 album "Jill Sobule"

I walked by a television set this morning, and I saw a 275-pound seven-year-old on the screen. It would be natural to assume that the set was tuned to MTV ("Mega Boy Speaks!") or TLC ("Death of an Obese Child"), but, as Felix Unger told the court in a classic "Odd Couple" episode, you would be making an ass out of, well, nobody but CNN (sorry, Felix).

That's right, at 9:15 a.m. on a Thursday morning, CNN, the first 24-hour cable news network, the place where Bernard Shaw plied his trade, may not have been reporting on the battle over White House subpoenas, the new findings at Walter Reed Army Hospital or the Justice Department making Jack Bauer look like a champion of the Geneva Accords. But, they were all over the obese kid with the mother who doesn't think there is a problem. Not to worry. I'm sure if I waited long enough, they would have moved on to more important news stories, like Britney leaving rehab, a ruling in the Anna Nicole Smith paternity case, and people calling Tyra Banks fat.

Okay, I know taking the position that news outlets air a steady diet of celebrity gossip and lurid crimes and tragedies as a way of boosting ratings is hardly news (bad pun intended). Don Henley recorded a Top 10 song about it 25 years ago, "Dirty Laundry." Although, he was talking about the local news in L.A., and I don't think it was a social statement, but more a reaction to the media's treatment of his arrest for drug possession and contributing to the delinquency of a minor after a 16-year-old girl overdosed at a party at his house. Article Containing the Whole Story, Scroll Down

You could make an argument that in 1982, local news was already touched (or overrun) with a tabloid mentality, but at least the network news departments were trusted resources for information. Dan Rather had just replaced Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw had just been made anchor, and Peter Jennings was a respected foreign correspondent about to be tapped for the big chair. It would be hard to picture Cronkite, who was often named the most trusted man in the country in viewer polls, allowing his vaunted Tiffany Network to air stories about pop stars gone wild.

Yesterday, I wrote about Tony Snow raising the smoke screen that Democrats in Congress were pursuing subpoenas in the U.S. attorney firings investigation to make a political spectacle, not to get to the bottom of the issue. When the Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to subpoena White House aides, Snow repeated the charge on the CBS Early Show, saying the Democrats want "a Perry Mason scene where people are hot-dogging and grandstanding and trying to score political points." Yahoo!/AP Link

As I argued yesterday, the White House position is not based on a reasonable difference of opinion, but on a strategy to divert attention away from the very unflattering facts on the ground. Why does that work? Because CNN is showing a story on a 275-pound seven-year-old. Okay, so I am exaggerating, but the underlying point is true. When Anna Nicole Smith died, the news outlets (including CNN) dedicated a boatload of its schedule to covering that story. What if CNN did the same thing with the White House subpoenas issue? Yes, I know, its ratings would plummet. But, putting aside the ratings hit (and the financial insolvency of the network) for a minute, would the White House be able to try and sound bite its way out of this one if news coverage was all subpoenas, all the time? Doubtful.

I really was not going to mention the subpoena issue again today, but seeing CNN devote time to the obese kid, I really wanted to make the connection. As I have written before, I like juxtaposing things. Which leads me to what I really did want to write about: The obese kid and his enabling mother. Seriously, but it is not what you think. What interests me is that the story broke the same week that Tyra Banks appeared on television and in People magazine to argue that she was not fat. It reminded me of something I had recently discussed with a friend: America has a messed up relationship with food and body image.

On the one hand, as a society, we have completely unrealistic expectations about weight and our bodies, especially for women. I mean, we live in a time when a supermodel has to defend her body because she no longer becomes invisible when she turns sideways. And we wonder why young women become anorexic and bulimic? Link to a CNN Story on Body Image

And yet, we are a fat country. According to the American Obesity Association, approximately 127 million adults in the U.S. are overweight. Than includes 60 million obese Americans and nine million more who are severely obese. Put another way, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, while 20 years earlier, that figure was 46 percent. AOA Online Fact Sheet

So, more Americans are overweight than vote. That explains a lot, actually.

Let me try to get a handle on this. We eat too much, we do not exercise enough, we get fat, but then we make people feel crappy that they have gotten fat, but not crappy enough to actually do anything about it. I'm dizzy. But, based on the statistics, obviously not from a lack of food.

What really gets me is how dangerous both ends of the equation are. It's shocking to me that Tyra Banks would have to defend her body. I do not think you have to be a medical professional to figure out that her current body is way healthier than the one she had when she was starving herself to pose in bathing suits and dresses measured in microns.

At the same time, how do people walk into stores and buy food they know (or should know) is laden with high fructose corn syrup and other garbage that will do nothing but make them fat? You do not need to be a nutritionist to know that if every day you eat half a bag of Doritos, drink a six-pack of Coke, and call a Big Mac and fries dinner, you are going to be fat. And, likely, declared a Superfund site.

My friend pointed out that the power of big corporations and their influence on government regulations and standards makes it very hard for people to eat healthy. I completely agree with her that the health of Americans is very low on the priority list of these entities, and it takes a lot of work for people to eat truly healthy diets.

But, I am also a big believer in personal responsibility. And, again, while arriving at the perfect diet can be a challenge in our current corrupt system, the average person should realize that two donuts and Frappuccino is not breakfast, it's a suicide plan.

So, I guess what I am saying is, CNN was showing the right story, but for the wrong reasons, kind of like Don Henley's motivation for writing "Dirty Laundry." As usual, we have things all twisted around until they are virtually unfixable. I have no idea what it will take to make people eat healthier, or to stop making healthy people feel fat. But, whatever the odds of Americans coming to terms with their food and body issues, they are probably better than the chances that CNN will cut away from Britney's next freak-out to discuss the constitutional law implications of the Senate Judiciary Committee's issuance of subpoenas.

As Henley identified, "we all know that crap is king," so the news networks will pump out dirty laundry. Sadly, it seems that Americans are all out of quarters for the washing machines. After all, they need them for the vending machines.