Friday, May 23, 2008

Turn off the idiot box

Turn off the idiot box! No, dear readers, this isn't aimed at you—you can watch as much as you want. And it isn't aimed at myself either, for that matter, as I'm looking forward to catch up with a pair of Morris Engel movies and season 1 of Jericho this weekend.

The person who really should turn off her TV and start paying attention to the world outside is New York Times television critic Alessandra Stanley. Now I realize Stanley is actually paid to watch TV but today's review of HBO's Recount, about the Florida debacle during the 2000 presidential election, indicates a baffling lack of understanding of that pesky reality-based world we live in, and the relative importance of events.

Stanley has often been mocked for accumulating corrections, mostly due to stupid but relatively minor mistakes. That I can live with, sort of, because as an editor and writer I know how easy it is to get details wrong. But there's a bigger problem at work today.

The review starts by saying the recount "was historic and historically awful, until the Sept. 11 attacks wiped away much of the anguish and slapstick. For a while, at least, the Florida vote count seemed as trivial and irrelevant as the results of the Henley Regatta after August 1914."

Let's see: A rigged voting procedure in Florida led to a rigged count; that in turn led to an abuse of power by the Supreme Court, which put in office a dangerously inept president who in a few years' time would wreck the American economy and turn into a criminal of war (which is what people including the Hague tribunal call those who knowingly flaunt the Geneva Convention). Of course that bit of "slapstick" was "trivial and irrelevant"! Stanley's reaction truly boggles the mind.

Our ace critic then proceeds to imply that the recount would have remained some kind of cute footnote until HBO's "deliciously engrossing" film reminded us of the hoopla. Reading this in the subway this morning, I had to put down the paper for a minute; I wanted to see what Stanley would come up with next but needed to collect myself, not throw the Times out the window.

Good thing I kept reading, because I got the pleasure of choking on carefree asides like "Life is unfair, especially when retold in dramatizations of recent history." How easily does blithe sarcasm seep out through the walls of privilege… Sometimes the unbearable glibness of being a Times critic is just too much for us readers—and citizens—to withstand.

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