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Press Review September 7, 2001
 
Ceci N'est Pas Une Story
By Matt Taibbi Browse author
 
 

Nature follows a rule: the less complicated the animal, the less various its diet. A human being needs all kinds of foods to stay strong and healthy—meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, fungi… Mill a human's rice and he'll get rickets; deny him roughage and he'll get constipated. Some rich humans will even bitch and moan if you serve them day-old Ceviche.

Then there are dogs. They can live on meat and water and run 20 miles a day, but they're still omnivores and can be tempted. A God-fearing ungulate, though, will never look up from its grass, no matter what you offer it… Lower down on the evolutionary ladder, you'll find mollusks that will complete long, successful lives subsisting solely on particulate wastes that they never see or smell, and which float randomly into their body cavities, round the clock, whether they want to eat or not.

I was moved somehow to consider all of this when I was on vacation in the States last week, and following the extraordinary "Summer of the Shark" phenomenon on television and in the newspapers. It turns out that the American media consumer will eat anything you feed him, so long as you tell him it's food. No check that—he'll eat it even if you tell him, at length, that it isn't food.

For those of you in Russia who have missed this whole business, the "Summer of the Shark" story, spanning the last month or so, has been the biggest thing on the American airwaves since Monica Lewinsky's dress size. It would have been overtaken by the Gary Condit story, if not for one crucial factor: you can film what you can find, and sharks are out there… whereas only God knows where Chandra Levy is. We can only hope that we in the media can ultimately achieve some closure, and discover some unity of purpose, by finding out that Levy was eaten by a shark. (That was supposed to be a laugh line, but it failed—and do you know why? Because somebody else, probably a talk show booking agent, almost certainly thought of it first. And that's scary.)

The madness began on July 6, when some savvy person made an offering to the tabloid gods and received in return a cute little six-year-old boy by the name of Jesse Abrogast, who graciously allowed a bull shark to bite off his arm in Florida. The arm, and the boy, became national heroes when they were reunited in a thrilling surgical reattachment procedure after the boy's uncle recovered the limb from the shark's belly. Normally it takes the dramatic convergence of two dependable media cliches to create a national television sensation, but this story had at least three: a cute little bowl-cutted boy in danger (see, e.g., boy in a well, boy abducted by sexual predator, etc.), a demonstration of the godlike power of Western science (cloned sheep, the Jarvik 7, Scandanavians diving around the Kursk, etc.), and an apolitical natural phenomenon that bored, frustrated Americans may collectively demonize and/or be fascinated by (meteors, UFOs, tornadoes, volcanoes, hurricanes, sharks, ad infinitum).

Readers should note how consistent a presence the last category has been in the American media, and how keen an understanding journalists have of its value. For instance: equine encephalitis, an insect-borne virus that strikes people of all races and persuasions, is not a serious threat to humanity, but it inspires massive coverage whenever there is so much as even one case in the New York area. The same is true for other viral/bacterial media stars like Ebola and flesh-eating streptococcus. AIDS, on the other hand, is one natural phenomenon that is a serious societal problem, and it warrants a lot more coverage than it gets—but since any serious investigation of the issue would require the revisiting of all sorts of ugly racial and political issues, it is seriously underplayed in the press.


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FROM THE VAULT

Your Letters :

Club Cruising in Moscow :

2002 in Review: Monsters Go Mainstream! :

The Clanfather: Meet The New Boss :
 

 
 
 
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Save The eXile: The War Nerd Calls Mayday
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