The best thing about my summer in the country was that I didn't have a TV and usually got to the market after the tiny clutch of papers had already been snatched up by the local information junkies. So I missed a lot of Really Important News. Gary Condit, who? Most of my friends believe he had "something to do" with Chandra Levy's disappearance, despite the lack of any evidence or motive or even credible scenario for same. This shows how desperately we long for life to be more interesting than it really is, but will somebody please tell me why the people at Buzzflash.com and other hardcore Democratic propagandists want progressives, liberals, Dems–whatever Nation readers are calling themselves these days–to rally to the defense of this slimeball? He doesn't even have a good voting record! (During the Contract With America years he voted with Newt Gingrich 77 percent of the time, and he has been pressed often to switch parties.) Count me out–I used up all my humor and worldliness on Bill and Monica, not to mention their numerous real-life equivalents. My position on sexually predatory politicians, with their interns (and aides and flight attendants), is the same as for the ever-popular aging male professor/bushy-tailed young grad student combo: These people, both the men and the women, are on their own. If half of Congress had to go home in disgrace to Modesto, and half the intern pool learned the hard way that there's more to getting ahead than giving head, why would that be bad?
In sports news, we had the story of Danny Almonte, the 14-year-old 12-year-old who pitched a perfect game for his Bronx Little League team, leading them to a third-place finish in the international championship. Bring on President Bush and Mayor Giuliani, the television cameras and the ticker-tape parade! The unearthing of Danny's true birth certificate, showing he was born in 1987, not 1989, was spun out in the press for days on end, with vast quantities of shocked fake-solicitous moralizing ladled on by every sports commentator in America and then some. Said sports agent Drew Rosenhaus on CNN's TalkBack Live, "If you start cheating and start making excuses for that, you're destroying the American dream here." In quest of baseball glory, Danny's parents lied and exploited him, messed with his head and, it was believed at one point, hadn't even enrolled him in school–all very bad. But what do you expect in our sports-and-entertainment-addled country? As Joyce Purnick pointed out in an acid column in the New York Times, no one makes a fuss about New York City public school kids who, against great odds, win writing competitions or debating championships or excel academically (not even the Board of Education, which had trouble coming up with a list of relevant names)–and then we wonder why so many inner-city kids blow off their education in favor of a "dream" about being a rapper, a movie star, a model, a sports hero. The Bronx is full of teenage Dominican immigrants like Danny, who've dropped out of their awful schools, where they learned nothing, to face bleak futures in the subproletariat, without even a chance at getting their pictures in the paper unless they happen to be run over by a drunken policeman. Where's the outrage about that?
Perhaps it's being expended on superpublicist-to-the-stars Lizzie Grubman's automotive rampage in the parking lot of the Hamptons' Conscience Point Inn. Or perhaps it's been kidnapped by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who's taking a break from black-Hispanic bridge-building over target practice on Vieques to feud with right-wing New York Post columnist Rod Dreher, who questioned the good taste of 22-year-old singer Aaliyah's funeral procession down Fifth Avenue: "A traffic-snarling, horse-drawn cortege in honor of a pop singer most people have never heard of? Give us a break!" Dreher went on to cruelly contrast Aaliyah's song lyrics with the poetry of Byron, deserving recipient of lavish obsequies from a grateful nation. In response Sharpton called for a boycott of the Post and its advertisers: "It was ugly and divisive. She was degraded," he said. "What would make her not worthy of this type of funeral?"
Too right. I can't think of a more important issue than celebrity funerals for a self-described national black leader to be addressing right now! Unless, of course, it is the absence of black faces on television, the pet cause of Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP. Syndicated columnist Cynthia Tucker and others have charged that Mfume was pushing this issue in order to promote himself as a talk-show host, although media imagery and representation is a standard issue for identity-based organizations from NOW to the Anti-Defamation League. In any case, Mfume, a national figure and former Congressman who appeared on cable for years, would make at least as worthy a regular commentator as, oh I don't know, the racially humorous Don Imus, or Rush Limbaugh, or Chris Matthews. I'd watch.
The real issue, though, is that television is the least of black America's problems. Sure, it's absurd that all the young nudnicks on Friends, Will & Grace, Dawson's Creek and other top-ranked shows my daughter loves are white, but life is short and time's a-wasting. How much energy does the nation's largest black organization want to spend shoehorning an African-American best friend into Dharma & Greg or getting Clarence Page more face time on CNN? It was left to one Emory Curtis, whose essay "Blacks on TV or Educate Our Kids?" was posted on the Black Radical Congress e-mail list in August, to make the obvious point. For three years the NAACP has been making a major issue out of the prime-time lineup. Where is its crusade against the terrible state of education for black children? Curtis notes that black kids trail by almost every measure: On last year's National Assessment of Educational Progress, one in three white fourth graders performed at grade level, which is itself pretty shocking–but only one in twenty black fourth graders did. In California, three out of four black fourth and eighth graders were at the lowest level, "below basic"–about the same as eight years ago.
Well, summer's over. Time to turn off the set?