Regardless of the headline, this is a local story. It’s a story of excess and potential danger. It involves blood, albeit neatly collected pouches of it. And it involves one of the most controversial women in American popular culture, Madonna. Oops, sorry, that was 20 years ago. I meant Kim Kardashian. Oops, sorry, that was five minutes ago. Miley Cyrus? Didn’t we tag that and move on already?
On Monday, Aug. 25 I entered the 11th street headquarters of the Red Cross here in Santa Monica. I’ve been there many times before, to donate blood. Since I’m kind of a big galoot in general good health, I donate blood as often as three times a year because it’s a good thing that can be easily done in about two hours. And unlike hook-intensive witless pop music and the desperate stunts that promote its sale, blood donations are something that society actually needs.
Arriving at the Red Cross, I was prepared for the wait that comes before you actually start giving over your blood. That’s because blood donors need to be screened by working with a laptop computer on a series of questions meant to keep bad things out of the blood bank system. Years ago the Red Cross, like everybody else, was not prepared to screen for HIV-infected blood and that sadly resulted in some dangerous mistakes.
Now the screening is as thorough as possible short of running lab tests right there on the scene.
And volunteer donors understand why all this is necessary. What we don’t get, and I’d love to have our local Red Cross weigh in on some of this, is why making an appointment time almost never impacts the processing at blood donations. Too often the volunteers receiving donors as they enter don’t seem to understand how those times are meant to affect procedure, if at all.
But I’ll take my carping and get lost if the Red Cross can explain why the room for blood donations must have a television set on and why that TV must be tuned to the worst afternoon programming available, playing at a volume that compels the medical personnel collecting blood to shout over the television in order to be heard. To be heard, possibly, about large needles, dripping blood, or people fainting, etc. It’s one thing to donate and watch your own blood drip out; it’s completely another to do that while something as life-draining as “The Ricki Lake Show” is being blasted at you.
At first I thought the TV was meant to somehow relax the donors. Then I learned otherwise.
That’s when our friend Ricki was done with her presentation of psychics and we next enjoyed television’s answer to the crisis of illiteracy, “TMZ Live.” This is where the danger part comes in.
“TMZ Live” is a collection of pop culture effluvia, much of it generated by having sad-sack weasels camp out at LAX and wait for a “celebrity” to get off a plane. Then the weasels ambush those jet-lagged victims with cameras and shout a couple of lame questions… and then that’s a TV show. However, on Monday, TMZ was armed with the clip of Miley Cyrus prostituting what’s left of her public image for some pre-release promotion to sell her next CD. Never mind what she and Robin Thicke actually did on a cable channel now known globally for its cupidity; you’ve either seen the video already or you’re lucky.
But at the moment that Hollywood video dumpster TMZ ran the clip I observed that many, if not all, of the trained medical person in the blood collecting room at the Red Cross turned away from whatever they were doing to watch the video. The nurse attending to me was held transfixed for almost 10 seconds. Then she yelped something in reaction to the clip as others gasped their sentiments. True it was only a few seconds out of a long day of collecting blood donations, but it didn’t tend to reinforce the professionalism associated with blood donation personnel.
Fortunately, Miley’s performance art didn’t run at the exact moment I was getting jabbed with a large needle. But then, it really wasn’t Miley Cyrus that could have got me hurt. It was our shared preoccupation with celebrity media manipulation and advertising camouflaged as “content”; clown stunts meant to hold our attention for a moment and allow us to completely tune out troubling real news such as Syria’s campaign against its own people… or distract us from whatever task we’re supposed to be doing.
Dear Santa Monica Red Cross: You do important and necessary work. And it’s not your fault that Miley Cyrus has psychological issues. But it is your fault that, somehow, it has become standard operating procedure to provide blood-donation medical personnel with a loud television set that is evidently capable of pulling their attention away from procedures. I know what I’m trying to do; I’m trying to donate that blood you told me was critically needed in case LA has a serious wide-spread disaster on its hands. But first, I think you have a tiny but easily fixed disaster in your donation room. Pull the plug on it, folks.