It happens all the time. You’ve gone out to dinner and enjoyed a nice meal. But in the last few minutes, a six-top table of softball team members just sat down next to you and now the energy they’re exuding in their triumph over a rival team is more than you wish to share. Or maybe the evening’s musical entertainment just started, and you’re not staying for all six minutes of “Sweet Home Alabama.” So you ask for your check. You want to leave. You want to exit from the noise and its related volume.
Oh, if only we could request our ‘checks’ to exit the din of the current Bill Cosby and Donald Trump “coverage.”
Let me be clear: I’m not in any way advising the public to ignore breaking national news headlines. When our nation goes to war or doesn’t but flies-in drones that do our killing for us, that may be unpleasant and we’d rather change channels. Yet, that’s when we should stay with the story.
But is there an obligation to tend until repaired the burbling broken pipes of the Cosby and Trump stories? Musicians reading this column may be familiar with a device called a “limiter” which keeps audio signals from surging and damaging amplification gear. The dichotomy of Cosby/Trump, of course, is that there are things well worth considering in each account. But have both stories already blown out their limiters, now threatening harm to our sense of what to focus on?
Cosby is the more difficult case. There’s no denying the engine of the story is its celebrity casting. While Cosby is yet to be formally charged with a crime, we justifiably conclude that he’s already guilty of various types of harm. However we are isolating and spotlighting him as a sexual predator, when we know that addressing the crime of rape is larger than recounting the seamy logistics of how one wealthy and influential man got what he wanted.
Had your own daughter been sexually assaulted in a “date rape” incident at her college campus, you might naturally be eager to see the mighty brought down for committing the same crime under the shielding umbrella of a show-biz persona. But if you are involved in efforts to focus some of that attention on campus assaults, you might feel as though the time for widening the dialogue and getting down to business was months ago.
If you are disgusted with our “do nothing” Congress and inability of the Republican Party to advance anything at all resembling an agenda or ideas that might help our country, you might quite naturally be drawn to Trump’s inarticulate bazooka of effluvia and ego.
But a story having relatable and important elements doesn’t necessarily mandate a position at the top of our news cycles. Yet once running stories such as Cosby/Trump develop enough momentum, the momentum itself becomes “the story.” Thus, a perfect circular trap is set down to clamp on the leg of viewers hungry for well-reported and worthwhile news. The assumption becomes “the public is fascinated”, when the reality might be that we simply can’t get our waiter to bring our check fast enough.
At the risk of channeling some of my own speculation into the river of the Cosby dilemma, it appears to me that this man successfully kept his acts concealed from public knowledge by relying not only on his own male-centric self-delusion, but the sexist infrastructure of both the entertainment business and the law as it relates to rape. The gathering and alignment of his victims, dramatically represented on the cover of New Yorker magazine, demonstrates that media can still motivate us on things we might otherwise feel are so ingrained we can’t fight back.
But that New Yorker cover might have also displayed 35 victims of sexual assault on college campuses or in the armed forces, in cases that have not been properly adjudicated or have been ignored. It might also have been 35 female war veterans missing limbs because of our incursion into Iraq to find Bush’s WMD’s. Also wrong, also compelling our attention, but not shouting as us right now.
The coagulation of the current Trump clot is a clearer matter. Media, to be media and sell ad space, must have content that won’t stop barking. What Trump represents in reality was best expressed in a July 24 opinion piece by Timothy Egan in the New York Times, succinctly headlined “Trump Is the Poison His Party Concocted.” Egan nails down what’s happening right now. But ask yourself if you’re entitled in any way to be released from the room where all this shouting is going on.
Not because you don’t care or you don’t believe these events have importance; they do. But when the noise reaches a certain level, you may have the right to ask for your check.