Mar 262003
Authors: Paul Franco

I grabbed a paper on Monday hoping to see a jubilant Nicole Kidman on the front page holding an Oscar in a stunning dress. The headline would read something like “Starlet wins first Academy Award,” and I would forget the worries of the world. Instead I’m confronted with images of war and serious headlines such as “Troops halfway to Baghdad.”

I was aghast. How could they relegate the biggest night in the film world to a measly two page spread on page 28? Where was the front page coverage of J-Lo’s dress? How am I supposed to be shocked by its flimsiness if I’ve been treated to disturbing photos of captured American soldiers? Dresses just don’t seem all that shocking anymore.

I want a return to the simpler days when the world of entertainment produced news that was still considered front page news and not consigned to the “D” section of page 73, subsection “DD,” sub-subsection “E.” I could at least settle for witty references to pop culture in the headlines of the war coverage such as “Bombs over Baghdad.” And as I read the story I will have Outkast’s song of the same name in my head, which will satisfy a small portion of my entertainment jones.

I am lost in a sea of seriousness. Instead of court shows such as “Texas Justice,” or “Judge Joe Brown,” I have a constant night vision picture of Baghdad, split screen with a reporter in a gas mask that I can barely understand. For good measure, the news channel makes sure to condense the report into nice little snippets in the form of colorful graphics. This is to inform the viewer that when the reporter said: “The troops’ morale is high as they approach the halfway mark to Baghdad,” what he meant was: “Morale of troops high; halfway to Baghdad.” In this day and age of small attention spans, that clarification is really needed.

Don’t get me wrong, the dictation provided by the news channels is pretty cool (and handy if you’re yelling at the television because of the sensationalistic coverage), but there is a certain element of overkill. Do we really need a night vision picture of Baghdad constantly on the screen? I sometimes feel like I am watching Fox’s excellent series “24” as I tune into the war coverage. It has the elements of the show: split screens, the anticipation of action, intense political situations, et cetera (sadly, it has no Elisha Cuthbert) and sometimes I even forget I am supposed to be watching objective news reporting.

Despite the flashy graphics and the use of cutting-edge technology (if night vision can even be considered cutting-edge anymore; maybe in the first Gulf War it was cutting-edge) which sometimes makes me forget that these channels do in fact employ journalists, the cable news channels still lack the star power they need to make up for the lack of entertainment coverage. Shepard Smith’s entertainment stock is rising (his show’s name is even reminiscent of something in show business: “Studio B”) but there’s no way he can match the charisma of a Keifer Sutherland.

No doubt my call for more entertainment news will fall on deaf ears. I might still have “Access Hollywood” and “E! News,” but when entertainment coverage is done by the news channels that also deal with world issues, politics, economics, et cetera, it makes me feel as if I am watching something that actually matters on a world scale.

The answer to my request for a return to the days of journalism where entertainment took precedence will no doubt be something to the effect of: “It’s times like these when everything is put into perspective.” And soon we’ll have magazines saying irony will be dead in a post-Operation Iraqi Freedom (wasn’t it about disarmament at first, and isn’t that what it is still about? Call it Operation Destroy Sadaam’s Weapons to be consistent and take the spin off the war) world, much as someone proclaimed post 9-11.

The new catch phrase people will drop to explain the problems and the different feeling the world will take on will no longer be “Post-9-11” but will be replaced by “Post- Operation Iraqi Freedom,” which as of now I am coining preemptively. Thus, when my friend is being explained why he must go through tons of bureaucratic red tape in order to attain his citizenship, he will not be met with the answer: “Because security is tight post-9-11,” but they will say “Security is tight now, post-Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

ESPN will constantly remind us of the unimportance of sports, MTV will tone down the screaming on TRL, and entertainment news will be given only ticker space on the news channels and a small section in the back of the newspaper. And the truth is, entertainment news has taken its proper place in cable news coverage and newspaper reporting. Entertainment is not so important to warrant a front page story, especially if it’s about J-Lo and Ben Affleck. (They’re getting married!)

Though, because it is not front page news, we should not buy into the assertion that entertainment means absolutely nothing. Entertainment can and does play an important role in our culture, whether it involves helping to forget our woes, the construction of cultural identity, or just a way to easily view works of art (yes aspects of film, music, and television can be considered art). But until it’s back on the front page I’ll pretend I’m watching “Three Kings” on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

 Posted by at 6:00 pm

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