“I was born in a house with the television always on
Guess I grew up too fast
And I forgot my name
We’re in cities at night and we got time on our hands.
So leave the driving to us.
And it’s the real thing.
And you’re rolling/ In the blender
With me./ And I can love you
Like a color TV.
Now love is here
C’mon and try it
I got love for sale
Got love for sale”
–Talking Heads, “Love For Sale”
Television is the cool friend you never actually have to make. It’s available freely and doesn’t care how boring you are. In primitive societies mankind had to talk to whomever was around — even if this was mere family. But today we can benefit from a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry designed to find us truly interesting folks to include in our lives. Neighbors are out. Oprah is in.
Oprah is the friend every woman thinks she should have. She pays attention totally to their needs and hopes for an hour every day. Oprah is smart and funny and confident and wouldn’t at all want to hang out with you in real life. But several million mediocre folks all combined make an acceptable object for her attention.
Oprah cares about your skin. Oprah cares about your soul. And through her book club, Oprah even cares about your mind. Not actually your mind of course, since the role of “you” is conveniently played by interesting guests and a well-prompted studio audience. But she cares about these surrogates so convincingly that it’s even better than caring directly about you, since you don’t have change out of your sweat pants or even nod at the correct places. Through Oprah, self-improvement is a vicarious experience. You just watch your friend cultivate the new you, as played by someone else. Then back to eating!
This is reality. Oprah is as real a part of many people’s lives as the people they actually know. Oprah is not unique in this way, just more successful than most faux companionship merchants.
That’s why one of the most significant developments of the political season is Oprah’s virtual adoption of Barack Obama. The pied piper of daytime TV has picked a political messiah and is busy recommending him to a few million friends, when not hosting some gala for millionaires she’s recruiting for her political makeover recipient.
Such an event is far more significant than any mere presidential debate — as Fred Thompson correctly understands. Fred chose to spend an evening getting to know a few million of us through our funny faux-companion Jay Leno.
Why have people identify you with Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee, when you can instead be a pleasant conversation with a pleasant friend?
Likewise, Hillary Clinton spent a few minutes visiting with America when our crazy-funny friend Ellen DeGeneres stopped in one evening to make us laugh like only our crazy-funny rule-breaker of a daytime buddy can. No really, she’s funny. I’d hang out with her. And through her, Hillary wants in on the group.
We’ve all had this happen before — getting a new “friend” that isn’t really at all likable alone but is part of the group because of the friend we have in common.
It’s also a little like being set up with a new date, but we are instead being set up with a new President.
Of course, the most pitiful political talk show of the week had to be Osama Bin Laden’s new attempt to connect with the American people. Sporting a newly dyed beard, Oprah Bin Laden talked to us about our frustration with politics, Global Warming, high taxes, and of course the sub-prime mortgage market meltdown. He then recommended a little good reading for us (Noam Chomsky, every America hater’s favorite American) and invited us to introspection in the name of Peace.
Most in the media dismissed Osama’s monologue with America as “the ramblings of a madman” that signified nothing. But it was not the random diatribe of a crazy man. It was just the amateurish efforts of a man who has learned everything he knows about America from watching us on TV and reading about us in newspapers. The tape was not Obama Unhinged. It was just a really low talent attempt to talk to us in the language of our televised nobles.
This continues a well-established precedent with his tapes. They are always filled with references to the internal conversation America’s media is having with its closest 300 million friends over satellite TV.
To all those that seek power over America, the obvious path seems to be through the la-la land of our artificial friends in the media.
Osama, Obama, Fred, Oprah and Chelsea’s Mama — just another week for the ambitious in Talk Show America.
Just a word to Osama: on the next tape, try getting some amazed guests to nod at all the correct places. It works better that way. Oh, and forget the hair dye. If America wants to listen to an idiot obsessed with his own hair, we already have John Edwards — who will probably be on Letterman next week.