Saturday, January 22, 2011

Yahooism: Maybe We Should Treat It As an Art Form

Friday night is when the television tells Americans, "Gang, you're on your own." Idly clicking through the 500-channel desert I pay through the nose to get after the BU-hockey game. I came upon the late news on WGN, Chicago.

The lead story, and also the second, third and fourth stories, was the NFC championship game. No surprise there. The WGN team rang all the familiar local TV chimes -- interviews with men and women on the street predicting Bears victories (since the temperature was one above yesterday, they looked more pained than happy about it), half-in-the-bag Packer fans reeling in front of Chicago civic landmarks, and a lengthy feature on the gag bet between the mayors of Chicago and Green Bay.

(BTW, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said the cold in which the game would be played was part of it traditional charm. Any bets on the temperature of the luxury suite in which you know Hizzoner will be watching this tilt?)

All the stories were presented in the tone of small-town boosterism and starry-eyed hero worship that is de rigeur for local TV coverage of big games. In that respect, Auburn, Alabama and New York City are identical. The gag bet segment was particularly notable. The Chicago reporter gave a bitter ad lib denunciation of the Wisconsin foods put up by Green Bay's mayor. It isn't just Aaron Rodgers who's Chicago's enemy this weekend. Cheese itself is an object of loathing.

What DID surprise me about this festival of broadcast Babbittry was my own reaction. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I was amused, even charmed, by the banal bandwagon-hopping. It was a trifle disconcerting when the female half of the anchor team forgot to remove her "Go Bears" smile when segueing into the actual news lead, which was two people dying from a space heater malfunction, but glitches happen on live TV.

If the Pats had won last Sunday, our local news would have been just the same last night. And I wouldn't have been able to tolerate for more than about a second. I would have been ashamed, embarrassed, and humiliated on behalf of my home town of almost 40 years and even more on behalf of my former profession -- even though I have known for more than 40 years that any connection between local TV news and journalism is sheer coincidence.

Why is that? Why did I laugh my ass off in Pittsburgh the night before the 2001 AFC title game when the 11 o'clock news anchors actually wore Steelers jerseys, while if a Boston did that I'd nearly expire from shame?

(Not that they would, mind you. This may be hard for folks who live here to believe, but I've traveled this United States fairly extensively, and believe me, the sports local yokel quotient of Boston TV news is very low compared to most other places, especially the two biggest cities, New York and LA.)

It's important to note that in that laughter there was no ridicule, well, not much anyway. The whole point of Big Games is their ability to drive fans bananas. It IS fun to watch a community get behind a shared experience, and as we all know here, a Big Game is a lot less stressful means of building community than a 22-inch snowfall.

So why does Boston yahooism pain me? I think my reaction is actually a twisted form of civic pride. We all like to think OUR town is above mass civic manias and shameless attempts by soulless mass media conglomerates to capitalize on them.

Well, we're not. Nobody is. For evidence, I note that one of the Chicago residents who has gleefully participated in a week of Bears media hype is the supposedly cold and ultra-rational President of the United States.


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