Network Television Bastardizes the Facts for Fun & Profit

For the most part, television ads are annoying clusterfucks that do their best to give you an epileptic seizure while selling useless crap. Thankfully, TiVo has introduced me to an existence devoid of obnoxious commercials.

I suppose it’s to NBC’s credit then that I managed to catch the promo for its spectacular movie event, the two-hour dramatic and inspiring account of Jessica Lynch’s rescue from those evil two-dimensional bastards — Iraqi doctors.

Almost immediately, I was overcome with awe and patriotism. In 30 seconds, I saw image after image of actors dressed as soldiers acting brave. The music swelled, delivering an unforgettable emotional high that I haven’t experienced since my wedding day. The sights, the sounds, the silhouettes, even the name — Saving Jessica Lynch — evoked such a strong surge of jingoistic furor that a million American flags shot right out of my ass!

The ad, in case you missed it (it ran during every commercial break during NBC primetime — at least it felt that way), was pretty much what you’d expect. NBC was so proud it outbid the other networks for the story rights, so confident that people cared about Jessica Lynch that it didn’t even really matter the official story is a total crock.

After all, the official story sounds a lot cooler and more “Hollywood” than what really took place. You’ve got a blonde southern belle heroically waging a firefight against a bunch of faceless infidels before succumbing to blood loss and trauma. You’ve got a bunch of criminally negligent medical professionals beating and anally raping the protagonist — um, soldier. And, most important, the stunning denouement where the good ol’ U. S. of A. sends a crack squad into the impregnable medical fortress to prove that they leave no one behind.

Sounds a lot more exciting than a solider being well-treated by her supposed enemy, her only real prospect of death coming when American forces shot up the ambulance in which the Iraqis were returning her.

I can only hope that the American public saw the movie — I’m sorry, the rescue that inspired a nation — for what it (and the simultaneously released autobiography) really was: a shallow, cynical ploy designed to make the current war in Iraq seem like something patriotic and meaningful when it is anything but.

Amazingly, Lynch herself has come forward and denounced the government’s exploitation of her life for the benefit of a few PR shots. You’d think the million-dollar book bonus, the option for her life story, and the accolades she received for letting other people rescue her (they aren’t heroes like Jessica, though) would have been reason enough to stay silent. For months she did. Her confession and anger at the situation, especially right before a major media blitz shoves her name into the spotlight again, is almost staggering. Almost.

Maybe she played everyone, took their money, and then changed her tune just to piss them all off. If she did, she’s a 21st century Machiavelli, and I applaud her.

But sadly, the Jessica Lynch docudrama is only one of a handful of television attempts to cash in on stupid media blitzes. Running the same night (to slightly better ratings, strangely) was the Elizabeth Smart story. This modern-day “morality play” taught us that Smart is one of the dumbest people alive, her captor has the emotional depth of cardboard, and her parents are God-loving purveyors of good. Combined, approximately 31 million people watched these simplified excuses for real life. I’m amazed ABC didn’t counterprogram with the Laci Peterson story, the amazing, rare account of a woman who was murdered.

And what about the Ronald Reagan “movie?” When CBS announced the biopic, one that is likely as ridiculous and error-filled as anything sandwiched between Lynch’s Bruckheimer-esque theatrics, angry Republicans managed to combine forces and shelf the Tiffany Network’s portrayal of the Gipper.

That’s very puzzling — despite possessing the factual content of an issue of the Weekly World News Lynch’s movie of the week airs as scheduled, yet the Reagan movie is cancelled because the Republican National Committee railed against its inaccuaracies.

The reason mass audiences won’t see James Brolin act like a batty old codger is because Viacom, which owns CBS, wants more media ownership, something currently under consideration by our staunch Republican government and FCC. You don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you now, do you?

In the end, the blurring of entertainment and fact is a huge loss for our society. By funneling stories of real tragedy and loss into a film that has the substance of The Rock, or by making one of our presidents into a caricature, we all lose. Simplifying the story doesn’t make it better, and it doesn’t make it more palatable. All it does is dumb down the thinking power of those who watch. For a public that gets the majority of its reporting from the local news, offering a truthful account of what happened can only help.