Friday, December 24, 2010

The Fading Power of the Fourth Estate (Shoo-bee-doo-bee-doo Division)

SACRAMENTO, Ca.--It is not exactly, well, news that falling revenues and flagging readership continue to send the newspaper industry yet deeper into its current merciless tailspin.
   The decline has propelled newspaper executives to experiment with wide-ranging strategies to retain readers, including... well, lots of things, all of which we are simply too lazy to look up. 
   One paper evidently has decided to take an aggressively avant-garde approach: at the Sacramento Bee, reporters now write in Esperanto. 
   At least that's the conclusion to be drawn from reading the lede of a Dec. 24 Bee story reporting heavy snowfall in the Lake Tahoe area: 
   "Bing Crosby should come to Lake Tahoe. With a fresh heap of snow blanketing the landscape, the classic 'White Christmas' crooner couldn't have dreamed it any better. Nor could the area's tourist industry." 
   It would be cruel to unmask the miscreant who wrote this. It is the holiday season; we are determined to look kindly upon our brethren and sistern. For the sake of conversation let us call the Bee reporter by a randomly chosen name, one unassuming in the extreme, a name like, oh, we don't know, maybe something such as, let's say, Ed Fletcher (
   Mr. Fletcher may go unmasked; his lede shall not. It should be placed, like a severed head, atop a tall stick and paraded from town to village to burgh and back as a perfect example of exactly what not to do should you one day find yourself in the unenviable position of having to top a snow-related story with a catchy opening paragraph. 
   First off: Bing Crosby? Really? That rustling you hear is the sound of tens of thousands of Americans, ages sixteen to fortyish, scratching their heads as they murmur, "Bing who?" (Answer: the third most popular movie actor of all time, by box office numbers. Nevertheless...)
   But of course Mr. Fletcher name-checked Mr. Crosby. Recent studies have shown that the average age of newspaper readers is a hundred and sixty-five; the average age of reporters is roughly double that. 
   In recognition of these alarming facts, newspaper bigwigs have employed all kinds of tactics in the past decade to get those laptoppatizin', Tweetereezin', Facebookatatin', text-sendin' young folks to visit the ink-stained horse 'n buggy barn. Just last month, with an eye to creating an staff-wide understanding of the "youth demographic," New York Times editor Andrew Rosenthal ordered employees to be dosed with psilocybin and forced to wave glow sticks, suck on pacifiers and dance without respite for sixteen hours to drum 'n bass hits of the nineties. 
   But try as these media leaders might to hip things up, the Ed Fletchers of the world continue to fire bullets into their desperately dancing feet. When dreaming of a captivating snow-story lede, the best Ed Fletcher can do is to conjure Bing ("Who?") Crosby, a performer popular two and one-half centuries ago and best known for his mellifluous voice and his penchant--no offense to Crosby friends, family and fans across the globe--for beating his children.
   For an Ed Fletcher lede, however, a Bing Crosby reference is a mere warmup. What follows seems, on the face of it, a rather pleasant suggestion: that Mr. Crosby "should come to Lake Tahoe." Mr. Crosby used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area; no doubt he enjoyed many Tahoe trips. It is not difficult to believe that he would be game for another were it not for the fact that he is, in truth, entirely dead. 
   Crosbyesque Tahoe trips are therefore out of the question even were Mr. Crosby willing to strap skis to the maggot-chewed bones of his feet. 
   Mr. Fletcher, alas, soldiers on. Why should Mr. Crosby, dead or alive, come to Lake Tahoe? "With a fresh heap of snow blanketing the landscape, the classic 'White Christmas' crooner couldn't have dreamed it any better." 
   The way that sentence is constructed, if that sentence can be said to have been "constructed" (it cannot), suggests that Mr. Crosby himself has a fresh heap of snow blanketing some... landscape. The word "landscape" occasionally is used euphemistically to refer to, for example, parts of the body that would best be left unmentioned in polite society were there still such a thing as polite society. It immediately strikes First of All that there are most definitely "landscapes" of Mr. Crosby's badly decomposed body that we simply do not wish to picture (e.g., the anus). 
   Ahem, ahem. All right, children, gather round. Uncle First of All is now going to decode, phrase by phrase, the rest of that sentence for you:

   *"...the classic..." In addition to being a famous movie star, Mr. Crosby was an extremely popular singer. But when Mr. Fletcher writes that Mr. Crosby was a "classic" singer, he is not, kids, referring to what you think of as classic; that is to say classic rock, the music of the sixties that all but killed the careers of the Mr. Crosbys of the land. No, Mr. Fletcher means "classic" in a way that would make sense only to your average newspaper reader, age one hundred and sixty-five.
   *"...'White Christmas'..." A reference to a song, written by Irving Berlin in 1942, the lyrics of which set a nostalgic, elegiac tone: "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas/Just like the ones I used to know." Mr. Crosby sang the song in the movie musical Holiday Inn. (Executives at Paramount Pictures nixed his plan to perform it in blackface. They felt that audiences would simply be baffled by the sight of an African-American Bing Crosby singing, "And may all your Christmases be white.") The World War II-era song became a hit with soldiers overseas and their families at home. Mr. Crosby's version was so popular that a movie of the same name was made in 1954. It starred Mr. Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and a dancing gorilla. No, wait: that gorilla part is wrong. It was a dancing dwarf. 
   *"...crooner..." The nineteen forties and fifties singing style known as "crooning" was practiced by velvet-voiced male singers (Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones, et cetera) whose job was to: a.) seduce chicks; x.) cut a compelling, if compellingly bland, fashion figure; and 12.) create music that was the aural equivalent of Valium--just the ticket for a generation rattled by World War II and by the thunder in the distance that would come to be known as rock 'n' roll. 
   *"...couldn't have dreamed it any better." See "White Christmas" lyrics, above. 

   Well. We have now spent roughly eleven hundred words dissecting--flaying?--poor Mr. Fletcher's no doubt rush-written lede. We can hardly be said to be carrying the Christmas spirit, white or otherwise. So we will leave well enough--and bad enough--alone, and wish you all a happy holiday season. May your  snow always arrive in fresh heaps and your landscapes always be, uh... well-showered?


PS: We are painfully aware that our little blackface joke was in poor taste. We apologize. 
   Thank God Mr. Crosby habitually displayed more discernment than we do. He would never have stooped so low even as to joke about blackface, much less appear in it, because... 
   Wait a minute. 
   In the 1943 film Dixie, Mr. Crosby played a young Kentucky songwriter who tries to bust into the big time first in New Orleans and then in New York. At some point during this cinematic tale, Mr. Crosby appeared thus (ha-ha, ho-ho, we win): 


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