Sunday, January 14, 2007


The Tear of the President
Just one itty bitty tear? That’s pathetic. Now, if we’d seen the President break down in great shoulder-heaving, breath-hitching sobs, that would have been news.

Sounds like a new laundry detergent, or a Japanese car, but no, it's a strategy!

I had a dream the other night, in which I was at a party, and Annette Funicello came over and introduced herself. We both drank decaffeinated beverages and chatted by the refrigerator. Small talk, really.

The long nightmare is nearly over. There are still twenty or so boxes to empty, the contents of which are a mystery. But we are still missing: the sharp knives, thirty or so six inch long shelf thingies, my daughter’s dinosaur collection, and my brain.

YouTube’s days on the pop culture radar screen are numbered. Saying that is as close to heresy as one can get these days, especially since the amount of money Google paid to buy it seems to have blinded us to what YouTube actually provides. Yes, it’s free, but how many videos of pets and grandmas falling down, flatulent babies, lonely teens lip-synching in their basements, viral marketing scams, Stephen Colbert clips, and amateur music videos can America really tolerate? I know our tolerance level is just tremendous, especially if focussed around free Internet content, but sooner or later, we will eventually want a story line, production values, actors… you know, kind of like television, or its 21st Century equivalent.

As of January 3, I found 7461 postings of Saddam Hussein’s sordid death on YouTube. It’s a pretty safe bet that any time somebody records an unusual event with his or her cell phone, the resulting footage is to Internet surfers as kibble to a puppy. Saddam on a rope? To puppies in the virtual world, that’s like canned tuna. Who can resist?

Of course the difference between Net surfers and, say, newspaper readers, cable television viewers, and pundits is that there is no troublesome tongue-clucking about whether this or that story is “suitable,” or “appropriate,” or whether videos of an execution should be shown at all, or whether they should be edited, or whether they should only be shown after prime time, when impressionable kids have gone to bed.

The Internet has none of these qualms. The Internet is qualm-free. The Internet has no wrinkles on its brow. The Internet does not think of the children. The Internet does not pander to tender sensibilities. The Internet does not ponder consequences. The Internet posts it all, and lets God sort it out.

Well, that’s okay. But I feel an obligation to point this out: the breezy acceptance of this footage has turned Saddam Hussein from murderous creep into hapless, semi-brave victim. It has given succor to his supporters. It has made his longtime enemies look like vengeful thugs. It has made the U.S. look like some kind of cut rate Pontius Pilate, on the high end, or bumbling behind-covering poll-chasing idiots, on the low.

All of this may be true in the long run. Saddam’s supporters may deserve succor. His longtime enemies may be¸in fact, vengeful thugs. And the U.S. may be, in fact, a pompous Pilate in a New World Order that we did not expect, request, or desire, an Order that will leave us in the dustbin of history with the rest of the clueless swaggerers.

But in the short run, call me a moral relativist, there’s a mighty big difference between some college kid posting his animations, a teenager making weird faces, New Years’ Greetings from people we don’t even know, pranks, jokes… and watching a man being humiliated and hanged. This is bear baiting. This is beyond voyeurism, it is a bold tiptoe into sadism. This is beyond creepy. This is the world’s first YouTube execution. It won’t be the last. But, I predict, and hope, there won’t be that many more.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merle Kessler wrote:
>But we are still missing: the sharp knives, thirty or so six inch long shelf thingies, my daughter’s dinosaur collection, and my brain.

Sounds like the making of this summer's big action film:

"So, you see, because my DINOSAURS weren't threatening enough, I've trained them to carry these SHARP KNIVES!"


1:14 PM  
Blogger CRConrad said...

Uh, this bit: "This is the world’s first YouTube execution." -- are you quite sure that's correct? I thought they hanged that gang of cronies of his, including his half-brother or cousin or whatever he was, before they hung Saddam himself...

And that one was on YouTube too; I think *that* was actually the first one.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Merle Kessler said...

You are probably right. There are probably many executions and bizarre deaths that preceded Saddam's. Sometimes hyperbole gets the better of me. Saddam's FEELS like the first one. It SHOULD HAVE BEEN the first one. Can we just delete the others? Thank you.

10:06 AM  

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