by R.A. Roth
Good evening, and welcome to the nightly news. I’m a charismatic man or woman hired to stare deadpan into a camera and recite a butcher’s bill in a flat, anesthetized cadence. Our top story, chosen for raw shock value and its ability to stimulate the irrational consumption of government approved intoxicants, concerns a young woman who died terribly in a disturbing manner I will describe in agonizing detail. This is a high school yearbook photo captured from her Facebook account. Prior to her death, she looked nothing like this. We chose this photo to heighten the sense of loss. We interviewed her family during their darkest hour. Notice the purple circles under the mother’s weepy eyes. The quivering lilt in the father’s voice suggests his mask of masculine composure is about to crack. The interviewer’s affected concern pulls the segment together, intensifies the audience’s emotional investment.
Back after these messages from our greedy corporate sponsors. Believe nothing they say. It’s all a pack of lies and exaggerated promises nobody will hold them to. During the commercial break, please feel free to use legal drugs and try to numb the borrowed, cultivated pain infused by the guilt derived from human empathy. Those who use illegal drugs shall be stripped of all humanity and condemned.
Now that everybody’s soul has been smitten, time to allay that pain with intricate layers of distractions, beginning with our sports reporter, a masculine ex-jock or a pneumatic ex-Playmate or ex-beauty queen. The local team the audience has been programmed to root for won or lost the Big Game last night. The biggest of the year. A real test of their mettle, and they came through with flying colors or whizzed it down their legs badly. The highlights play as the reporter demonstrates his or her deep vernacular of sports terminology. Everything is fine now. The wounds of the opening segment have healed. But then I break in with a developing story.
An apartment complex is on fire. Five alarm blaze. Units from all around the area are heading to the scene. Cut to our on-scene correspondent, a man or woman with a trustworthy face. The handheld camera shakes from an explosion inside the complex. The correspondent breathlessly reports that he or she is fine and then speculates wildly as to the cause of the explosion. A fireman staggers on camera and explains that they believe it was a ruptured gas line. More details emerge. No one can look away from the screen. Pour a fast glass of liquor and use it to wash down a pill. Obey the primal urge to fill up that bottomless hole of anxiety excavated by our grating format.
The excitement of the fire dies. Switch back to the studio so I can make some unfounded observations and read the teaser for the next segment, right after these messages from some more corporate demons clawing frantically at the public’s purse strings. The break ends. Time to start in on politics and other filler. The president said something I will mischaracterize so everybody will find it unsettling. Bombs went off somewhere overseas that ninety-nine percent of the audience cannot find on a map. Cue shaky footage with lots of maimed and bleeding refugees. Bodies piled in the corner amid smoldering rubble. The broken room shudders with the lamentations of grandmothers.
Relax. No Americans were harmed.
If any Americans had died overseas, we would’ve led with that story and ditched the dead girl segment. She wasn’t particularly pretty or blonde. But she was white. Had she been black, there is no story. Nobody cares about a dead black girl, not even black people, or so I say. But what do I know? I read words aloud for a living. I don’t write the copy. We have paid propagandists to conjure up the words like magic on a monitor. I am not a journalist. They are all dead. We should do a story on the death of journalism. Footage of a candlelight vigil. People weeping and placing flowers and teddy bears on a jumbled, spontaneous memorial at the foot of a tree with a large chink in its bark marking the spot where the last journalist in the world died in a one-car accident. The police suspect the brake line may have been tampered with, but are suppressing that information.
And that’s the news. Good night and have an unpleasant stifling routine. I’ll be back tomorrow with fresh infusions of fear.
Next up, a talk show hosted by a tragically unfunny ex-standup comedian. Tonight’s guests are a brainless pop diva, an overrated movie star peddling a shitty film and a zoologist showcasing some frightened exotic animals whose habitat was destroyed to make room for a rendering plant.