Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Silent Scream


Television is the land of "formers" now, particularly the news shows. Former generals, former senators, former government types of every kind, even former newscasters and former beauty queens all get to pronounce on current events. To watch a former general point to a topographical map on Fox is to know why television is make-believe. And to watch ex-pols opine with great authority is to know how they got their jobs in the first place. The weird thing is none of the "formers" think that they are "former." They talk as if they were never retired, never fired, never voted out, never indicted. Even Ollie North, who was probably removed in all those ways, gets to talk as if there never was a Nicaragua, congressional hearings, or a security fence. On television, one can pretend that what happened never happened. TV edits the rupture out.

TV-land's appetite for exes depends on public amnesia, not forgiveness. Most people just can't remember what all these "formers" did, and many of them are too obscure to even try to recall. TV mishmashes history: it's like that game of "funny faces" in which you can mix and match, and switch their voice boxes. All these ex-perts sound alike because, no matter what their area of expertise, it's been through the TV blender and came out smooth.

The viewership of expert funny faces has been dropping precipitously for another reason: all these "formers" are old. Seeing so many old heads on TV is like watching a mass-resurrection, a return of zombies. It's a scary movie that must have everyone under 50 clutching at their nearest in terror. What if these "formers" actually did come back, in real life, not on TV? Perish the thought. Silent scream.

TV shows no signs of slowing down the rising from the graves. On the contrary, truly former formers are being drafted from the very shadows of Hades. A new show on Pox called The Dead Speak Out, debuting next week, features Nixon and Joseph McCarthy on the subject of Homeland Security and Lyndon Johnson on war strategy. There is no end to how deep TV can reach for formers. Me, I'm waiting for Plato to say something about the caves at Tora Bora.

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