Worry, Don't Be Happy

What follows is a potpourri of remnants and unfinished business, much like the Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge.

Speaking of Turkey Day, did you notice the workforce on the day before? There was none to speak of. Hope you didn't have to get any business done. Having been out and about that day, I'd say most offices were half-staffed, and those who did show up were tied up with office parties. At the bank one woman had a problem only to be told, Sorry the branch manager has gone for the day. And this was at 11:15. Many workplaces were closed Friday as well, and, if not, people took it as a vacation day. If you needed to talk to someone and you hadn't found them by the end of the day Tuesday, forget about it until the next Monday. This give-us-an-inch-and-we'll-take-a-mile work ethic is quite irritating to us Type A personalities, though we'd better adjust to it: Five years from now they'll be blowing off Tuesday as well.

Yes, and there's a book out, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and It's All Small Stuff. Despite its idiotic title, the book is a bestseller. Why? Because we live in a society that has to be told formally, through the medium of pop philosophy, to calm down and don't get your drawers in a wad. Laid-back chic is nothing new. Bobby "Don't Worry, Be Happy" McFerrin sang its praises, and, before that, tie-dyed hippies lived a lifestyle so laid-back it was upright. Yet, in the Calvinist work ethic of the Eisenhower era, Alfred E. Neuman, palms outstretched, had been preaching complaisance with the "What, me worry?" shtick. I may listen to Alfred, because Mad magazine shaped the humor of my generation, but this Don't Sweat book needs a good long sauna. Why not fret over every little thing? Recent articles in the Post have me more stressed than usual: A woman in a D.C. subway station strangled to death when her coat got caught in the gears of an escalator. The other told how a hunter was killed by another hunter, a 13-year-old, who "mistook his head for a squirrel." In a world fraught with uncertainty, why shouldn't I spend my waking hours worrying that either my clothes will kill me or that gun-toting teenagers will mistake me for a large rodent?

Did you see the billboards on the highways, promoting a local radio station? They bear pictures of the station's so-called on-air talent, MJ and BJ. Some cheeseball-looking guy is "MJ," but in place of partner "BJ" it's a picture of Monica Lewinsky. Huh? Oh, it's a joke -- I get it. Sort of. But it's so feeble you could knock it down with a feather and hardly worth the 20 grand it took to display the ad. It is mean to make her a laughingstock, even though she brought it on herself. No doubt Jacor, the parent company which owns the station and apparently OK'd the billboards, ran the concept by their lawyers and decided there was protection in the First Amendment. So, the billboards are just one of the mortifications that Monica, now the public figure, will have to endure. She joins the ranks of other femmes fatales -- Leona Helmsley, Lorena Bobbit -- who also had little recourse to satire directed at them, no matter how loutish or unrelenting. Connecting, for all to see, her smiling puss with the initials of a sexual act she infamously performed on the prez is the '90s version of being pilloried in the town square.

Speaking of billboards, don't you love these SSM-sponsored ads warning about asymptomatic heart attack? It might be heartburn, but then again it might not. Better get to the ER, pronto. Better yet, call an ambulance. The radio version features testimonials from people who experienced strange twinges, tics and other ineffable sensations but were lucky enough to figure out they should get to the hospital, because it just might be the Big One. These ads push undue concern over everyday aches and pains and perform the great public service of promoting mass hypochondria. SSM can use the better-safe-than-sorry justification, but deep down they know that they might be caught short on their kids' tuition to Yale or Vassar if people didn't throw money at the medical profession in fear. Oh, and remember, just because your live-in drop-kicked you in the chest on her way out the door, for good, doesn't mean it's not a heart attack.

Kudos to Channel 4 for declining to show the 60 Minutes episode in which Dr. Jack Kevorkian did his Grim Reaper bit again, serving up a killer cocktail to a terminally ill man. Choosing to push the envelope to the max, he videotaped the death and peddled it to CBS, which, slavering at the thought of ratings, snatched the tape from the doc's bony fingers. Kevorkian has said that he wanted to get arrested so as to air the assisted-suicide/euthanasia cause in a courtroom. At taxpayer expense. Well, he got his way. He's now charged with murder under Michigan law.

It took moxie for a media outlet in a major city to draw the line on the promulgation of Kevorkian's ghoulish agenda. You hear the arguments over the right to view what we want, but they don't wash. We -- society -- don't need to see human lives snuffed out for real on our TV sets; it's neither news nor entertainment. If we must satisfy some base voyeuristic desire, there's plenty of pretend murder and mayhem on the tube. Thirty-five years ago, on a Sunday morning, the country saw Jack Ruby blow away Lee Harvey Oswald, live, on national television. It was a nasty piece of business, and that should've been enough.

 
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