Thursday, December 08, 2005

Snowstorm Jackass?

Bill Connolly teaches English and journalism at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly and is a co-director of the National Writing Project at Rowan University and is a daily reader of my blog. Thanks, Bill!

He sent me this article last night and I laughed. Cried with laughter, too. He sent this essay in 2004 to the Philadelphia Inquirer and it got published in the South Jersey Commentary section. After I read this, combined with the fact that the next event is on its way and is being hyped, I asked him if I could re-publish it. Thanks, again, Bill!

For those in need of cinematic proof of the barrel-scraping state of society, look no further than the racks of the local video store and a 2003 release entitled JACKASS: THE MOVIE. For those unfamiliar with the film (based on an MTV series), it consists of ludicrous, often revolting stunts carried out by a bunch of twenty-something maniacs. The movie grossed (perhaps a double meaning there) over $63 million, generated by footage including a man in a jock strap doing a high wire act over a tank of alligators, another of a guy jumping from a trampoline into a running ceiling fan, and even disgusting video of a man creating and then eating “yellow snow.”
And yet how I can I dismiss the film as ridiculous and outrageous when, recently, our TV screens offered extensive footage from the latest rendition of JACKASS: THE SNOWSTORM. Let’s face it: our area’s obsession with snowstorms—the automatic “big story” of any winter day—is an embarrassing regional phenomenon, perhaps even more humiliating than drunken Eagles fans booing Santa. I’m convinced that we could pack theaters from Wisconsin to Maine if we were to make a film-length montage of clips from the media’s coverage of a Delaware Valley snowstorm. Imagine the Northern audiences, howling in disbelief, as we reeled off a flurry of film clips including

  • A cavalcade of reporters in various forms of arctic gear (fur-trimmed parkas, fedoras, ski caps, etc) poised at different intersections in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, all armed with “official” rulers to be used for the suspenseful zoom-in shot for the latest measurement
  • Long lines of loopy customers at local supermarkets, sheepishly paying for gallons of milk and loaves of bread, presumably for the French toast marathons held in area kitchens
  • Laughable footage of some dope who’s never bought a snow shovel before as he snorts and snickers at the Home Depot—trying to pick the perfect shovel for the job
  • Endless clips of some area kids who would’ve been better served by a day IN school, so insipid are their comments about the snow (i.e. “It’s cold” or “It’s funnnnnnn!” or “I like snowwwww……………….because…… I can build a snowwwwwwmannnnnnnnnn” Art Linkletter would push them down the hills with comments like that. (And it’s not that the kids are stupid; it’s that they’re being asked to comment about a non-story).
  • Area meteorologists engaging in Freudian combat—boasting of whose “hyper-super-extremo” radar is the biggest
  • A dizzying slide show of satellite and radar images, a kaleidoscope of blobby colors mysteriously floating over our towns and roads. Do I really need to see my county’s topography in 3-D and smeared with white and gray swirls to know that it’s snowing?

  • Stupefying phone interviews with emergency managers, state police officials, road crew foreman, and government officials—most of them stating the obvious (i.e. “the roads are bad,” “we’re ready to act,” “our people are out there doing their best”).

  • Mind-numbing interviews with the storm’s “fringe personalities”—wackos walking the streets in shorts, guys dressed like Santa on skis, people walking their poodles into a snow-blown headwind, borderline personalities who trudged two miles to buy a cup of coffee. If you want to broadcast footage of these types, sign off on the news report instead of pre-empting Jerry Springer.
  • And, oh yeah, the updates with our “on the street reporters”:
    “Let’s head back to Mary Pulitzer who is in Cherry Hill. Mary, when we talked to you six minutes ago you said there was how much snow?”
    “Well, Todd, we had 4.1 inches of snow then and (grunt) let me get down here and stick the official (fill-in-the-blank of station name) ruler here and—whoa!—looks like we’re up to 4. 2, so yes, it’s still snowing and still sticking here in Cherry Hill. Back to you in the studio.”
    “Okay, Mary, and you try to stay dry and warm out there (chuckle, chuckle).”

    Our recent storm (edit: remember, he wrote this in 2004) resulted in more than one hour of “news” coverage for every inch of snow that fell at Philadelphia International Airport. Talk about overchill. Did these news anchors and reporters foresee—back when they were in journalism school—that their dreams of covering Presidential elections, medical breakthroughs, and even crime stories—would be overshadowed by ten-hour days spent outside a WaWa asking people what they bought and if they “like” snow?

    Is there really nothing else to report? There are those who criticize or even refuse to watch local news, claiming that it’s nothing but “bad news” or just not worth their time. Instead of burying us in an avalanche of non-essential (and, sometimes, jackass-worthy) information, local news stations could capitalize on the networks’ generous allocation of air time by telling us the good news from our communities. Those are harder stories to chase, no doubt, but unless the stations honestly reflect upon these cases of abominable snowcasts, I fear it won’t be too long until we see our own local “yellow snow” footage.