TOWN CRIER was a pretty cool gig from the beginning of recorded history right up until around 1438. For one thing, everybody in town knew your name, just like you were a regular on Cheers. Downside: Back in those days, throat lozenges tasted like muskrat.
Town Criers walked around every morning hollering out what happened yesterday, which annoyed local intellectuals who were trying to finish their wake-up Sudukos. Occasionally the Criers hollered so loud that housewives had to strain to hear their Pilates instructors, but most of the townspeople really enjoyed keeping up with yesterday’s news and didn’t mind being hollered at. Also, you should never end a sentence with a preposition.
Some Town Criers carried bells they clanged all day long, but those were career Criers who were trying to get noticed in the hopes of moving up to a bigger market. “You want to holler in Salem, you gotta clang in Plymouth,” they used to say at the Town Crier conventions.
Town Crier conventions. Talk about noisy…
Anyway, when this Johannes Gutenberg fellow started tinkering around with something he called a, “replaceable, moveable type thingy,” it marked the beginning of the end for the Town Crier racket. Now there was more that one way to get news. Most of the Town Criers tried to spike that bit of information, or bury it among the School Board results. You can’t blame them. News is one thing, but job security rules.
Eventually, of course, word of the invention of the printing press got around, mainly because it was in all the papers. That’s when everybody realized, Omigod, media just happened!
(Note to nit-picking purists: Okay, okay, we all know that in China in 868 CE the Diamond Sutra became the first printed book, but it appeared on the Dunhuang scroll, which sort of made it a paperback. Now get your foot off my neck.)
Then there was Radio, the brainchild of Guglielgo Marconi, who was actually British, but kept his maiden name. Marconi invented radio, Jack Benny perfected it, and America got its truth on.
On April 21, 1921, H.V. Kaltenborn made first-time radio history when he addressed the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce while speaking from Newark, New Jersey. Why he stayed in Newark when he could have been on an expense-paid road trip is still a mystery to everybody but Glenn Beck, who claims that Kaltenborn worked for NBC, an all-Nazi network that prohibited free expression and travel vouchers.
It should be noted that in terms of making the effort to discover and report truthful news, it was the medium of radio, for the brief time it prevailed, that delivered the goods.
You know all too well what happened next. Television at its worst hasn’t yet caused as much corruption as the recent idiotic Supreme Court decision that corporations are individual citizens, but it sure as hell is a dangerous tool, much like the above mentioned Glenn Beck. But television is not the crime. It’s the getaway car. Until the Internet took hold of our minds, teevee was the greatest teaching device on the planet. Today it’s a platform for convincing gullible citizens that sound bites and veiled racial slurs are more important than truth.
What the hell happened to us?
How could we let a delusional creep like Beck become an overnight millionaire by hurling insane insults at the president of the United States while sobbing like a teenager who just discovered her first zit?
How could we allow a pompous sexual predator like Bill O’Reilly to become a celebrated broadcaster while he mindlessly distorts the genuine facts of our history into Murdochian propaganda?
How could we tolerate a sadistic liar like Sean Hannity deciding who among us is a, “great American,” when he himself was too cowardly to join the rest of us in defending our country?
How could we stomach it when five Daddy-appointed political stooges decided that a dimwitted frat-boy should become the president of the United States?
And how the hell could we permit a greedy draft-dodger like Dick ChEney to make secret deals with powerful oil companies, and then let them still continue to reap profit from such an underhanded, anti-American, clearly criminal act?
What happened to us? We didn’t pay attention. And now we’re paying the freight for our neglect. Now, at the slippery edge of Too Late, we’re trying to clean it up. Now, with a country that’s broke and polarized and hated for sins committed in our name, but without our permission, we’re struggling to regain our strength.
In a very real sense, these hardships tend to unite us. Most sane human Americans are beginning to agree that we can’t go on bragging about a broken wagon. We have to fix it; there is no option. We’re all obligated to do whatever we can. I rant.
Mike Price is a long-time newspaper columnist, talk show host, and screenwriter who appears as a standup comedy headliner for top clubs and casinos across the country.