LONG BEFORE American Idol proved big ratings could be gotten with people whose only talent lay in egregious self-delusion, I was keenly aware of the entertainment value of reality TV. I mean real reality: the evening news. How well I remember running into the kitchen--I couldn't have been more than seven--to tell my mother that I had just seen footage of a helicopter crash. Not only was it filmed from the ground but inside the copter itself! News you can use? For sure.
Not that I was a complete non compos. Almost nothing was more fascinating than politics: what else seemed at once venerable yet so easily mocked? So naturally, I've always encouraged my daughter to keep a (cynical) eye on current events. Back in 2004, she must have been the only third-grader who could do a dead-on impression of Howard Dean's "scream" speech. Her take on John Kerry's funereal bearing was impressive as well. My wife wasn't keen on Daughter's nickname for Kerry--Senator Horseface--but I defended it as both satirical and curiously accurate. And at an age when most children sit on Santa Claus' lap, she was thrilled when Mayor Bloomberg kneeled down to give her not one but two high-fives. "That was like meeting the President!" she gushed afterwards. The autographed photo of the event remains one of her most prized possessions--not that her friends cared at the time. "They don't even know who Mayor Bloomberg is!" she said, fairly spitting out the words.
"What do you expect from a bunch of kids," I replied, equally disgusted. She shook her head sadly: What, indeed.
What makes me even prouder is my daughter's suspicion that network news programs are more glitz than goods. Soon on, she realized that the phrase "BREAKING NEWS" was tossed around like a pelota at a jai alai tournament, and to far less effect. Special scorn is reserved for the morning news anchors. To her, nothing was more appalling than the way they whiplash between weeping with crime victims and laughing with jolly weathermen without missing a beat. The final straw came with CBS hiring Katie Couric: "Why is she getting $15-million? All she does is read the news!" And it was my turn to shake my head sadly.
Yes, we had quite the budding misanthrope on our hands; one, I hoped, who would soon set a fine example for her friends. In my dreams, I envisioned my own army of junior Ann Coulters. This is my legacy to you, world.
Still, there comes a time when every child rebels against her parents, and I got it but good. It started when her fifth-grade science class studied global warming. "Did you know," she asked me, "that the temperature has been rising one degree a year for the last ten years?" She didn't catch the irony of being nearly drowned out by the banging of the steam heat pipes. In the middle of May.
No matter. She was going to write an angry letter to the president. This global warming stuff was serious business . . . until we saw a fast-food commercial. "Do you know how KFC kills chickens?" she asked me.
"Uh . . . bore them to death?"
"Jump into the coop and say 'boo!' real loud?"
"No!" She clued me in--something about ripping off their beaks before stomping on them. Don't ask me where she got this information, or whether it's true. She and her friends were going to spread the word. "And we're going to write a letter to the president!"
A week later another, more pressing bit of iniquity aroused her ire. "Dad," she announced out of the blue, "I'm not going to the Big Apple Circus anymore." (Imagine Nicole Kidman saying I'll pass on the Botox and you'll understand what a big deal this was.) "And I'm not going to Ringling Brothers, either," she added, although she'd never been there in her life. She was going to give the president an earful about how the trained animals were mistreated. Frankly, I didn't care what her reason was. The smell of sawdust, offal, and stale popcorn was never my idea of fun to begin with. And don't get me started on the clowns.
As for KFC, we never ate there anyway, so that was nothing we were going to miss. Global warming? I wasn't much older than her when scientists were warning us to stock up on down coats and mukluks: a new ice age was approaching. By 1980, the earth was going to be one giant, flesh-flavored Sno-Cone. A few years later, they were predicting famine by 1990. That's why there's currently a worldwide obesity epidemic.
Fortunately, ol' Dad's dynamic personality was too vibrant to ignore. She soon came to her senses, her political pendulum having swung back my way once again. She's convinced that the whole global warming thing is a bunch of hooey. What disgusts her about KFC now is the lack of any fresh food in its commercials. Best of all, she still never wants to attend another circus as long as she lives. All she has to do brush up on her Diane Sawyer impression and she'll be ready to face the world.
Kevin Kusinitz is a contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD Online.