By David Zurawik
The Baltimore Sun
11:01 AM EST, November 24, 2012
I told myself I wasn't going to go here -- I wasn't going to weigh in on the pasting Matt Lauer was taking on Twitter Thursday and Friday for his less-than-stellar performance as TV host for NBC's coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
But where there is vitriol like this, there is definitely something deeper happening -- something worth thinking about.
Actually, I think there are several things going on. I wouldn't call it a perfect storm, but there are some ill cultural winds blowing Lauer's way -- and it could mean some rough weather ahead for him and the "Today" show in the battle with ABC's "Good Morning America."
In one sense, I think the criticism of Lauer’s performance as parade announcer is out of proportion to his alleged "sins." Though, I will admit, pronouncing "S'Wonderful" as "Ess Wonderful" is pretty ignorant and embarrassing. And if you love musical theater, it probably does make you want to kill.
But let's talk about the desire to kill in 140 characters -- this dyspepsia, discontent, desire to rip people who are successful that can instantly be evoked on Twitter. There is something about this anger and the way it can be loosed that we should be worried about even if it is only the latest version of our urge to tear down celebrities. It springs from a dark place in our psyche, and the impulse by so many to spend their holiday ripping Lauer for his hair or his age makes you wonder how deep this darkness runs in these troubled times.
Second, and more important to Lauer and NBC News, is the fact that there seems to be a kind of widespread enmity toward him right now, and I think that is connected to his perceived role in Ann Curry’s firing and all that has followed with Today’s loss of ratings and change in leadership. Many of the most savage tweet-reviews of his parade performance mention the belief that Lauer, who signed a huge contract this year, used his clout to push Curry out.
NBC News has let Lauer, like Brian Williams at "NBC Nightly News," get too much power. That’s easy to do with the front-men of top-rated shows, but Lauer is now seen as a bully by some, especially women, I think, and people are out to tear him down in any way they can.
Each day it seems we become more and more a media culture, but we seem to know less and less about how we are being changed by all the screens now placed between us and the physical, concrete world.
Once upon a time, we used to go to parades and stand along Main Street in small towns with fellow members of our communities. But for decades now, we have stayed home and watched big, generic ones like Macy's on our TVs.
We used to cheer the floats and musicians as they strolled by and waved to us. Now, we tweet hate at the faces of the celebrities on the screen who are telling us what we should think or feel about elements of the parade -- often based on financial tie-ins between the sponsors of the floats and the corporate owners of the broadcast.
The image of a solitary viewer Thursday watching the parade on TV, and tweeting snark, irony and even hate at Lauer via a laptop or iPhone is one that worries me. I like the resistance, but I hate the darkness and anger.
How about you?
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