Thinking Magazine #5 02-06-92

Learned a New Word - Infotainment

I was out in San Jose last week attending the Windows & OS/2 conference. One evening I flip on the tube in my hotel room and heard the newscaster use this new word, Infotainment. Basically Infotainment is a show that is sort of like news but creates the same mental sensations as watching a movie.

Infotainment started as tabloid television and weird talk shows. Much of which has little or no basis in reality whatsoever. This trend is catching on as mainstream news and there seem to be a growing and disturbing trend towards total disregard about whether or not the information is true or not.

An example of this is an article I read last week in the San Francisco Chronicle entitled "Trading Cards Depict Killers". The article is about a series of trading cards that Eclipse Comics is going to publish this spring that depict serial killers and on the back contain information about these people.

The Chronicle article depicts Eclipse editor-in-cheif Catherine Yronwood as a small money grubbing obscure publisher whis cruelly taking advantage of poor innocent victims families because she is sick and wants to make a buck.

To back this up the Chronicle quotes Marlene A. Young, who is the director of a Washington D.C. based victims assistance group as saying, "It's obscene and offensive! Trading cards belong to the young, so the idea of placing on these innocent icons the faces of individuals who have committed brutal, horrifying and vicious acts of violence is appalling."

The Chronicle goes on to quote Art Murchison program director of the Career Youth Development Center in Milwaukee who has been counselling relatives of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims. "These cards are making Mr. Dahmer and the rest look like celebrities rather than the criminals they are. The families of Mr. Dahmer's victims are going through an ordeal now. They don't need this." The article goes on to say that Art will ask the city council to ban these cards.

Reading this, doesn't it make you feel anger towards this vile and despicable person who is ruining America by polluting the minds of children while taking advantage of poor grieving families? Don't you just hate her? Of course you do!

Now when you read this you assume that it is true and that a reputable newspaper like the San Francisco Chronicle has standards. You assume that the reporter and the people quoted actually saw these cards and were reacting to them, right?

Well guess what friends and neighbors. Would it surprise you to find out that none of the above had seen these cards and none of them have any idea what they look like or what information they contain? How could they see them when they don't exist yet. This series is coming out this spring and the artists and writers are just getting started on the project. They don't exist!

In other words, the article in the Chronicle is Infotainment. It is a work of fiction that is loosely connected to reality only to the extent that Eclipse Comics does exist and that they are going to publish trading cards about Serial Killers throughout history. Everything else contained in the article is fiction.

So what is really happening here is that the San Francisco Chronicle created a fictitious story to entertain their readers at the expense of the reputation of a real person. I personally know Catherine Yronwood and I have several sets of other trading cards she's published. These cards (the ones that actually exist) expose interesting and little known facts about subjects that the government is trying to cover up. These trading card sets include:

  1. "The Savings and Loan Scandal Trading Cards"
  2. "Coup D'Etat - The John F. Kennedy Trading Cards"
  3. "The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union Trading Cards"
  4. "The Drug Wars Trading Cards"
  5. "Foul Ball (BaseBall) Trading Cards"
  6. "Heros of the Blues Trading Cards"
  7. "Early Jazz Greats Trading Cards"
  8. "Pioneers of Country Music Trading Cards"
  9. "Friendly Dictators Trading Cards"
  10. "Iran-Contra Scandal Trading Cards"
  11. "Rotten to the Core (NY City) Trading Cards"
  12. "Stars of the Negro Leagues (BaseBall) Trading Cards"
They have over a dozen decks that sell for around $10 each. They can be ordered by calling 1-800-468-6828 or writing to:

  Eclipse Enterprises
  Box 1099
  Forestville CA. 95436
I personally love these cards. As an example of the kind of trading card that Eclipse produces, here's card #14 of the Savings and Loan Scandal set.

The "Friendly Dictators Trading Cards" are a set of 36 cards that tell you about dictators that the United States supported and how we supported them. Here's an example of one of these cards. Let's see if you are as surprised as I was.

Now if I were a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle I could write a similar article to the one they wrote last week. I would title it "Trading Cards Depict Adolf Hitler". I could get quotes from Jewish leaders who haven't seen the cards saying that they are appauling and that Eclipse is spreading Nazism to children and that this is a terible thing for Jews. And this would have more than met the Chonicles standards for truth and accuracy. But if the people I quote actually read the cards, then you would have a whole new perspective.

So now that you read these examples of what Eclipse publishes, I would guess that a Jeffery Dahmer Trading Card would be considerably more embarrassing to the Milwaukee police department, who returned a naked bleeding boy to this killer, than it would be to the families of the victims. If I were a family member of one of these victims, I would want these trading cards published.

So why does this newspaper produce this garbage? Are they out to get Cat? Is there a connection between the owners of the Chronicle and the Bush administration? I'm afraid the answer is not so grand and glorious as we might like to believe. The story was originally broke by Entertainment Weekly who decided to put this weird slant on the story because this kind of story sells. It was then picked up by the Today Show and spread through the media. Today's news organizations get their news by reading each others publications and items become news based on their level of sensationalism. The American news media is much like a school of fish where if one fish darts in a new direction they all dart.

An example of this happened last year. I don't remember all the details but some publication as a joke published "The former Soviet Union, as a way to raise badly needed cash, has decided to sell Lenin's body." The American news media sucked it right up without any regard if it were true or not. They thought it was none to funny when they were found to be victim to a hoax.

Getting back to the original subject, the next day the San Francisco Chronicle had an article about a woman suing Robin Williams because she claims he gave her Herpies. The article goes into all the details so vividly that you can almost smell the bedroom. To me this is poor journalism because it is overstepping the bounds of privacy to create Infotainment without adding any substance to the story. And it is not only done at Robin Williams expense but at the expense of me the reader. I, for one, don't want to think about open sores on Robin William's pecker while I'm watching Mork and Mindy!

Flowers Screws Clinton

Another example of Infotainment is the Jennifer Flowers story about her alleged affair with Democratic Presidential hopeful Bill Clinton. The story broke by the Star, a supermarket tabloid who paid Flowers six digit figures to tell her story. This is the type of publication that prints stories about 3 headed babies, spaceships from Mars, and Elvis sightings. Is this a credible source of information? Hell, if the Star offered me that kind of money to say I slept with Bill Clinton, I'd have to think about it.

So what does the rest of the "legitimate" news media do with this story? Do they ignore it as supermarket trash? No! They're on it like vultures on a carcass. Why? Is it because Americans need to know the truth? It's because it's Infotainment and Americans are dumb enough to buy it.

I do not care who Bill Clinton is sleeping with. I want to know where he stands on the issues. But as a voter I can't get that kind of information because the news media isn't interested in real news. When I read news I want information so that I can make intelligent decisions about important issues. I'm not interested if Bill Clinton is screwing Jenefer Flowers. I'm want to know if Bill Clinton is screwing me.

What is a Lie?

I saw an ad on TV a few months back promoting the safety of Air Bags in cars. I forget who was sponsoring the commercial. The add was a series of about 5 or so people who came out holding an object that was assumed to be an air bag. The person then said, "I'm Alive" and gave their name.

Now I don't know anything about the background of these people but the ad led me to believe the following:

  1. That these were real people who were giving me their real names.
  2. That these real people were holding an airbag and that they personally were in a serious car accident and believe that they wouldn't be around today if not for the fact that an airbag saved their lives.
For those of you who have seen this ad, don't you agree that the viewer is lead to these assumptions? Suppose it isn't so. Suppose that these people are just standing there, holding and object which may or may not be an airbag, and merely stating the they are alive, which obviously they are. Is this a lie?

Yes it is a lie! Now I'm sure that there are plenty of lawyers out there who will argue this point but I am right and they are wrong. To a lawyer the truth is anything you can't prove in court is a lie. I have a different definition. To me, a lie is based on whether or not the message as commonly interpreted is true or not. The point is that we are going to get a whole lot less truth in our society if we let those in power redefine what a lie is. Think about it.

Off To Boston

I'm heading out to Boston this Saturday to exibit at NetWorld so it will be two weeks before I get another issue of Thinking Magazine out. For those of you who are into networks, NetWorld is the show for you. So any readers in the Boston area, feel free to look me up.


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