Give Me Your Dead, Your Dead, Your Dead
Copyright © by Norman Ball, 5/19/07

  Stalin once said- in prescient anticipation of the personal interest story- kill one man and it’s a story; kill one million and it’s a statistic. People seem oddly unfazed when yet another American GI dies in Iraq. Kidnap a soldier however (or in this case, three) and all hell breaks loose. So how does a kidnapping ‘out-outrage’ a fatality? Perhaps it’s because dead GIs don’t tell tales whereas captured ones possess boundless propaganda value. They can cry, say ‘mommy’ to their captors, curse John Wayne. Their script has fallen into the hands of the enemy. Suddenly the opportunity exists to be edgy and compelling like an off-off-Broadway play. Who, with a shred of power, likes an unscripted surprise?
 Communiqués between nations are hashed out with excruciating care. Indeed, no government relishes the speaking role of unknown content. Someone could veer precipitously off-message or get converted by a strange truth-bearing light. You can hear the sigh of relief rising up from the higher echelons of government with each duteous death- the solitary Death March into complicitous oblivion.
  Keep the kids alive however and they’re still ‘in play’ beyond the admonishing stares of their four-star keepers. Damn it all! Why can’t they just kill them like a good upstanding enemy would? Asynchronous dicks! Where’s Cornwallis when we need him? What fresh new plot twists will they throw at us? Will we be consistent? Will we be believable? How does our hair look? Will we flub our lines? How cruel indeed to protract our charade, to prod it for veracity! Verily how we doubt ourselves. Leave us then to captain our own follies. We will fail in due course. Thank you and good night.
  Then too, given the perfect storm, a teacup can be made to look like a cavern. That would be Katie Couric. These arch-TV Land- battles compel us to ‘go on record’ liking Charlie Gibson over Katie. Executives ask frantically why doesn’t America love Katie? Is the set too blue? Is the intro music overly presumptuous? Please, who harbors great natural stores of ill or good will for a 22-minute-a-day teletype reader!? All that comes
to the rest of the world without effort- the unregarded moment- suddenly exceeds America’s practiced grasp. All good American Feelingnesses must be masterfully shepherded. Nothing can be left to non-Equity actors. We are obliged as patriotic capitalistic Americans to hold aloft the stratospheric salaries-in-question. How else can we justify their being earned? The rich must be able to look themselves squarely in gilt-framed mirrors.
  The networks clutch us to their bosoms like frayed dollies. Why is America running from Katie? (Can couch potatoes run?) Asked to weigh in on the relative merits of Katie-versus-Charlie-versus-Brian, their relative importance to us as Americans, their patriotic cache, Cronkite-esque-ness and existential import, we rise naturally to the dramatic occasion. Americans are savvy enough to know when they are being written into the
script. So they oblige. Yes, I hate Katie Couric. Since you ask. I loathe her. Since you ask. I cannot rest until Katie is six feet under. She is the devil to me. Since you ask. This is how the Second Coming happens again and again and again with ever-diminishing effect. Compulsively we prod the corpse when we are the dead. Our odor precedes us in the world: America the Great Smelly Death Rattle. The daily buzz and spin is the
swarm of locusts animating a denuded tree, simulating the pulse of life-affirming branches.
  As for Katie, I have no need for another plastic Satan and my Messiah complex is booked through Sweeps Week. Who has shelf-space for yet another discarded figurine?

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