The Star Wars Effect

The Star Wars Effect

Part I: How the Press Really Works

Batboy!  I mess the Weekly World News.

I have a long history with the press, having worked with its members off and on since about 1980.

I’ve worked with the Lincoln Journal-Star. I’ve worked with the Chicago Sun-Times. I’ve worked with one-studio TV news. Once (and only once), I worked with a CNN reporter.

And you know what? Not a single one ever got the facts right.

Not one.

My first interaction with the press came in 1980.  I was 15 years old.  I was interviewed by my home-town newspaper for a human-interest fluff piece about noteworthy teens.

I wasn’t really noteworthy, but during the interview, I quoted a character from the movie Fame:  “Theater is better than sex.  It’s better than drugs.”

In the time and place where I was being interviewed, this was a scandalous quote from a teenager.  The reporter suggested a replacement, and understanding her position, I said that she could use it.

That was my first lesson that the press didn’t report reality.

Stuart Theater premiere of Terms of Endearment

My second lesson came about two years later.  The film Terms of Endearment was partially shot on location in my home town of Lincoln, Nebraska.

This was a rather huge deal for any theater student:  if you think that actors like Debra Winger, Jack Nicholson, and Shirley MacLaine routinely come to Lincoln, Nebraska, you’re out of your mind.

With a couple of friends, I forged credentials so that we could attend a press conference being held the night Winger and her party arrived.  As far as anyone was concerned, we were from a small-town college paper that no one had ever heard of.  In fact, it didn’t exist.

When Winger and her party arrived, they had literally just flown into town.  They’d landed at the municipal airport, took a limousine to the hotel, and were shown into the banquet hall.  They’d seen no more of Lincoln, Nebraska than one would see from the air and a limousine window.

Winger was naturally asked what she planned to do in Lincoln when she wasn’t shooting.  Remember that Winger was from Los Angeles, a massively bigger city (Lincoln was at that time about 150,000 people; it’s now around 250,000).  She’d seen nothing of the city.  She had no idea what entertainment options might be available.

She answered honestly:  “I don’t know.  Is there anything to do?”

Big mistake.

Entertainers long ago developed pat answers for questions like this.  In this case, Winger should have answered:

“I’ve really only seen Lincoln from the air, but on the ride from the airport it was obvious that this is a beautiful city.  The people here have been so nice and friendly — I really can’t get over it!  It’s nothing like Los Angeles!  I can’t wait to get out and explore!”

And then she should have plastered a big smile on her face for the cameras and said:

“Who wants to show me around?”

The reason entertainers give such pat answers is to avoid precisely what happened to Winger:

The next day, she was crucified in the press.  Every TV and print news outlet ran banner stories announcing that Winger was drunken whore.  She had drunkenly caroused and hit on every man present, and that she’d insulted Lincoln — and by extension the entire State of Nebraska.

I was there:  reality was entirely different.

Winger did, in fact, have something to drink on the plane.  I spoke to her briefly at the reception that followed the press conference.  She was relaxed but not drunken.  She didn’t say or do anything that a fully sober person wouldn’t have done.

She was not the drunken whore that they portrayed in the press.  It was totally, completely, 100% fabricated.

Nor had the press colluded in their reporting.  Shockingly, every single reporter in the State had simply taken the tiny opening that she presented and individually manufactured a story about a drunken whore.

Lincoln, Nebraska: the State Capital

In reality, Winger liked Lincoln, Nebraska.  While shooting, she met Nebraska Governor Bob Kerry.  They started dating and were an item for several years, with Winger visiting Kerry on a regular basis.

Indeed, it is Kerry’s relationship with Winger that propelled him to the United States Senate.  In Nebraska, he was, “The boyfriend of our movie star.”

As a theater major, later a journeyman actor, and finally a private citizen, I went on to work with the press on many occasions.  Their pattern became very clear, so much so that it was fairly easy to manipulate them:

Editors assign reporters to stories.  More, they assign the reporter an angle — a point of view.  Reporters must write to that angle or the story will be rejected.

In short, they always approach a story with thoroughly preconceived ideas.  They will never change these preconceptions.  They can’t, or their stories will be rejected.  One too many rejections, and the reporter will be fired.

If interviewee supports the preconception, a reporter is friendly, cooperative, and uses their quotes.

If the preconceptions aren’t supported, reporters ignore interviewees.  If the preconceptions are so inaccurate that no one can be found that supports it, reporters are forced to use the interviewee as a “hostile source.”  By this time, too, the reporter is down to the wire on their deadline.  They are consequently unfriendly, often hostile to the interviewee.

Sometimes it gets so bad that they’re forced to simply make things up. On multiple occasions, I’ve been quoted as sayings that I never even imagined uttering.

The press is consequently easily-manipulated.  Simply discover a reporter’s angle (something they’ll usually tell you if asked) and tailor your statements to support it.

The truth is totally optional.  The press isn’t about truth and never has been.  It’s about getting your word out.

If you want to get your word out, ask the reporter for their angle and then support it.

This is made worse with 24-hour news. Desperate to fill air time with anything, “journalists” scour the Web for stories, polish them slightly, and pass them off to the anchor.

They do not fact-check. They make no phone calls. They scour the Web and that’s all.

They don’t care about the reliability of a source.  Their job is to get a new story in front of the talking head at least every fifteen minutes.  Failure to do so means that they’ll be fired.  Accuracy and reliability are irrelevant.

Indeed, watch your preferred talking head carefully.  Uniformly, they each have what looks like a busy newsroom behind them.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, the talking head is sitting in a studio with a cameraman.  Behind him is a green screen.  They can superimpose the head over anything, but to add legitimacy, they superimpose it over a newsroom.

Looking at the big picture, then, we discover something disturbing:

Everything you see on CNN, MSNBC, FOX news … everything you read in your daily paper … everything you see on your local news …

… is wrong.

If you rely on any source other than your own eyes, you simply have no true picture of the world.

Even then, your view of the world is colored by your own perspective.  Even at the best of times, it may not be entirely accurate.

For twenty years, I’ve made a hobby of debunking the press. It now takes inside of twenty minutes.

This impacts our major stories of the day.  In the recent Boston Marathon terrorists attack, we must examine what we actually know:

There were explosions.  There’s plenty of footage from many sources that confirm this.

There are many sources in and out of the press that confirm injuries.

Beyond that, all we have are talking-heads that free-associate all day long.  They have few, if any, of what they’d call facts; those “facts” have never been checked for accuracy.

All we really know about the Boston Marathon is that there were explosions and that people died and were hurt. This is literally all we know because everything you see in the press is manufactured fantasy.

The press does not report facts.  It propagates mistruths, half-truths, and outright lies.

The press has never reported the facts:  see William Randolph Hearst for proof.

Part II: How Entertainment Really Works

However, there’s a problem with our popular entertainment that’s even more disturbing.

For decades, our entertainment has become increasingly psychologically dark, gritty, and foreboding. Ethical heroes have given way to unethical anti-heroes. The look and feel of the vast majority of our TV and films have become dark. Our music has transformed from talented musicians playing instruments in bands to illiterate non-singers who can barely rhyme, can’t sing, and hold their dicks in place of an instrument.

Modern entertainment producers will tell you that this is more realistic. They say that a bright, cheerful outlook simply doesn’t mirror reality, so our entertainment must conform to a dark, cynical, generally depressing mindset.

The thing is: Entertainment isn’t reality.

It never has been.  The Big Bang Theory is no less fantastic for being more sophisticated than I Love Lucy.

My acting guru, the late, great Dr. William Morgan, made one of the smartest observations I’ve ever heard:

Theater is planned, rehearsed spontaneity.

The most classic case in point is the controversial exposure of Sharon Stone’s vagina in the film Basic Instinct.

For years, Ms. Stone has maintained that she was completely unaware of the visibility of her vagina.  According to Stone, the first time she knew that her vagina had been highlighted was upon screening the film in a theater.

This is utterly ludicrous.

If the filmmaker is competent, everything in a film is planned.  Indeed, the Basic Instinct interrogation is very carefully constructed.  It occurs in a fairly dark room. There isn’t a lot of light. Most of it is on Stone. When the upskirt starts, the camera angle is a deliberate:  it’s a crotch-angle close-up.  Most importantly, it’s lit very carefully.  The lighting is radically different from the medium shots that surround it.

Making light go up a skirt is fairly difficult.  The skirt itself tends to create shadows that prevent it

Just watch FOX News: their anchorsluts are routinely dressed in micro-skirts and placed center frame, with bright, flat TV lighting.

FOX intentionally tantalizes male viewers, but very rarely can you actually see anything.

In Basic Instinct, the camera and lighting is intentionally placed to very clearly light Stone’s vagina.

This doesn’t happen by accident. When they set up the shot, Stone sat in the chair and spread her legs while the lighting director and cinematographer put everything in position. They went back and forth, getting the angle and lighting just right so that she could cross and uncross her legs to make her vagina perfectly visible.

Sharon Stone's view while filming

Sharon Stone’s View While Shooting

It probably took an hour.

That’s right:  Sharon Stone sat on a set for an hour while lots of people explicitly looked at her vagina.

Again, theater is planned, rehearsed spontaneity.

Our entertainment — all of it! —  is planned. It does not happen by accident.

Entertainment is not reality.

The problem is that since the invention of television, we have increasingly come to believe that these things are real.

Dark, gritty, foreboding anti-heroes are no more realistic than bright, colorful, light-hearted adventure heroes. The fact that our entertainment has become dark is not indicative of reality. It’s only indicative of the mindset of those who produce our entertainment.

Part III: The Star Wars Effect

In Star Wars, we were presented with the first film in which a planet could convincingly be destroyed.

This had not been technically possible prior to 1977. Unfortunately, when it became technically possible in film, audiences began to believe that it was possible in reality.

No one has the technology to destroy a planet. Even an all-out nuclear holocaust would not destroy the planet. It might make it uninhabitable to humans, but the planet would spin on.

This has gotten progressively worse with modern CGI. Today, almost anything that a filmmaker can conceive can be put to film. Indeed, the potential spectacle is so enormous that it takes films like Avatar to even get one’s attention.

And recall:  there were people who suicided after seeing Avatar because they despaired that real life was not like the film.

Of course real life wasn’t like the film! Reality isn’t like any film, nor TV show, nor a video game.

Reality is far more complex. Reality has dark moments. It also has light moments. It is a constantly-changing kaleidoscope of emotions and settings.

Entertainment is not reality. It is planned, rehearsed spontaneity.

The problem is that since everything that we see in our media is dark, and since people now routinely believe this represents real life, we have become blinded to reality.

A case in point:  while early indications look good, I have significant reservations regarding the upcoming film, The Man of Steel.

[Note: this was written before the film premiered. It sucked, and everything I wrote stands — a thousand fold.]

I’m a life-long Superman fan who shares some of the character’s background.  I’m from a ranching family and spent my first fifteen summers on a South Dakota cattle ranch.  I went on to a career that took me to Chicago for the 1990s.

I get Superman — probably better than anyone writing him in any medium.

Why does Superman need armor?

In The Man of Steel, Superman is dressed in plastic armor, muted colors, and emphasizing a dark, brooding nature.

That’s not Superman — that’s Batman.

Superman is a fun, light-hearted adventure character. To change him to Batman would be akin to changing Star Trek to Alien. Both are great, entertaining franchises, but Star Trek is a fun space adventure. It would kill the franchise to make it as dark as Alien.

Producers claim that fun and light-hearted “isn’t realistic.”

Of course it’s not!  But then, neither is dark, gritty, and foreboding.

It’s Superman!

We have become proselytized by our media that the entire world is dark, gritty, and foreboding.

It simply isn’t.

We consequently have a serious cultural problem. People now make decisions based not on the reality they see around them, but the fantasy they see in their media.

I have not had TV service for over five years. Once I realized that I could get any and all of my entertainment via the Internet, there seemed little point to the expense.

I have consequently not seen an advertisement, nor a TV news show, for about five years.

Occasionally I’ll see ads when I’m traveling, and occasionally I’ll watch a news stream if something particularly noteworthy is going on.

I made a conscious decision that I would no longer be proselytized. I would no longer allow others to simply show me things.

I would instead seek out that media that I enjoyed. I would seek out news sources that seemed to accurately reflect the world around me.

The change is remarkable. I can no longer watch TV with an uncritical eye. I see it for the completely planned and rehearsed unreality that it has become.

What you see in the media is not reality. It’s fantasy. It’s always been fantasy. The difference is simply that today all the fantasies are dark and depressing.

I urge you: get rid of your TV service. All TV and movies are available — free of charge — via the Internet.  You can see it without any advertising.

You’ll miss absolutely nothing and at the same time take back control of your media. Your life and outlook will instantly improve. You’ll quickly be able to discern the fantasy that our media has become.

In short, you’ll rediscover reality.

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