Tom Shales, Oct. 20: Let-Down Days
These are Let-Down Days. This is the time of the New Disillusionment. Many are suffering from advanced cases of the Grumps and the Slumps and are understandably weary of taking their Lumps. It's not a virus, it's not the flu, and it's spread not by breezes or sneezes but by the electronic wind of television, which blows it into our homes day and night and makes us irritable.
A Let-Down Day is not to be confused with a Turn-Down Day, as defined in the bouncy little 1966 hit by a group called the Cyrkle: "There's nothing easier I can do, than lyin' around doing nothing," said the verse. "It's a turn-down day, and I dig it," said the chorus. We all can use a turn-down day now and then -- except of course when every day is a turn-down day because you're out of work. That kinda takes the fun out of it. That we don't dig.
Even those of us who spend part of the morning flipping a coin to decide on the less horrible course of remedial action -- heads, foreclosure; tails, bankruptcy, back and forth -- are susceptible to the added strain of the massive media-bred blues. To wit: David Letterman turns out not to be the pillar of decency we'd thought he was but actually, something of a creep, diddling ladies in the office who met with the Big Ham's favor. The others had to rely on old-fashioned professionalism to get ahead, poor kids.
That is no level playing field.
And then of course there's the little boy who floated away in a balloon and ate up hours and hours of coverage on CNN as viewers anguished over his safety -- and guess what? He turns out to be a sham, too, police say. And not a ShamWow, either. How exquisite is the irony that the two parental perpetrators who are accused of plotting this cruel and ridiculous stunt did it to help with plans for a new "reality" TV show?
So what, one might ask, could make matters worse? That's easy. If you're a Washingtonian, there may be nothing that can bring you down quite so dependably around this time of year -- and despite all the other far more serious crises that we hear about every day -- than a cruddy showing by the Redskins, and even hard-core cliff dwellers are having a hard time recalling a cruddier one than this year's.
A banner headline on yesterday's Washington Post Sports section put it into an eloquent five-word rhetorical question: "How low can they go?" To which we might add: How low can we go?
We've just about had it up to here. In fact, we have had it up to here. The question is whether we'll be having it up to there. And what comes after that? Perhaps the option proposed by Paddy Chayefsky in his 1976 masterpiece of prescience, "Network": We go to the windows, tear them open and scream, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"
Unfortunately, a long series of Let-Down Days doesn't make you mad as hell so much as depressed as heck. And you don't go to windows and scream if you're depressed, usually. You just curl up without a good book and pout your brains out. Or you start flipping the coin again: foreclosure or bankruptcy? Hmm, how about both? But then, which one first? Back to the coin!
Or you start flipping the clicker -- i.e., channel-surfing with your remote, hoping to find some absurd dating show or goofy cable oddity (how to re-fringe your couch bottom) to take your mind off all the depressing disillusionment, all the toppled icons and disgraced heroes.
After signs that maybe it would, it now appears that the Letterman story simply won't go away, and may actually reach the point where Letterman will have to "step down," as would be said of a president or CEO, from his high-paying perch at CBS. It'll just get too darn hard to find him funny.
However one may feel about Letterman's sundry quirks and dippy flukes, his mad-man mannerisms and occasional cranky cantankerousness, we who are true fans always felt he was too cool for the banality of such things as intraoffice affairs. Not only was he not immune, he seemed to look upon it as a potential Olympic sport. A newspaper article by one former flame said Dave's been flitting among office cuties for years, even back to the NBC days, and that makes the disillusionment deeper.
Every day, at least in this humble writer's experience, our media disappoint us and our technology fails us. It can be as simple as a Web site not coming up or the whole lousy computer crashing down. How thoughtful of the company that made my computer to post the notice "not responding" every time it fails to, well, respond. Hey, we can see it's not responding! Tell us something we don't know! Send a nickel for every time it's "not responding"; then we won't have to choose between foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Barack Obama was elected partly on the desperation of a people who want something to believe in. If he screws up, heaven help us all, especially we of not-so-little faith.
Please, nobody in public life do anything really incredibly stupid for a while. Give us a rest. Let us concentrate on the really big things that bother us. Then maybe we can have fewer Let-Down Days and once in a while maybe even treat ourselves to a Turn-Down Day.
And dig it.