RADIO TALKING HEADS
There’s a trio on daytime talk radio in LA – Frosty, Heidi and Frank -who have managed to be consistently engaging and funny for the past eight years or so. This is no mean feat, given they are on-air from 10 AM to 2 PM daily, some 20 hours a week. They present three very different personas (and they are personas) but I believe my consistently episodic listening qualifies me to characterize them as IBM -The Indiana Bureau of Misinformation ; ) I will refer to them as the trio (for they hate being called “The Triplets”)…tho clueless callers continue to greet them as such, instantly raising hackles
They all moved out here from Indiana, with broadcasting stops along the way, were teamed up in 2000 and have slowly morphed into native Californians without abandoning their redneck roots…and I say that with affection. They seem perfectly suited to their demographic – not too cerebral, not too informed, not at all classy.
Frosty is the dean, a sexless, weight-challenged, uptight neurotic whose act is to be the pedant, the ‘grown up’. He is also a gifted if lazy musician, who often contributes musical riffs on his studio keyboard. Frosty has a prodigal brother who is homeless and lives on the streets. Heidi is a tall, blond, breast-implanted lesbian, adores wine and dogs and lives with her lover, “The Italian’. She has a brother who’s in jail. Frank is a free-spirited, hard-drinking, man-boy with a colorful sexual past (and present) and an out of wedlock daughter he recently discovered and now has a relationship with.
Their phone screener is Christa, a feisty, opinionated woman of color, who must surely spend half her working day in active cringe mode as the trio savage cultural, racial and religious traditions. I knew what to expect, early on, once I heard them discussing Tiger Wood’s racial background. “Well his fathers Black…” “Yeah, and his mom is…Thai?” “Yeah, she’s from Taiwan.” And they moved blithely forward with nary a backward glance at that clunker. I then realized their funniest moments would stem from their specious knowledge of history, culture, geography…and I have yet to be disappointed.
They all went to college (state mills) and have no pretension about the quality of their own intellect – except when looking down at other redneck subjects of the selected news clippings they read with evident relish. “Who’s Going To Hell?” is their weekly contest, as to the most egregious behavior posted on the AP news wire that day.
They pretty much resemble most white people NOT from Alabama or Mississippi or other states popularly looked down upon as déclassé or backward. Their contempt for such people is evident, particularly in their humor, suggesting “I may be from Indiana and maybe I am a redneck but I’m head and shoulders above those people.” And their listeners affirm that perception, calling in daily with tales of their own degradation, lack of polish and common insensibilities.
With all that being said, make no mistake, they are witty and enjoy great chemistry, mocking each other, their callers, their guests and their audience to humorous effect. This election season (already feels like a decade) offers racially tinged news stories on a daily basis and the trio never disappoints me. It’s the casual certitude of their observations, often misinformed, rarely earning reflection, which places them so comfortably into contemporary culture. To the trio, Black people may be ‘cool’, they may be sexually compelling, they may be threatening, they may be suitable targets for humor but most of all, they are, THE OTHER.
Other OTHERS include Jews, Moslems, Asians, Latinos, Mormons, pretty much anyone apart from lower middle class white kids who grew up in the Midwest. And the thought, the suggestion that they are unconsciously racist elicits a patella-like reflex of denial. “Noooo, not me! You know me! Christa, tell them!” And Christa, without hesitation, with swift, grounded soundbites, offers them both insight and forgiveness. But their compulsive sniggering in the background, on-mike, whenever anything racially suggestive (or sexually suggestive, for that matter) is under discussion is far more telling than any management disclaimer. In truth, they are like giggly high school kids, trying to see how much they can get away with, on the air. There is no malice, at least in their on-air personas…but let’s face it. White people (see, I capitalized it; it helps to start a sentence with that word;) have a host of blind spots when it comes to cultures other than their own. They honestly don’t get it…and they don’t get that they don’t get it.
You know what? Frosty can probably empathize with those who receive negative judgment or prejudice for being overweight and out of shape. He is both. Heidi can probably empathize with lesbians and gays who daily contend with negative judgment about their sexual preference. She’s a lesbian. Frank’s persona manifests the most common sense (Franks Army;) and can probably empathize with other cuckolds and fathers of bastard daughters. Their willingness to discuss their own frailties – openly, shamelessly – is a very endearing trait. But as with so many other white people, they are never gonna accept how little they truly know about the lives of people who are not like them. Hey, it’s entertainment, it’s not Jeopardy or PBS. They are the antithesis of PC.
The recent New Yorker cover was grist for this weeks mill…and for a lotta mills! After mistakenly describing Michelle Obama’s caricature as “a terrorist” (draped in bandoleer and cammi), completely missing the 70’s Afro and Black Nationalist vibe, they proceeded to indulge in White America’s favorite indoor sport: trashing others too ignorant to ‘get the joke’. For those ‘too cool for the room’ (given ‘the room’ is occupied by clueless, undereducated, racist, thoughtless, irreverent masses) looking down on others is a blood sport. “Boy oh boy, what a shit storm this cover raised!” “Well sure, I get it, but you know there are all these people in (fill in the state) who probably think that Obama is a Muslim.”
FYI, an alarming percentage of polled Americans do think that Obama is a Muslim. They may not all come out and say so, but way down inside, it lurks on the periphery of their consciousness. “Hmmm, yeah, you know…that (fill in your epithet)… I dunno, just something about him that I’m not comfortable with.” (Could it be you fear he’s seriously smarter than you? Could that be troubling you? Hmmm?)
So the early afternoon was filled with laughter and calls and trio riffs and everyone got to feel superior to all those unsophisticated people that just don’t get satire. Yeah, right. Like .000001% of the trio’s demographic reads or has even heard of The New Yorker. Apart from the omnipresent and peevish Californian resentment regarding anything referencing New York (this must reflect the biggest inferiority complex in the world, truly a tale of two cities) there was a feeding frenzy, on air and pretty much around the country, discussing this newest controversy because TO DO SO, SUGGESTS THAT THOSE DISCUSSING IT ARE MORE ENLIGHTENED THAN THE MADDING CROWD.
That’s a very important part of life today. Maybe it’s always been so. It is ever so important to be better than someone else or others. That way, however humble your roots, however trailer park or embarrassing your family and upbringing, you will be elevated by reflecting upon the displayed ignorance of others. Not necessarily wiser or richer…but somehow happier. Shit rolls downhill and it’s nicer to live on the upper slopes.
The trio have flourished out here, now have rewarding contracts, own nice homes, drive nice cars and enjoy the perks of B- LA celebrity. Good for them. Laughter is a rare and precious commodity in this world. Take your endorphins where you find them. Count your blessings. But with all the talk about the opportunities for “racial understanding” this presidential contest offers, I am noticing something very interesting: White people have hit the wall. They are tired of racial issues. They just want all this to go away, quickly and quietly.
Understanding. Empathy. Good words, positive concepts. How are they achieved? It might serve mankind to better understand the ramifications of PMS or menopause. It might serve civilians to better understand the encompassing consequences of PTSD. It might serve women to better appreciate the condition of ‘blue balls’…(OK, that’s probably a bridge too far; )
But the question remains: How many of us are willing to repress our gag reflex and walk in another’s shoes? Answer: Not a meaningful percentage among those who’d be served by doing so.
Transformation is a ponderous concept. Most believe older generations to be stuck in their perceptions. Yeah, maybe. But if you want a sense of how contemporary Americans feel, plug into the anonymous responses to any reportage regarding Black celebrities, athletes, criminals, politicians…essentially any story that welcomes comment. These posters aren’t boomers…they are disaffected, resentful, cyber-savvy young citizens who have no problem expressing their anger and unwillingness to embrace as equals and condemn whomever they consider THE OTHER…just for being not like them
I’m not at all sure what is gonna change that mindset…and without some sort of transformative change, I don’t see the days ahead looking much brighter, racially speaking, than the days gone by.
18 July 2008