Once, determined to improve lackluster ratings, producers of a cable news-and-opinion program signed up two gargoyles. The program needed something more entertaining, its producers had concluded. Nobody stayed glued to plodding, in-depth discussions of issues crucial to the survival of the republic anymore. To begin with, who could define “in-depth” in a way the show’s followers would understand and, furthermore, who cared if you could or not? Even earsplitting ad hominem attacks, long a staple of the show, now came off as “so out of date.” The latest surveys of diehard viewers showed they were just as likely to hiss at the screen with the volume turned off as turned up. The same was true for hammering their smartphones in “tell us what you think” responses to questions about a newsmaker’s politics, private life, or potential for indictment. Having “the right optics” and immediate “impact” held more promise of being the improvement sought. Thus the decision to bring on the gargoyles. When they were first rolled into the studio and positioned opposite one another, the entire production team held their collective breath. What would the audience response be? Would mere ghoulish grimacing be enough? Would viewers be satisfied with that and not demand more? Would it be the kiss of death that the gargoyles weren’t saying anything, intelligible or otherwise? As the on-screen response chyron lit up, though, everyone could finally exhale with relief and high-five each other all around. Clearly it didn’t matter in the least that the gargoyles hadn’t said anything. Derision, misrepresentation, false analogies, red herrings, sniggering innuendo, out-right slurs—none of these equaled the impact of gargoyles silently pulling faces at each other and at the audience. The savings in production costs were obvious. But equally obvious was the realization that even the fast-talking, high-paid hosts of these programs could be replaced in a flash by rigid ideologue-grotesques for further savings. Day after day and night after night, simply propping up a cardboard host in place of a flesh-and-blood one would provide all the introduction needed for the gargoyles as the true stars of the show: those scowling caricatures of thought caked in bird droppings.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans