MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Now that fall is officially here, many of us are trying to cool off from a long hot summer. But commentator Andrei Codrescu is just getting warmed up.
ANDREI CODRESCU: It's been a year like a ride in hell's own at Disney World. From weather the politics, the world seems bent out of shape. But this may be the result of extensive coverage, rather than an unusual number of disasters.
I watched an episode of "The Hour," set in the days of the Cold War and remembered just how different things used to be.
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UNIDENITIED MAN: We're standing in a side street from Trafalgar Square. As you can see the crowd behind me holding up their...
CODRESCU: In this episode of "The Hour," the London crowds are angrily protesting the invasion of Egypt over the question of the Suez Canal. There are hints of nuclear confrontation and the world is black, white and mostly gray. Our world in contrast is in HD color. Everyone in commercials is young and happy. So-called reality shows feature some frighteningly stupid people. And nobody seems to care enough to protest anything, especially if it involves going outdoors with a sign.
I see the Iraq and Afghanistan carnage on TV but it's occasional, random; not as horrific as the Vietnam images were. People out of work are home watching TV or looking for a job on their computer. The near collapse of the financial system is just more stuff for politicians to speechify about on TV.
Horrific weather events that include tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, vast forest fires and unheard-of high temperatures are fascinating if you're not right in them - and unspeakable if you are. But there is always a reporter on the scene getting blown by the wind or choking on ashes, so the TV takes care of that, too.
Once again, I'm not sure if we live in a much less dangerous world than the retro people in "The Hour," or if our sense of outrage and danger has been somehow diminished by television, happy pills, and the prosperity fumes of the '90s of the last century.
Our decade reminds me of the 1930s when people still thought that the goodtime '20s would eventually come back, even if unemployment was rampant, banks are failing, and Hoovervilles are springing up ready for the Army to disperse from horseback.
Are we on the edge of something much worse, just like we were in the '30s I never experienced? Or in the gray late '50s, which I did? Are we on the cusp of civil unrest or just a new reality show on the telly?
I hope that somebody invents something like LSD quick, so we might tell what's real and what's not. It doesn't help hearing the rising heat of political rhetoric that stops inches short of hate speech and incitement to riot. But that's on TV, of course, so it doesn't mean such rhetoric can be more than just another show. Or is it?
BLOCK: Those thoughts from Andrei Codrescu. He's the author of "Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Scheherazade and the Arabian Entertainment."
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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.