Saturday, April 2, 2011

Confessions of an April Fool Hoaxer

Skip all this "how we decide" mumbo jumbo and take me straight to the James Polk joins FOX NEWS April Fools post! I can come back here later.

OK, time to fess up.

Yesterday's FOX NEWS blog post was, of course, an elaborate April Fools hoax. I know, I know, if you bought into it, right about now you're most likely nose diving into that uneasy feeling in the gut that comes when you realize you've been had. Believe me, I've been there. I was taken in a few years ago when I fell headfirst into a Marketplace story about how the government, instead of sending out stimulus checks as authorized by Congress, decided to mail homeowners the equivalent value in the form of an air conditioner or a washing machine explaining it was being done to boost manufacturing. They interviewed mock government officials and mock homeowners and Robert Reich, who I think has some brilliant sociological observations, and the report had the the tone and structure of the typical story airing on Marketplace. But it was fiction. I had developed a rigid set of assumptions about the Bush administration, so the constructed narrative, aided by atmospherics and Robert Reich's righteous indignation, played on my own preconceptions to hook me in. And I never saw it coming.

And you know what they say about the word "assume"? When you ASSUME, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman. (Ouch! Sorry, that's my favorite Al Frankin joke.)

Such is the power of narrative to pass off misinformation as truth and get away with it. When cynically used as a device to trump facts and reality and rational thinking in an effort to con people into acting against their own good judgment and best interests to enrich the perpetrators of the narrative, it's immoral. FOX NEWS became the setting of this little hoax, in a wicked twist of absurd irony, because it's their standard modus operandi.

So I decided to take advantage of the age-old April Fools tradition to put together an art piece that I hope was an entertaining and stimulating read (it's packed with oblique references, so if you're into dry contextual humor, you might want to give it another run-through) with a creative commentary on the cynical (and dangerous) ethos of America's modern-day mainstream corporate media.

Why is it that this pearl necklace of absurdities strung one after another was, for many, plausibly believable? In the most positive light, I am comforted and humbled that so many who know me and are familiar with my work truly wish the best for me and are of the opinion that I've earned the legitimacy of an opportunity to step onto a bigger stage with a national audience, and a story like this - even with it's outrageous twists and turns and questionable venue - triggers a suspension of disbelief born purely out of goodwill.

But it also might have something to do with the media phenomenon of manufacturing drama by "sensationalizing the trivial," especially on cable television with FOX NEWS as standard-bearer. In the current media environment, reality shows pluck talentless individuals out of obscurity solely on the basis of their ability to create drama and conflict, and those who offer reasonable ideas and speak in whole paragraphs can't find a minute of airtime as the 24/7 news cycle is monopolized by the politicians and talking heads who push the most divisive ideas, claim the most outrage, and loudly spew the most anger. In an environment where the critical societal and environmental problems of our day (many of which, coincidentally, have solutions that might possibly cut into the bottom line of vested corporate interests) are buried under layers of highly stimulating distraction, anything - even the implausible scenario of FOX NEWS hiring James Polk as a sustainability commentator - is possible.

And, if we are not aware that this ongoing cascade of melodrama is indeed a distraction, we fall into the trap of accepting the chatter as "normal."

In a way, this is a cautionary tall tale. Because we're all pushed and pulled by savvy marketers who feed us bogus narratives, whether it's the hip branding of a soft drink designed to drive up sales when the taste tests are crummy, or a political "movement" that triggers and activates our fears as a method of winning elections and setting policy then the candidates are disingenuous and the ideas are unpopular. A little bit of healthy skepticism and some awareness of context helps. But we're all taken in from time to time. And we either figure it out, or someone clues us in, or we remain oblivious and robotically move in the direction of the bogus narrative all the while ignoring our better judgment.

In a way, it's easier to just go with the narrative. It doesn't require much thought or messy introspection. And even when we wise up, a part of us doesn't want to believe we've been betrayed. It's still easier to dismiss reality with the cloak of denial and run with the narrative, because as soon as we fully acknowledge that we've been had, here comes that sickening feeling. And the feeling might just be unbearable if we have to admit we've been fooled into enthusiastically supporting bad ideas and backing candidates who push through policies that hasten our demise.

So better to just go along with ruse, right? At least we'll have company.


My wife and I gave up TV when the US underwent the digital conversion back in 2009 (not that either one of us watched much television anyway) opting not to invest in the necessary hardware. We haven't missed it a bit, and in fact, we've found that by dispensing with the small amount of habitual TV watching in which we did engage, we freed up time for more rewarding activities, and we both feel that not watching television has enriched our lives.

But the biggest advantage of nixing the TV is the refreshing absence of so-called news. Americans watch a lot of TV, and I've been in homes and businesses where the television is always on, even when no one is actively watching. The more TV we take in, the more we are desensitized to the harshness and not-so-subtle behavioral triggers buried in the chatter. Try going without watching TV news for a while, say a year or two, and your experience and perception will be profoundly different. On a recent trip to local airport to pick up a friend, it was impossible to ignore two mounted televisions both tuned to FOX NEWS as they blared vitriol to passive onlookers who seemed completely conditioned to the idea that this was normal. Yet the messaging was a loud constant stream of hate, anger, and divisiveness. Normal? To me, it felt like I was being force-fed poison - the kind of poison that tears societies apart.

Apologies to anyone who did not appreciate the little April Fools prank. But I have to say, it's probably the most fun piece of writing I've created in quite some time. I promise I'll not set set you up with another bogus piece of fiction masquerading as reality ... until next year!

Friday, April 1, 2011


I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many people who over the years have visited and supported the New American Village Blog. It's been an eventful last few years of blogging and - I'm getting a little misty-eyed here - it would have been impossible for me to keep getting up at 4 am to launch into exhaustive research for yet another fresh and insightful blog post had it not been for the support and encouragement of the thousands of loyal readers who just kept coming back for more. (You know who you are!)

But now it's time to turn the page. As you surely have noticed, I've been taking a bit of a break from the day to day posting as of late, but I haven't exactly been sitting on my hands. Now that my agent has officially consummated the deal, I'm free to disclose that FOX NEWS is bringing me on board as a regular commentator in their new blogger series America, Hell Yeah! Fair and Balanced ™ set to debut this summer on My contract runs through November 6th, 2012 - election day - with an option year if FOX decides to continue the series. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed!)

What turned out to be a pretty involved process all started back in early January when FOX contacted me about trying out for this gig along with, as I found out later on, over 200 other bloggers. Turns out, the producer has been following my writing on the New American Village blog since she came across one of my very early posts from about three years back (which is about 100 in blogger years) entitled Strip Tease where I lead off with the observation that "strip malls are the pornography of real estate development."

After a winnowing out period over the next few weeks where I submitted about a dozen pithy shoot-from-the-hip mock blog posts on given topics, I made the the interview cut and FOX flew me to New York for a week where, in what I can only imagine to be an American Idol-style circus of an audition, I made the final cut along with Ed Begley, Jr. for the sustainability guy slot.

Maybe it was the adrenalin rush from being in New York, or possibly my new prescription of adderall, but I was so "on" that week. My lucky break came when they told us we had to think of a special original project that would get our topic across to the FOX audience in a unique, entertaining way. It just so happened that Sarah Palin was there taping something or other so I approached her about doing a weekly one photo /one caption dueling commentary on sustainability that I'm calling Sustain This, America!

To my delight, she was quite enthusiastic about the idea (I don't care what you've heard about SP, she's really a lot of fun) so we grabbed a cameraman, ducked into a studio and took a few quick stills while hand writing our captions on a post-it note. Bang, bang, the technical guys there slapped a few samples together over the course of the next hour or so, and I made my pitch. The shot that blew everybody away was on the topic of conservation where her caption was "Enough Said." I don't think her impromptu pose will wind up in the series, but let me tell you, witnessing it was one of the highlights of my life. (I'm pretty sure the FCC, at least with the composition of its current board, doesn't let TV networks show full moons, at least not without a stiff fine.) Don't get any bright ideas web surfers; her handlers were pretty adamant about keeping that image under lock and key along with her crotch grab for the domestic drilling commentary with strict no-publish orders until "a time and place of her choosing."

So there I was, sitting in a room with Ed Begley, Jr. (what a stick in the mud!) where Rupert Murdoch himself had been brought in to make the the final decision. As Mr. Murdoch was going on and on about what he expected out of this project, Ed Begley all off a sudden just started shaking his head and saying "bullshit, bullshit, this is all bullshit" and he got up and stormed out of the room. Well, at that point, I was sure that Begley, the polished actor he is, was creating a big drama just for show to land the part, and it got pretty confusing as they all rushed out after him trying to convince him to stay on, even to the point of offering the spot to him right there in the hallway. But he told them to "go to hell" and left so they offered me the job.

So, starting this summer, I'll be posting regularly at on sustainability issues. They've also got me lined up to be a regular guest (piped in from WXXV on the coast) hucking it up with Mike Huckabee on his show (I guess this means he's seriously not considering a run for the presidency), occasionally going toe to toe with Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, and chitchatting with what seems to me to be an endless cast of sexy blond anchors all trying to - as Mr. Murdoch put it - "knock this guy off of his talking points."

I'm pumped!!!

Note to long-time readers: Unfortunately, and my agent said I had no choice in this matter, FOX NEWS demanded that I change the name of the blog from "the New American Village" to "the New American Suburb." (Truthfully, considering the size of the compensation package, I really don't give a damn what they call it.) So come summer, please reset your bookmarks to and join in on all the FOXed-up fun. See you there!