Back in 1998, redneck hysteria had hit new heights.
Allegations were made that the all-trash brawls on The Jerry Springer show were fake, and set up beforehand. It was claimed that the people on the show were actors.
At the time, one former unnamed Guest told Extra TV: "We acted everything. When you have to do this, when you have to punch, when you have to push. They wanted us to wrestle and throw each other around. They said 'We want four fights'."
As time wore on, the Jerry Springer controversy became a bore. No one cared, and ratings soared. Americans would rather watch fake people beating the heck out of each other for fake reasons than have real people maybe-or-maybe-not fight for real reasons. Conflict is what made the show. These counterfeit antics, which made good television then, continue to make the tube watchable.
We live in a country where things we are told are true are not, and we know it. We accept the lie because it's better than boring old truth.
It's not just Springer. There's manufactured make-believe all around us: Music has American Idol. The memoir has James Frey. The sports world has professional wrestling and Barry Bonds. Politics has Rush Limbaugh.
It took all the way to Inauguration Day to hear Rush Limbaugh utter the direct words, "I hope Obama fails." This was a storyline created by Rush for the ones who listen to his daily story. And the problem is, they think he's serious. When Rush Limbaugh says something, there are people – otherwise rational people – who take it at face value.
There's been a little blowback to the right-wing entertainment industry trying to take over the Republican Party, but certainly not enough. In an interview with Real Clear Politics on Wednesday, Governor Mark Sanford was asked about the "view that perhaps Republicans are rooting for President Obama to fail." He said, "Anybody who wants him to fail is an idiot."
As of the time of this article, Sanford hasn't called into the Limbaugh show to kiss the ring of the don, as Rep. Phil Gangrey did when he accidentally said something almost negative about El Rushbo. Though Sanford's Communications Director said, "the governor was not referring to anyone." Thursday, in defiance of the quote, Limbaugh filled part of his three hours with this: "So, after he said, 'Anyone who wants Obama to fail is an idiot,' then went on in his own way to say, 'Gosh, I hope this doesn't work'... He just had to say, 'We don't want the president to fail'...Hell we don't! We want something to blow up politically. We want something to not go right."
That's why Limbaugh is filling his time slot with made-up quotes from our president, the same way he made up news reports about Hillary Clinton killing her lawyer in the 90s. It's why he started calling the economic crisis the "Obama Recession" back in December and still lays claim that Chris Dodd created the entire financial crisis on purpose in order to get a Democrat elected.
People believe him. He doesn't become the most listened to radio host in America for nothing. And he's hosted presidents, senators, governors – you name it – on his show. He's got a following of fans.
And he's spawned an entire Professional Wrestling-Jerry Springer culture in our political discourse. Internet commenters steal his one-liners like "porkulous bill" and even make up some of their own, like "libtard." It's just bad discourse meant to make people stupid. And it works. Otherwise, Limbaugh's protégé, Lil' Sean Hannity, would have been tossed out the bottom of the porn industry years ago, before he had the chance to call any of his callers 'Great Americans' simply because they call his show.
If I was in front of daytime TV and saw an intelligent conversation on Jerry Springer, I'd change the channel. If Jerry Springer didn't openly offend the free world with his "Final Thought" every single time his show aired, it wouldn't be a show.
Maybe that's why the protests didn't last too long back in 1998. Springer was giving the people what they wanted: good TV. It was a half hour out of the day when you just didn't have to think. You sat back and said, "My life isn't that bad; I'm not these people." And sometimes, when I'm listening to Rush Limbaugh, I say the same thing. "My life isn't that bad; I'm not one of these callers telling Limbaugh 'dittos' or on my cordless phone, waiting with the anticipation to call Sean Hannity a 'Great American'." Meanwhile, both these men openly hope for a brittle America to shatter to pieces so a politician they don't like can be shamed. Maybe I should start listening between the lines. Because with all this hope that America fails, you've got to wonder if 'Great American' is actually just code-word for something else.