TV and Triumph

Some moments redeem television. A recent one came from Haiti, where a child was pulled from the rubble nearly eight days after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake left the island nation in shambles. Suddenly realizing he was rescued and surrounded by those responsible for his salvation, the child threw up his arms in a spontaneous expression of triumph. So did the crowd around him. It was hope writ large amidst an ongoing information stream of death and destruction. In that single moment, the efforts of everyone--from those who donated money to those who traveled thousands of miles to help--were rewarded. There were still people alive beneath the remains of a city that appeared to have been bulldozed.

The footage lasted just seconds, but stood out against a backdrop of ongoing ridiculousness in the TV business itself. NBC agreed to pay Conan O’Brien $45 million to quit his job as host of “The Tonight Show,” or roughly one-third the amount donated to the Red Cross for Haitian relief. The rift between O’Brien and former “Tonight” host Jay Leno, who was being moved back into the slot, spilled into the consumer media with more hyperbole than a presidential election. It was a tiresome demonstration of insipid, self-indulgent, masculine hubris from the get-go; the very type of display that makes one consider replacing the TV with something that gives off oxygen.

And then a naïve little boy buried alive for a week raises his dust-covered arms and the medium is vindicated.

It’s always this way. For every few hundred hours of effluvia, there’s a moment of effulgence that briefly reawakens inward humanity. Seeing Jay and Conan, et al, trade insults, is discomfiting, like children watching their parents fight. It renders mild nausea at best and further inures to brutishness at worst. The same goes for Tiger Woods, John Edwards, Goldman Sachs, so-called political pundits and the endless array of what’s most base in the human animal.

Unfortunately, vulgarity is relatively easy to produce and reproduce ad infinitum, and it’s relatively popular. There’s a perception that the hoi polloi feel a bit better when the mighty fall. The truth is, everyone ends up with fleas.

Moments of true, human triumph that spark the better angels of our nature cannot be manufactured. Even the most jaded and naïve among us can identify contrivance, if only intuitively. That’s why Susan Boyle is now known worldwide. Had someone started the “I Dreamed a Dream” digital subchannel, it would have gone massive.

There very well could be such an opportunity for television; a programming catalog of its finest moments. A few more are bound to come out of the upcoming Winter Olympics out of Vancouver, British Columbia, and hopefully, a lot more will emerge from the debris-strewn landscape of Haiti. They will be a thoroughly welcome relief from the nonsense that typically occupies far too much of the media.