Spectacle, sensationalism, and other great American pastimes

| November-December 2010

  • David Schimke Portrait November December 2010

    2009 © Chris Lyons /

  • David Schimke Portrait November December 2010

If you believe the overworked adage that the media merely give the public what it wants, then it’s hard not to conclude that Americans want little more than childish tantrums and shallow spectacle, no matter the forum.

On the first day of September, while I was moonlighting as a tennis blogger at the United States Open in New York, I sat courtside in Arthur Ashe Stadium as a resilient Serb journeyman, Janko Tipsarevic, ranked 44th in the world, upset 9th-seeded favorite Andy Roddick on the third day of a two-week tournament. The four-set stunner, played under the lights and ending just before midnight, was a study in strategic thinking and staggering guile. That Tipsarevic—who, relative to his opponent, lacked size, strength, and shot-making talent—found a way to overcome a former Open champion in front of a capacity crowd of hostile, noisy Americans was, up until that point, the biggest story of the tournament.

The next morning, surveying the coast-to-coast media coverage, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d passed out in the stands and dreamed the whole thing.

The screaming headlines and accompanying screeds didn’t lead with Tipsarevic’s gutsy on-court performance or include snippets from his insightful and refreshingly forthright post-victory press conference. Instead, the chatter revolved around an utterly meaningless outburst that took place midway through the bout.

Roddick, upset with a line judge’s call—which, by the way, was correct—stomped and fumed for nearly 15 minutes near the end of the third set. In a group interview later that night, the emotionally raw 28-year-old, who had celebrated his birthday 48 hours earlier, didn’t apologize for the ugly incident—although he should have—but he made it very clear more than once that it had nothing to do with his loss. At all. If anything, he said, it might actually have helped him refocus after a period of particularly poor play.

The mainstream press corps is preprogrammed not to let the truth get in the way of a ready-made narrative, though, especially when it involves boorish behavior on the part of an embattled celebrity. So they tweaked the script accordingly. If you had experienced the spectacle only via next-day coverage, you’d swear Roddick lost his cool John McEnroe style and dumped the match.

Cris Edward Johnson
12/16/2010 11:36:44 AM

David's observations concerning the journalistic styles of our time is spot on; however, there is a slant (intended or not) which needs to be pointed out. The feeding frenzy of "Fantasmagoria" is not bound by political persuasion. It is indulged in by journalists (and readers/viewers) from all sides of the of the room. To suggest that "progressives" are elitists whose joy in athletics is measured by portraying fans as softheaded is both untrue and unfair. Similarly, using the example of Bill Maher to further his discussion may be valid, but ignores the reality of folks like Glenn Beck. No,the real insight of this piece (and one that needs to be acknowledged) is that the world of journalism and the world or entertainment are becoming increasingly blurred and THAT is a problem for all of us.

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