Cultural Revolutions

Worry About Ratings

Regarding Saddam Hussein, "What in the world is wrong with him?" someone asked me the other day. "Doesn't he realize the bad impression he is making with all his twists and turns? One day he lets the weapons inspectors in and gives them unlimited access, the next day he comes up with some lame excuse for excluding American 'spies.'"

Perhaps he does have something to hide, but there is a simpler explanation: satellite TV. Imagine Saddam in his living room, tuned to CNN or CBS. After watching the lead stories for a few minutes, he turns to one of his aides and says, "What's the deal? Those crooks in Indonesia are getting all the airplay. Call Ted Turner. Call Roone Arledge. CALL MY AGENT!"

Celebrity is not only intoxicating: it is addictive. It is fashionable to complain about those dreadful paparazzi, but ask any starlet, athlete, or politician how he or she feels when there are no cameras around: frightened and lonely. Vampires and other undead creatures cannot see themselves in the mirror, and celebrities cease to exist the minute they are off camera.

Saddam is smart to worry about his ratings. All the big people in America do. Most public events are really staged "happenings" (remember the 60's?) in which an athlete gets to say he's sorry (or not sorry) for socking his coach or stabbing his wife. Bill Clinton is a master of this art. Running for...

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