Cable News Cretinism

Jerry Falwell’s straight story.

One of my estimable colleagues wrote in to suggest that the Cretinism posted earlier tonight was unfair to Chris Matthews. As regular readers will have noticed by now, I have a sneaking affection for the towheaded motormouth of MSNBC. By some strange homeopathic logic, I find his manic hyperactivity relaxing at the end of a long day. The cretinism here is the escalating silliness of Falwell’s answers to Matthews’ cross-examination. The whole exchange exposes the absurdity of the notion of “choice” as applied to the question of sexual orientation.  … 11:37 p.m.

I hadn’t gone looking for one of these in a while, but if you flip on a news channel in prime time, the search takes about five minutes. Tonight’s comes from Hardball, where Chris Matthews cross-examined the Reverend Jerry Falwell:

Matthews: Did you choose to be heterosexual?

Falwell: I did.

Matthews: You thought about it and you came up with that solution, that lifestyle?

Falwell: Well, put it this way, I was taught as a child that that’s the right way to be.

Matthews: But did you feel an attraction toward women?

Falwell: Oh, of course.

Matthews: But when people are born and they find themselves having an attraction to somebody from the same sex, do you think that’s a choice?

Falwell: I think you can experiment with any perversity and develop an appetite for it, just like you can food. […] I don’t think anybody is born a bank robber […]

Matthews: How old were you when you chose to be heterosexual?

Falwell: Oh, I don’t remember that.

Matthews: Well you must, because you say it’s a big decision.

Falwell: Well, I – I started dating when I was about thirteen.

Matthews: And you had to decide between boys and girls. And you chose girls.

Falwell: Well, I never had to decide, I never thought … (laughter)

   Wait a minute … are they flirting? 5:49 p.m.

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2004

Since the account of last night’s Jeopardy! smackdown posted (see below), several readers, via e-mail and the Fray, have alerted me to the existence of the Zerg menace in a computer strategy game called Starcraft. According to the gaming site one reader sent me to, the Zerg are indeed a science-fiction super-race, a “small wormlike species” that evolved by “changing, borrowing bits and pieces of the creatures they had used to feed.” Thanks to their instinctive drive to “infest the most intelligent, most evolved races around them,” the Zerg soon took on “frightening and formidable new forms … forms that were designed to survive.”

KenJen or no, I’m definitely tuning in to Jeopardy! tonight.

Another astute reader points out something that stuck in my craw on last night’s show, but that I didn’t consider myself Jeopardy! nerd enough to weigh in on: What was with the overt product placement of the new “Seinfeld” DVD set, with multiple clue categories (“Yada Yada Yada,” “No Soup for You”) based around the sitcom? My correspondent writes: “There have been plenty of times when some or all of the categories in an entire round of Jeopardy! have been tied together in some way. But this was a new one for me—the categories being tied to the release of a consumer product. And frankly, it disturbs me.” The same reader goes on to opine that Ken might even have thrown the game in a purist’s revolt against the invading “tentacles of capitalism.” As I’ve said, I think Ken lost fair and square—but how do readers feel about the advent of  “product synergy,” on the Jeopardy! board and elsewhere? Industry analysts agree that the future of TV advertising is to migrate from its snug haven in the traditional commercial break and encroach, Zerg-like, upon the content of the shows we watch. Should we be afraid, be very afraid? … 1:49 p.m.

Because of Surfergirl’s staunch anti-spoiler policy, I had to resist the urge to post a warning yesterday, telling you all to put on your drinking caps and get ready to indulge in a final round of Jeopardrink! (scroll down), the game designed by Slate readers to celebrate America’s love/ hate relationship with Ken Jennings. The trivia powerhouse who Alex Trebek recently called “the Jet Li of television game shows” fell last night, as all champions eventually must. Leaks about the exact date of KenJen’s loss have been circulating since last summer, and this week, audio clips of his final moment were all but impossible to avoid online. Yesterday, the story started to break in the mainstream media, but I still like to find out what happens on TV the old-fashioned way: by watching it. (I guess this makes me the new-media version of a Luddite.)

Rumors to the effect that KJ deliberately threw the match in an attempt to finish with a round number of winnings or total appearances seem unduly churlish. Yes, his obsessive-compulsive wagering propensities are well-known, but it’s also evident to any regular watcher that the Stormin’ Mormon is deeply competitive, and sportsmanlike almost to a fault. KenJen had a legitimate off night; he missed two Daily Doubles, leaving him in a more vulnerable position than usual by Final Jeopardy. Still, he was $4,400 ahead at the end, going up against his only opponent left standing, a California real estate agent named Nancy Zerg. (The very name has a science-fiction ring befitting the arch-nemesis of a superhero: KenJen, beware the Zerg! No man can withstand the power of the Zerg!)

Ken’s poisoned arrow was a clue in the “Business and Industry” category: “Most of this firm’s 70,000 seasonal white-collar employees work only four months a year.” To add to the anguish, this is not one of those empirical, you-know-it-or-you-don’t Jeopardy! clues (unlike, say, the capital of Qatar); the context it provides should be enough to afford a pretty good guess. My viewing companion managed to arrive at the correct answer – what is H & R Block? – while I was still humming dully along with the Final Jeopardy music: La da dee da, da da dum … so catchy. The Zerg got it right, while Ken guessed FedEx, a reasonable enough stab (not really a “white-collar” job, but does that category have much meaning anymore?). The audience’s audible gasp when they realized he’d lost was the high point of the show. Ken turned to shake the winner’s hand, then caught her up in a spontaneous hug (Do not hug the Zerg, Ken! Stronger men than you have been CRUSHED BY THE MIGHTY ZERG!) as the studio audience rose to give them both a standing O.

Ken’s final haul: $2,520,700, one-tenth of which he’s tithing to the Mormon church. (Perhaps in exchange for the well-placed plug, H & R Block has offered him free tax preparation for life.) He’s also broken just about every game-show record there is during his five-month, 75-show run. If you truly can’t get enough of KJ, he’ll be making the rounds of the talk-show circuit this week; he’ll also be featured on a Jeopardy!-centered Biography episode tonight on A & E. I predict that when Alex Trebek (who has a cult following of his own) finally steps down as host of the venerable quiz show, KenJen will be next in line to remind you every night of just how little you know. … 6:11 a.m.