No more Walter Cronkites, in news or in music

You know, in a way, what I said earlier about not wanting or even needing James Conlon to introduce me to new music — and especially not the new music he thinks I need to hear — relates to something else that I opined about post-Mars landing.

The above article discusses the fact that the entire landing went off perfectly, and even attracted an enormous amount of attention from the public, without a Walter Cronkite to predigest the entire event and apply his personal brand to it. Although the above author (a journalist, natch) concludes that it somehow demonstrates that we still need a Walter Cronkite, I would submit that we don’t.

I would also submit that I don’t want one. Ever.

I dislike the idea that I need to have something predigested for me because, as a timid ignoramus, I somehow need to have my head patted and be reassured by someone with a grandfatherly baritone voice and a Y chromosome before I can confront the reality of the world without fleeing to my stone idols for comfort.

Walter Cronkite, as it turns out, was a middleman, and unnecessary. Without him there, we simply all tuned into NASA’s own live streaming coverage, filled with smart folks explaining what they did with energy and enthusiasm, and presented by an anchor who stayed out of their way while they did it. No one was there to put an avuncular spin on things, to presume that he had to dumb things down for me (or anyone without my technical background) to understand them or to not be frightened by them.

Seriously. Think about it: Cronkite didn’t even land on the Moon, and hadn’t an idea what the scientists and engineers in question did! Why should his face and voice be the imprint on the event?

He was a middleman, someone who thought he was needed to predigest things for the timid public, someone to get between us and interesting stuff going on in the world to — on the face of it — make sure we “understood” things, but in reality it was simply to make sure that we thought of these events what we were supposed to think.

It turns out that the viewing public for the Curiosity landing — 3.2 million people on NASA’s live stream, blowing the audience for the event on cable television clean out of the water — was perfectly happy to hear big words from the mouths of the very people who made it happen, and understood more of it than the mainstream media would have imagined.

James Conlon’s presumption that we need him to expose us to new things is no different. He is the avuncular reassurer between us — the timid, fearful public, frightened of new things like stereotypical cave-natives of a camera — and whatever it is that he thinks we should be exposed to.

Not whatever we want to be exposed to. Not whatever we seek out ourselves. Before Walter and James get in the way between us and Stuff, they pick the Stuff first — and clear away what doesn’t make their cut.

Problem is, the Internet is famous for doing away with middlemen. Maybe in the middle of last century, we needed our Cronkites, but I simply do not need James Conlon or any orchestra to expose me to unfamiliar music at this time, any more than I need Walter to pat my head and use short words to explain what happened when Curiosity landed on Mars.

And you can’t convince me that ego isn’t at the center of this in the end. The Moon landing was the biggest news of the century — and it has Cronkite’s face and voice all over it. I’m not saying he was evil, but how well it worked out for him — neither engineer nor scientist nor astronaut, and yet his name, face, and voice are the ones we associate with the first time any human being took a step on the surface of another planet. Jesus. Had any NASA scientist appeared to be interviewed by him, it would have been remembered as Walter Cronkite and … some guy.

Instead, with NASA’s far superior streaming coverage, we got what it should have been: Charlie Bolden, Lori Garver, John Holdren, and a parade of gloriously iconoclastic propellerheads like Adam Steltzner, Allen Chen, John Grotzinger, Sarah Milkovich, Pete Theisenger, John Grunsfeld, Bobak Ferdowsi and his Space Mohawk … and a news anchor.

She did a wonderful job. I hope they keep using her. But a big part of the reason why she was so great is precisely because I can rattle off the names of all of those nerds and bureaucrats so quickly, and not hers.

Similarly, I don’t want or need James Conlon’s stamp of approval on any music before I can find it and listen to it, and make up my own mind about it, on my own. (Hello, Internet!)

And that music will have as its face and name the faces and names of the people who created it, and not James Conlon.

You’re a nice guy, James — and a talented one. Like Walter Cronkite, I don’t think you’re evil. But sit down and stop blocking my view.

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