More columns
written by Bill:
Pull over or shut up
Loonie Lefties
and Raving Righties
So what's
wrong with gray
Them's fightin' words
Just give it to me straight, dammit
Your comments about this column are welcome ~ e-mail Bill at
Them's fightin' words
They don't like what they see
Emotion. The enemy of reason
Punish conduct, not thought
What's so scary about tea partiers?
Celebrate being alive
Yes. Be careful
Lessons to learn from conflict
No longer needed?
    I’m a serious guy, as one might surmise from the photograph accompanying this column. The same mug runs alongside the columns I write for my newspaper, and occasionally has elicited some fairly descriptive comments from readers.
   “ You look like you want to eat somebody’s children,” one memorable response read. I really liked that phrase. Writers are always mentally filing away phrases into the deep recesses of their feverishly warped minds. That one has been culled from the files and used, a time or two.
   Another reader queried: “What have you got against smiling?” Well, nothing really, when there’s something to smile about.
   Here’s another one: “Who are you mad at?” I’m a newspaper editor. We’re supposed to be mad at the world.
   “You look constipated.” That one came from my daughter.
   Come to think of it, maybe that explains why readers sometimes tell me I’m full of a certain substance.
   Seriousness is just another personality trait, I suppose, like shyness or loquaciousness. My natural state tends toward deep observation, analytical thought and conversations that peel back the nuances of the subject matter.
   Opposites, they say, attract, which may explain the relationship I have with my lovely companion, Stephanie. To say she has a big personality is like saying Everest is a big rock. Steph competed in Atlantic City for the Miss America title. She majored in theater and music. She’s Wisconsin’s best known television and radio personality. I think there may have been one day — back in ’04, perhaps — when she didn’t smile all day. She had the flu, as I recall.
   When she feels like embarrassing me, Steph likes to tell folks that when she enters a room for a social gathering without me it feels like a group hug. Everyone is glad to see her; she’s glad to see everyone.
   But when she enters a room with me, she deadpans — by this point in the tale her eyes are flashing, her arms are waving, her hands slapping at the air — it’s like parting the Red Sea. People step back, eye the newcomers warily, as if the carrier of some dread disease is invading the space.
   I can’t help it. It’s the curse of serious people. We’re always in our own heads. While others are enjoying life, we’re examining it and trying to figure out why it works (or doesn’t) in such unpredictable, illogical and foolish ways.
   In today’s speeded-up world, seriousness — actually, the lack thereof — has been an increasingly frequent topic between Steph and myself. For example, the other day we were in the midst of our usual early morning routine — getting ready for work, sipping coffee, playing with our dog Scruffy and flipping between the various cable news channels.
   It was one of those mornings, when every channel seemed to have too many perfect faces, too many toothy smiles, too much inane banter, too much goofy giggling, and too little substance.
   “Good God,” I said, “if anybody actually wants to find out the news today they’re wasting their time watching this stuff. All they do is jabber at each other, then giggle over how oh-so-clever it all is.”
   After another futile round of flipping channels from one set of jolly babblers to the next yuk-it-up team of noisemakers, we just gave up and hit the “off” button.
   Steph tried to explain that the formula in TV — she’s in entertainment, by the way, not news — is engineered to grab attention, even if it’s ultimately annoying.
   “At least you notice,” she said.
   Part of the formula also calls for pairing pretty young women with an older guy, she said. Eye candy for those who want it — including lots of women, who like to check out the fashions and hairstyles — and a little gray hair on the male because the surveys say it promotes trust. Usually, she said, at the national level the show’s producers decide how the women will wear their hair and what kind of clothing will be selected. So if you see a TV personality with a deep V-neck and in-your-face cleavage, it is not an accident.
   The main rationale: This is entertainment. It’s about ratings. The news is secondary. And maybe news doesn’t even rank that high.
   Personally, I prefer seriousness. I want my news straight. I tune in to find out what happened in the world while I was off in slumberland. I didn’t turn on the TV to “connect” with anybody. I’m not interested in ogling the women. I have gray hair (well, what’s left of it) myself, so that doesn’t make me trust the guy in the box. The clever banter is a distracting bore. If I want early morning humor, I’ll pull a sock over Scruffy’s head and watch him try to get it off.
   Just give me the damn news.
   One of these days, time will run its course and those of us who remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Howard K. Smith, Eric Sevareid and others, will graduate to that great newsroom in the sky. The news world will be left to the perky gigglers and their perfect cardboard cut-out companions. Until then I’ll continue to pine away for the seriousness of yore.
   Our world — beset by wars, financial collapse, nuclear proliferation, climate crisis, deadly diseases, reality TV and rap music — could use a little more seriousness, I think.
   Then again, I reckon that’s why I part the Red Sea.
Bill Barth
The Spectator
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