Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Planted callers on talk radio

Courtesy of Tablet, "a new read on Jewish life," a piece that discusses fake talk-radio calls, calls scripted and performed by paid professionals. The calls are never revealed to be scripted.

One actor who auditioned for the "Premiere On Call" service decided to look into his would-be employer:
[He] learned that Premiere On Call was a service offered by Premiere Radio Networks, the largest syndication company in the United States and a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications, the entertainment and advertising giant. Premiere syndicates some of the more sterling names in radio, including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.
The next time you find yourself getting emotional over some talk show caller's tale, you might want to consider the possibility you're being played.

It's bad enough to wonder whether Glenn Beck is a fiery truth-teller or an outrageous character portrayed by an entertainer coincidentally named Glenn Beck. Now we have to wonder about the callers to his show, too?

We assume talk shows are fueled by ordinary people responding to the host and guests. We expect that what we hear are the honest sentiments of people motivated enough to call in. We're inclined to believe their stories, to allow ourselves to share their emotions. They can shape our attitudes about issues of great import.

That's how it should be. That's how it must be. We must believe that these people, whom we only know indirectly as faces and voices on TV or just as voices on the radio, are genuine human beings just like ourselves. That belief is what holds us together as a nation, as a society.

If we stop believing that what we hear is genuine, if the putatively ordinary people whom we only know as voices and faces cease to be real to us, then we cease to care about them. We cease to care what happens to them. They become no more important to us than characters in a book or a movie.

That's why blurring the line between fiction and nonfiction is so dangerous. That's why treating "reality" as entertainment is such a despicable, even evil, act. It diminishes our trust in one another. And that trust is what holds us together.

Producers, if you're using Premiere On Call to pretend you have more interesting listeners than you do, you aren't polishing your show: you're undermining our society.

[UPDATE: Edited to clarify that the people I'm talking about are those we assume to be ordinary folks just like us.]

No comments:

Post a Comment