I’m always amazed by the stories our readers pick up on in our Daily Newsletters.
Oh yeah, local news is still king. That will probably never change. Everybody wants to see what’s over the neighbor’s fence. Is that grass greener?
Outside of that, who knows? For instance, a recent story on an Allentown, Pennsylvania, museum that thought it had a 400-year-old painting from Rembrandt’s workshop turns out to have been from the master himself. That story has been popular for over a week. I hope the Allentown Art Museum appreciates the free publicity.
And then there’s the story of the New Hampshire police chief who was stripped of his duties at a local meeting and then literally stripped – disrobing to his underwear and walking out into a snowstorm. Lots of wacky things happen in Maine and New Hampshire, but they happen in Texas and Florida, too. But readers jumped on that story.
“I gave them my uniform shirt. I gave them my turtleneck, I gave them my ballistic vest. … I sat down in the chair, took off my boots, took off my pants, put those in the chair, and put my boots back on, and walked out the door,” Richard Lee said. He didn’t have spare clothes or a ride home. He walked nearly a mile before his wife picked him up, according to the Associated Press.
The New Hampshire police chief reminded me of my very early days as a journalist in Grand Prairie, a city that offered plenty of bizarre and unusual stories, then and now, I’m sure. I even started a weekly column of unusual crimes, called Police Blotter that was extremely popular. People like the wacky and bizarre.
I’m sure I have some of the columns around, but I remember a few of the notable ones.
Stealing from grocery stores late at night was very popular. One man walked into a grocery, lifted a big ham from the freezer and then took off, running down the road with the weighty ham. The headline was “On the lam with the ham.” They were eventually caught the thief, but then what do you do with the evidence? The Grand Prairie Police evidence locker must have either had refrigeration or smelled to high heaven.
This was in the 1980s, so sweatsuits were just becoming popular. They were a boon for thieves looking to hide pilfered items. I would often list the items found in the sweatpants of shoplifters. There were pliers, hammers, cereal, the list went on and on. Sometimes there were even other sweatsuits. That list, too, I recall, once included a ham. Not quite sure why pork was so popular with thieves, but they went to lengths to procure it.
Cops really loved the column in Grand Prairie, by the way. They felt like they were always associated with bad news and the Police Blotter humanized them a bit. There was one cop there who could never spell heroin correctly, for instance. Whenever I would read his report, I would count the different ways he found to spell the word. I’m not sure any of his cases would hold up in court as he often arrested people for selling or owning “heroine” as in Wonder Woman.
And some wacky news is local. For instance, the social media sensation dubbed the “Leaning Tower of Dallas” was born when a portion of a building survived an implosion in Dallas.
After the implosion on Feb. 16 failed to bring down the core of the 11-story former Affiliated Computer Services building, the online jokes and photos began. Many, inspired by Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa, posted photos showing themselves pretending to prop up the lopsided tower.
One Twitter user quipped, “Oops, an implosion masterpiece!!” Another asked “Who needs Pisa? We have the Leaning Tower of Dallas.”
An online petition even popped up to “save this landmark from destruction,” noting, “if anything, do it for the memes.”
Lloyd Nabors, whose company is handling the demolition, said crews will use a wrecking ball to take down the remaining tower, which included the elevator shafts.
Steve Pettigrew, president of the company that created the blast plan and handled the explosives, said all of the explosives did go off.
“That type of construction with the central core and the outer columns – they’re tough, obviously,” he said.
Nabors said the tower is leaning in the direction it was intended to fall, and there aren’t any safety concerns.
The building is being demolished to make way for a $2.5 billion mixed-use project. Surely someone has suggested calling the mixed-use project, Leany McLeanface.
Yes, the world I used to publish on the back pages of the Grand Prairie Daily News now consumes our lives. Social media has made the goofy and wacky the front-page headline.
If you’re at all familiar with Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, originally published in 1985, he pretty much predicted that would happen. And it has.
Postman warns, not against the possibility of an Orwellian 1984-like Big Brother police state, but something more akin to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
In Huxley’s view, no Big Brother is required.
“As [Huxley] saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
Orwell feared the state would ban books.
“What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one,” according to Postman.
Here are some other Postman quotes to make you think.
“Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. “
“As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.”
“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
That brings us to T Bone Burnett, the musician and producer who was honored recently by Visit Fort Worth.
Burnett, a Fort Worth native, noted people are projecting idealized versions of themselves through screens, which has triggered a decline in art’s capacity to attract and charm. The image or mask people hide themselves behind have slowly became their face, Burnett said.
Social media and technology companies took the full force of Burnett’s critique. He blamed tech giants, like Facebook and YouTube, of taking over the music and art industries and “automating” it.
“Technology does only one thing – it tends towards efficiency. It has no aesthetics. It has no ethics. Its code is binary,” Burnett said. “But everything interesting in life, everything that makes life worth living happens between the binary. Mercy is not binary. Love is not binary. Music and art is not binary.”
So here I am today, 40 years later, still providing wacky news for readers. Believe me, I’m always on the lookout for the weird, bizarre and wacky. But I take Postman’s and Burnett’s criticism seriously. Wacky news belongs on the back page, not in the headlines.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.
Additional reporting from Associated Press, Neetish Basnet