Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

TV Idea: Anderson Cooper as a Humanitarian Indiana Jones … Seriously!

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on May 15, 2008

Once upon a time, the novel functioned as news source—or so Salman Rushdie argued at a Vanderbilt lecture last year. According to Rushdie, authors of fiction have a responsibility to inform the public of world news. A prime example is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. There was no literal “Uncle Tom”, but the plight of his character informed and motivated many more in the American North to protest against the institution of slavery when, up until that point, it had been ignored by mainstream newspapers.

Today, literate or not, most people regularly choose TV and movies over books. Therefore, in an effort to get the word out with immediacy, I propose TV ought to shoulder a bit of the book’s former burden. Maybe hour-long fiction can bring us greater truth than we imagine. And maybe Anderson Cooper could be the basis of a character designed to do so.

Think about it, this guy purposefully seeks out war, famine, natural disasters … every imaginable catastrophe. When he started off, he couldn’t get into the news business, so he got a fake press pass, a home camcorder, and flew to the Thai-Burmese border. Luckily, the footage he got of trouble brewing there was bought by Channel One, enabling students like myself to watch him risk life and limb every week during snack time. He’s like a humanitarian Indiana Jones!

In Dispatches from the Edge, he writes extensively about his disgust for the unsavory aspects of his own profession; both when he feels like he’s exploiting or trivializing the pain of others (as when trying to determine the person with the most horrifying image or most tragic story in order to maximize emotional impact on the audience) and when he’s enraged that the media so quickly returns to its normal mishmash of newstainment while important stories are forgotten (covering gossip about Britney Spears and the like while neglecting to update the rest of the nation on the rebuilding of New Orleans). His mixed feelings about his job make his story all the more powerful. He’s an insider who, in many ways, would prefer to be an outsider, yet feels compelled to seek out the world’s pain, because he needs it in order to feel his own, and he wants to help. Most importantly, he vividly described scenes and stories that weren’t easy sound bites, but which were a great deal more revealing than your average news broadcast. That’s something we could use a great deal more of; and a television show would be the ideal format to do so.

So, create a character loosely based on him, with perhaps personal tragedies helping him to relate to the horror he sees. (Similar to, but in no way copying, the real Mr. Cooper, as that would be exploitative and grotesquely insensitive. Significantly, the best parts of the book are where, despite his painful experiences being utterly different from those of anyone else he met, the experience of tragedy itself becomes universal, and sympathy for the hardships of others is earned.
Personal trials are important in that they teach sympathy for the suffering of others and, hopefully, motivate us to work on their behalf. That is a very important part of what creative fiction could give us: fuller perspective and greater sympathy for both the frailty and strength of human beings facing tragedy.) A sympathetic, noble, yet flawed and conflicted character reporting on real world events, particularly disasters, would provide plenty of drama to hold an audience captive while simultaneously doing a great public service.

Really, this isn’t even that new an idea. Law and Order takes headlines and turns them into an hour long plot; Boston Legal is inspired by current events and the workings of the American legal system; so why not carry this idea beyond our own shores? Or even within the U.S. there’s plenty of material to work with; plenty of poverty, injustice, and corruption to expose. Why not use that to captivate an audience while doing the important public service of informing us all what’s really going on? Context and narrative makes information more engaging and memorable. Let’s show current events that way.

One Response

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  1. tina said, on May 27, 2008 at 6:30 pm


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