CSotD: Press Freedom, and writing in general

Ann Telnaes reminds us that this is World Press Freedom Day. Telnaes is active in the topic year ’round and you’ll note that she includes words, images and sound in her media roundup.

But I’d also point out, in case you missed it, that the visible brushstrokes and jagged edges suggest art made by a prisoner on a cell wall, using limited tools and blacking.

And Bado points out Ali Miraee‘s winning entry in he 23rd World Press Freedom International Editorial Cartoon Competition. It’s much more specific than Telnaes’s general plea for freedom, and comes at a particularly good time, since Musk is back in the news, threatening to allow the creation and posting of fake NPR materials as punishment for their withdrawal from Twitter.

His purposeful manipulation of news and information is well captured in Miraee’s cartoon, and it makes me, at least, wonder if he has some dark intention or is simply going insane.

Not that it matters which, in the end.

For more on this sort of thing, I’ll offer this link to yesterday’s posting, which I might have saved for today had I realized World Press Freedom Day was so close.

There is some serendipity in WPFD coming along with the Writer’s Guild strike, which latter occasion Bill Bramhall marks with a reminder that AI is a threat to writers and is part of the mix in the Guild’s attempts to come up with a fair contract.

It reminds me, though, of a minor breakthrough in the ’90s, when someone developed a computer program that would write local sports stories.

It couldn’t cover the league championships, but if you fed in the final score, the leading scorer and a few other standard details, it would crank out one of those one-paragraph wrap-ups that fill the pages of local papers. Coaches already called in the material and this was supposed to replace the poor sod in charge of writing it all up.

I never heard of very many papers actually using it, but, linked to Bramhall’s commentary, I do kind of suspect that it wouldn’t take a very sophisticated program to crank out the monologues for Carson’s last several years when he was phoning it in.

The first show I time-shifted with my new video recorder was Letterman, when he was fresh and inventive, and I’d watch it with my kids, who were in elementary school, over breakfast.

I mention their ages because, by the time elder son was in college, his crew had a drinking game based on what wisecrack from his monologue Letterman would return to over and over again throughout the show.

The term “hack” for a writer who produces drivel for money, BTW, comes from hackney, a horse-drawn taxi. The way to argue against AI, is to be more creative and more innovative than a mere hireling.

One Guild complaint is that they aren’t being asked to write 26 episodes of a sitcom. A streamer may only want six or eight installments. You can’t get up the speed to jump the shark in only six episodes.

But writing for late night TV is a full-time job, or, at least, was. As this article by Brian Stelter suggests, late night ratings are so fragmented and fading that James Corden’s “retirement” spells the end of the Late Late Show. It may be cheaper to replace writers with computers, but it’s even cheaper than that to give up on a format that nobody is watching anyway.

My first reaction was that they ought to return to late movies, but then I realized that there’s a reason streaming is killing broadcast TV: I don’t watch movies that are constantly interrupted by commercials.

Oh well. A century was a pretty good run for the concept.

Even if, as Dorman Smith suggested, the purists were outraged by the commercialization of their prized medium.

I really do wish the writers well, but they’ve got a thick lot of vines to hack their way through. Those late night show hosts are, Stelter reports, making some $20 million a year, and networks are asking “For what?”

Writers at some of the streamer giants have a solid case to make, given the poor return they get for their work. Still, if there are no new episodes of Yellowstone during the strike, they could just cut in old Dallas shows and superimpose some nudity and cussin’.

I’ll bet nobody in that prized 25-to-54-year-old demographic would recognize the old episodes, and the original writers — or their estates — would get the residuals.

If it works, dig out the old Dynasty tapes and just replace everything.

After all, as Mr Boffo says, you don’t know what the public will fall for until you give it a shot.

Can’t you segue into something more pleasant?

In fact, I can, because, in today’s Frazz (AMS), Caulfield makes both an observation about freedom of the press and a cleverly crafted pun.

The freedom statement is self-evident, but the cleverness of the pun is that it’s set up with an array of bands that brings in most readers regardless of age.

I came upon Frazz this morning after seeing several strips in which there was a pun followed by a fourth panel in which the cartoonist apologizes by having other characters express hatred for the punster. By contrast, Dr. Spaetzle appreciates Caulfield’s cleverness.

I don’t understand the hostility towards puns, but, then, I’m on record as enjoying gags that make you stop and think. I also enjoy a good shaggy dog story because I get a kick, in both cases, out of being fooled and led somewhere unexpected and silly.

For a lot of people, I guess being forced to change mental directions is threatening. And, certainly, there are people — motorcycle bandits and suchlike — to whom you don’t tell jokes that risk making them feel stupid.

But either tell the joke or don’t. Don’t tell it and then apologize. Own it.

The advantage of a single panel cartoon like Bizarro (KFS) is that you don’t have space in which to both tell the joke and then apologize, or, for that matter, to explain the collective term for a group of walruses.

Herd of walruses? Why, soitenly.

Whales also gather in pods, mind you, but walruses have more defined heads. Excellent choice.

Anyway, tell the joke, or don’t, but don’t let fear of stupid people hold you back.

My 10-year-old friends and I really liked this song. It made us feel clever.

9 thoughts on “CSotD: Press Freedom, and writing in general

  1. Did you know that there are actually pun contests?? I’m just finished the book, “A field guide to awkward silences” by Alexandra Petri, in which one of her essays is about a punning contest. She entered, of course, wanting to be an embedded journalist and her essay is quite interesting. Entertaining, too, as are her other essays.

  2. Our local AAA baseball team (Rochester Red Wings) issues post-game news releases written by “Caktus AI” – which is a program, not a grizzled veteran of one of the Southwestern leagues.

  3. Stephen Pastis with “Pearls Before Swine” is the king of puns and final-panel retribution (sometimes a literal punch line). Especially in the expanded Sunday strips, when the reader can tell that a ridiculous groaner is being set up but may not be able to figure it out until the very end. He *works* at it.

  4. Not sure I was clear when I said cartoonists should “either tell the joke or don’t. Don’t tell it and then apologize. Own it.” and then praised Frazz and Bizarro for not apologizing for their puns.

    Puns are nothing to be ashamed of, though Tom’s use of “groaner” prompts me to note that I once owned a turtle named Howard. Only Canadians of a certain age will know the connection. (I’m still in love — https://greetergrammer1.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/our-pal-michele-from-razzle-dazzle/ )

  5. My favorite shaggy dog story ends with “If Life gives Yul emmins, make Clem an aide”. Can’t find it online anymore though. The set up had “emmins” as a fatal disease you might get from eating contaminated cereal, and Yul and Clem working for the same boss.

    1. I can’t help but parody that further as: “If life gives Euell Gibbons, he’ll eat anything!” Of course, besides the pun on the pun, I do lose the parody object at the end.

      I loved those jokes on Match Game, Carol Burnett (esp. Tim playing him in a “commercials come alive” sketch), and the Dean Martin Roasts – I recently saw one where the man himself was on, thus being in on the joke, which made them even cooler. And only nowadays can I see the jokes from the Tonight Show as well.

      Old?! Whaddaya mean old? It was only 1974, right…?

  6. I saw an interview with Steve Martin years ago, when he had just made “Roxanne.” He went into a bar to use the restroom while still wearing his Cyrano de Bergerac nose. There was a motorcycle gang in the bar and Martin thought “Uh-oh.” One of the bikers looked at Martin and completely deadpan asked “Hey Buddy. Why the long face?”

    On my first date with my future wife back in 1988 or so, I told her my favorite shaggy dog joke, ending with “A Benny shaved is a Benny urned.” She laughed. I think I knew then she might be “the one.” 🙂

  7. A lot of puns have long, detailed build-ups — people who live in grass houses shouldn’t stow thrones — but there is no actual connection between puns and shaggy dog stories. They are different formats entirely. I’ll deal with this at some length (there’s a joke in there) this Monday. Stay tuned.

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