Monday, March 16, 2009

"The Mother Of All Analogies"

I’ve surprised I haven’t told you this already. It’s maybe my favorite analogy formula of all time. Lemme tell you something. This thing changed my life. Okay, that’s over the top. But I promise you, after you hear it, you’ll be noticing analogizing examples everywhere you look.

The prototype appears in a football movie (and presumably the book it was based on) called North Dallas Forty, written by Peter Gent, a former Cowboys wide receiver. Here’s the situation. A ballplayer is going at it with his coach over some team policy, and the player’s getting frustrated with how the back-and-forth is proceeding. Why is he frustrated?

“Coach,” the player complains, in reference to the dispute, “when I call it a game, you call it a business. And when I call it a business, you call it a game.”

As Gary Cooper said in High Noon, though in an entirely different context, “That’s the whole thing.”

Applying the Analogy: A Current Example

By now, the Jon Stewart-Jim Cramer face-off is old news, but I write these things ahead, so this is Friday morning and the thing just happened last night. The night before on The Daily Show, Stewart touted his upcoming showdown interview with investor pro and CNBC Mad Money host Cramer, while making fun of touting the showdown at the same time. Jon Stewart can’t lose. But that’s okay. Stewart doesn’t call what he does two things. He calls it a comedy show.

I watched the interview. It was past my bedtime, but I wanted to see what was going to happen. The most important thing that happened was I was so tired the following morning, I showed up for my gym trainer appointment an hour before it was scheduled, killed the hour on the treadmill, and was exhausted before my training even started. That was the only meaningful consequence of the Big Event.

The interview itself was a letdown. I don’t know what I was expecting. A fistfight, maybe. Which says more about me, I’m afraid, than… There was no chance there was going to be a fistfight. I mean, think about it. Have you ever seen a host and a guest try to punch each other out on any interview show? It never happens. Not on the most contentious interview show on the air.

Why doesn’t it happen? Because if it did, it would upset the fundamental fantasy-structure of the interview show format – the rarely remarked-upon “host-guest” dynamic.

The host invites someone on their show. An invitation – that’s a nice thing. The guest accepts. That’s nice too. So now a mutual politeness has been established.

How do you follow up “mutual politeness” with punching and hitting? That’s not polite! Not only that, but this happens one time, and nobody goes on that show anymore.

“You want to go on the show?’


“Why not?

“The guy hits people!”

The “host-guest” dynamic has no room for fisticuffs. It’s a civilized environment. Look on the desks. There’s coffee. Sitting in mugs with the show’s logo on them. Who knows? If you behave, you may even get to take your coffee mug home.

Okay, back to The Interview. Jon Stewart, the righteous Man of the People, is railing against, not just Cramer, but the entire corps of CNBC insiders who missed the story of the market crash and misled and possibly deceived a public that took their advice and predictions seriously

And now they’re poor!

Cramer sits there in his costume – suit pants, yellow tie and a pastel shirt with the sleeves rolled up – acting like a kid who’s been sent to the principal’s office and just wants to get out of the place alive. What’s his strategy? It’s classic “Rope-a-Dope.” No attacking. No defending his actions. Just bob and weave, and run out the clock.

“You’re right. I was bad. It was wrong. I promise I’ll do better.”

Can I go back to class now?

You can tell Stewart’s frustrated. He can’t lay a glove on the guy.

“But, but, but…sputter, sputter, sputter…attacks, accusations, a few bleeped expletives…

And it’s over.

And nothing happened.

They shake hands, thanks for watching, and good night.

Why did nothing happen? Here’s why.

The heart of Stewart’s complaint was this:

“You geniuses at CNBC are not doing your jobs!”

The problem is

They are.

What job is that? The only job they care about:

Making money for CNBC.

Busini-tainment. A fabulous enterprise. Totally legal, and it works like this:

“What is this show?”

“It’s experts offering investment advice.”

“Their advice lost me all my money.”

“You listened to a television show?”

Sound familiar?

“When I call it a show, you call it experts. And when I call it experts, you call it a show.”

I told you it was a great analogy. It works in all situations.

Just not for us.


Jess Kiley said...

Earl, you were my first stop this morning. You must be going up in my internal ratings system.

I'm with you, 100%. It'd be one thing if Cramer's show was at 7pm on NBC, but woven into CNBC, with all those tickers at the top and bottom of the screen, with actual facts on them.

Maybe if they switched Cramer out for a sensible woman, whose biases and motivations were laid out for all to see, then CNBC could walk in good conscience. If that type of logic factors into any of the production companies these days.

Kathy said...

I know one interview that actually ended up in a fistfight, if you want to sate your curiosity for what it might have been like if Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer had gotten into a cage match.

It was Jim Everett and Jim Rome on ESPN, when Rome wouldn't stop calling his guest "Chris" (subtly calling him a woman, an obvious reference to Chris Everett, the female tennis player).

Jess Kiley said...

You know what Kathy, you're right. I expect more from Jon Stewart. Supposedly the king of physical comedy, and all of us ex-Jim Cramer fans know a show doesn't go by without Jim snuggling on the ground with stuffed animals, slicing the air with dollar store sabers, and aiming quivers full of arrows at Target signs.

A fist fight would've been the least Earl could expect from these boys. But Earl's a professional, he'd leave room for creative improvisation, Jimmy Fallon style. He'd have thought ahead and made sure all the cameras were angled just so, to maximize the audience's enjoyment of that faux-action.

Were Earl in charge, as he reigns bold and supreme in our online comedy experiences. Sure wish CNBC and whoever owns Jon's ass, had a clue.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow, let's take on THE WEATHER GUYS. That is, for those parts of the country that actually HAVE weather.

Jess Kiley said...

A. Buck Short, great idea, just about covers everyone, doesn't it? I'm afraid if we get Earl started telling everyone how to do their jobs better, we'll lose him as our BEST COMEDY COACH ON THE WEB. Too risky.

Anonymous said...

This is all I have managed to get out of this:

1- CNBC is filled with right-wing lunatics who think they know stocks.

2- MSNBC is filled with left-wing lunatics who think they know economics.

3- NBC is filled with unhinged lunatics who think they know programming.

Jess Kiley said...

And Earl's blog is filled with...

Momversation fans!!!