PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

A Current Affair

Michael Buening

The Current Affair universe swings between poles of outrageous horror and humor.


A Current Affair

Airtime: Weekdays, Times vary
Cast: Tim Green
Network: Syndicated
Amazon

In 1986, Fox's A Current Affair invented the tabloid news magazine. It taught us that a suspect moving in slow motion is guilty until proven innocent, that camcorders are a scandal's best friend, and that we live on an unfathomably dangerous planet.

I loved this show growing up, but to tell you the truth, I can't recall many specific images or stories. All I remember is feeling a fiery range of emotions, from scared to excited to vengeful. The original transposed Rupert Murdoch's sensational entertainment as investigative journalism to resounding success in television. Its influence was visible in direct rip-offs like Hard Copy and true crime shows like America's Most Wanted, then extended to network news magazines like 20/20 and Dateline NBC. Now, with the advent of 24-hour news scandals and bi-monthly Trials of the Century, there is no such thing as tabloid news. It is the news.

This tabloid timeline might make A Current Affair seem responsible for the Long Island Lolita, the Bronco chase, Jesus juice, and the fall of Western Civilization. But now that it has been resurrected (its new incarnation debuted 21 March), A Current Affair looks surprisingly modest. It reminds me of a "Golden Age," when Fox News didn't mean rabid patriots and screaming pundits but wet T-shirt contests, serial killers, and Rob Lowe's sexcapades. The new Current Affair world is still a Grim America of unpredictable never-ending violence, Satanic cults, and out-of-control libidos delivered with a knowing wink.

Each episode follows the original's three-segment format. The first details a horrific crime (this will sometimes take up the second segment as well); the second is a heartwarming story usually involving a horrific crime (a lawyer loses his hands in a bomb blast, somebody finds his wedding ring years later); and the third is a titillating and/or humorous sorbet to cleanse your traumatized palate. In an inspired move that set my heart aflutter, the producers also decided to use the original Trump-meets-Nagel pyramid graphic and "do-di-do-di bong" sound effect.

Ex-Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green is a natural fit as anchor. He's got Bill O'Reilly's arrogant smirk, Maury Povich's stern but good-natured demeanor, a hint of Geraldo's pomp, and a mischievous glimmer that says, "I'm pretending like I'm your friend, but I could totally kick your ass." He strains to play nice, a pleasant approach compared to the mad histrionics on-air personalities use trying to jockey up the cable news ladder.

Besides an update on the trial of Debra LaFaye (described as "the statuesque blond who has come to embody the teacher sex epidemic sweeping America"), A Current Affair avoids national scandals in order to explore suburban horrors and hijinks. The show has made one clear 21st century update in its preference for today's principal boogeyman, the scary teenager. In its first week, four of the five main stories were teen-related, three about killer kids. The stories are horrible and upsetting, but the repetition makes disturbing generalizations about teen violence. Outcast adolescents are unknowable aliens who form groups like "The Crew," dabble in the "Goth subculture," have "strange sexual habits," and listen to "bizarre music." They're basically immoral automatons taught by the media and the Internet to murder. Branding children as a Village of the Damned-style menace became commonplace in the media after the Columbine tragedy. Watching A Current Affair pick up the mantle so enthusiastically after some of the fervor had died down is distressing.

The Current Affair universe swings between poles of outrageous horror and humor. As Green says, "When we give you something heavy, we're gonna try to give you something light to end up on." The final portion of the show is usually fun, newsmagazines at their harmless best, and one gonzo reporter away from a Daily Show bit. The debut episode featured a publicity-hungry Virginia politician who tried to outlaw "backside cleavage." The bill was set to pass until the plumbers' union squashed it, because it "jeopardized their way of doing business."

A Current Affair, like all tabloid news, is still guilty of trafficking in fear, a cheap ploy that promotes paranoia and ignorance. Affair concentrates on sleazing up local stories; cable news now uses the same hit-the-panic button tactics on national and international level topics. This can be fun and the manipulations laughably obvious, but there's a devastating potential in spinning one-sided half-truths, as seen in the machinations of our newest media juggernaut, the Republican party. They have mastered tabloid story-telling tactics (along with prepackaged video clips, commentators, on-staff "reporters," aircraft carrier hooplas, and lock-step talking points) to distract from their lies, swindles, ineptitudes, and destruction in America's good name. Distraction is tabloid's result. Instead of discussing societal and individual factors in the development of troubled teens, we hear about psychopathic killers; instead of analyzing the United States' torture policies, we see stories on Jessica Lynch.

The first A Current Affair debuted during the Reagan years, when the U.S. was pumped full of the Red Menace, the war on drugs, and inner city violence. After September 11, Republicans exaggerated another very real environment of fear to pursue their own goals, and it's no wonder that Fox (which has already benefited greatly from trumpeting GOP talking points) thought this would be the perfect environment to re-launch their show.

Wait! Power, corruption, secret torture chambers -- somebody get a camcorder, I've got a great idea for a story.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.