Live from Egypt… the illusion of information

What can a poor boy do?

I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants.Street Fighting Man,” Rolling Stones, 1968

Rocks are being thrown on the CBS newscast. At MSNBC, Rachel Maddow is telling me what a Molotov cocktail is. Her backdrop is a video loop of someone throwing a Molotov at a crowd on a bridge in Cairo. The bottle of gasoline lands and ignites, scrawling rings of fire in the night as it rolls along the bridge. The sequence, playing over and over, is beautiful and ultimately sleep-inducing, which is OK, because it’s late and there’s really no news.

In fact, the closer the news crews get to the Egyptian street fights, the less we learn about the big picture. Anderson Cooper of CNN is so close, he gets punched in the head for his trouble. We learn that Cooper is a gutsy fellow, but we still don’t know why the army let pro-Mubarak goons into Tahrir Square. We don’t know what, if anything, Barack Obama is doing to compel Mubarak to step down, or whether it would be a good idea for protest leaders to meet with Mubarak’s henchmen. We don’t know for sure who the real leaders are. Who will step forward to speak, and will the spokespersons represent the wishes of the protesters?

This is the fun part of the fight, before the guys with the guns step in. It feels good to lose yourself in the crowd, to become the crowd, especially when you aspire to something noble. What can a poor boy do, `cept to sing rock ‘n’ roll or throw rocks? (My fondest childhood memories of Southwest Philly.) What could be more heartening than the thunderous rumble of you and your homeys beating lengths of pipe against plastic shields, the sound of solidarity, striking fear in your enemies?

The hypocrites in Washington, D.C., are mostly silent. Eventually, the protesters and the rest of the world will find out whether Egypt has got past first base in its bid to rid itself of oppressive rulers. Meanwhile, let’s not kid ourselves that what we’re watching on TV and the Internet is anything more than infotainment, or that talking heads are in the know, or that tweeting and Facebooking amount to anything more than vicarious involvement in events we don’t yet understand.

We rarely hear news of who’s really running the show in America, despite 24/7 coverage by the media. Why should we assume we’re learning anything about who will run Egypt?

Footnote: “It’s quite possible that if Mubarak had not ruled Egypt as a dictator for the last 30 years, the World Trade Center would still be standing…” from Ross Douthat, of all people.

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