Saturday, November 5, 2011

Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes Dead: In the End Rooney Showed His Hand, The Legacy of a Petty and Ungracious Man

Andy Rooney was well known for his role as a broadcaster with the CBS television news and opinion program, 60’s Minutes. His relationship with CBS and 60’s Minutes involved more than his segment at the end of the program called “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney”, (1978-2011). However, it was this special feature which enabled viewers to come to know Andy Rooney more closely.

The nature of television and film is an uncertain one when it comes to attempting to ascertain from the personalities involved what personal properties are being displayed and what can be determined about someone merely from such a production. That is to say, even with news and information broadcasts, we are somewhat limited in understanding who and what the character and personality of the face we see performing his or her job really may be. This was particularly true during the first forty years of television, but during the last twenty to thirty years this has changed. Even professional news broadcasters have permitted far more personal exercise in their reporting or anchoring than ever before. Unlike earlier days when we saw glimpses of the person giving the news, today we see all the way up to unbridled displays of personality on television by those who both report and comment on news as well as providing clear and certain demonstrations of their character (or lack thereof) so that we may fairly say we understand the general nature, character and psyche of some of these people.

One of the contributors to this crossover was the morning news programs which rapidly became a mixed bag of serious news and personal issues where the hosts would switch back and forth from one context to the other. And what viewers learned was that often what their intuition told them, what their instinct lead them to suspect, was sometimes accurate about these normally dispassionate news persons. (As a side note, if one is ever going to be treated as a serious news anchor, it is best not to be part of such mixed-bag programs because as was demonstrated by Katie Couric, you take the character and personality you so clearly and deliberately printed on others about yourself to your now, supposedly, objective anchor job, which simply cannot be done. You are what you have taught your audience to think about you which is generally just what you are in the first place.)

So what does all this have to do with Andy Rooney? Quite a bit. While much of his show was “play acting” but much of it was not. That is, what you saw in Andy Rooney was an elevation of his real person, a fundamentally small and petty man who lacked graciousness with the world around him which showered him with appreciation and praise.

Rooney was a writer by training and wrote the words of many for many years. But when it came time for him to choose his own words, he often was inconsiderate and reckless. This is not to say Rooney did not make contributions, the worst and best of humanity all make contributions. This is about something else.

This is about a man who used a platform afforded to him by a network which presumed an audience and a hearing. As a result he garnered fans, followers, those who viewed him for the pleasure of hating him and groups who simply wanted to hear what odd quirk or complaint Rooney would discuss early on a Sunday evening.

But what escaped Rooney and often many personalities in film and in television, is that they become defacto guests in the homes of others. They deliberately project their personalities into the homes, hearts and minds of those watching. And while some programs are purely fictional, still even in these cases they are soliciting, in the least, an audience and the audience’s attention. And such people prosper from these audiences when they are successful enough to have a viewership that warrants the continuation of their broadcast.

So in his final broadcast Rooney displayed the very lack of graciousness and the very real smallness and pettiness of his person in his final broadcast to which the title of my post refers. Here he had the opportunity to manifest a recognition that his prosperity and professional and personal well-being had much to do with his fans and those that permitted his entrance into their homes as their guest for his rhetorical vignette. Instead, here are some quotes that portray the miniature constitution and fractured consideration that guided Rooney:

One quote demonstrates Rooney’s inability to accept the reality of his own role in stating:

To me, of course, the reason of wanting to still think of himself as a writer and not a television personality is because to accept the truth that he was, in fact, a television personality and secured a prosperous career as one would involve the responsibilities and acknowledgments that went with this. And as I stated, smallness often resists these kinds of things and clearly Rooney did.

Rooney also admitted that while he got a great deal of fan mail, he rarely read or answered it. That’s right, of whom he sought and audience to listen to his appeals, Rooney, himself, had little interest in their thoughts, even their compliments. This admission reveals a terribly inconsiderate character. Much like a child who wants to be heard but does not have time for the voice of others.

Lest someone accuse me of bias, I will let Andy Rooney speak for himself: 

Often people in the media, even the worst of them, are lionized for their accomplishments while their offenses are minimized. Maybe there is something to be said about Andy Rooney accomplishing a television career as he did which might impact criticisms toward him. But this is not about that, it is about something else. Something we must understand which is what pettiness, smallness and overall self-centeredness looks like and sounds like and what those who benefit from it appear as, in minimizing or defending it.

You see, fame and material fortune are not default rewards for good character, enlarging one’s person or considerate living. But in the world, particularly today when much of media are influenced by the juvenile dispositions of Crybaby Boomers or those one and two generations removed from them whose collective definition of virtue is just that - being famous and possessing material wealth-  it is important to draw attention to what is genuinely of value.

If any of you actually believe that you can make a living by being a guest (whether in person or via some other medium) in the homes of millions of people and then treat their interest with a certain form of pompous contempt while believing you can offer excuses of “this is my weakness, so sorry”, you are mistaken. Know this, you are petty,  small and quite lacking in even elementary grace. Maybe it is an inconvenience while you eat dinner, shop or go about in your social activities to have strangers come up and wish to have a moment of your time. But remember, you are no stranger to them; you made a living from having their attention on a weekly basis. And particularly if you are a Christian and believe this is apropos, you are even more erring than Mr. Rooney was.

Finally, if some of you are wishing to stomp a foot and huff and puff with the declaration that Rooney had a right to some privacy or even to conduct his life in as small a manner as he wished, you are right. I do not deny that certain contexts of privacy are to be respected for all. But I am sorry friend, if you wish to make a living as a television personality or any kind of famous individual, then public pursuit is part of the package and either you can demonstrate your character as gracious, thoughtful and possessing the capacity for such responsibility or you can be an Andy Rooney who wishes to enjoy all the benefits of such a context but ignore its responsibilities.

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