Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Obama is a Fly-Killer

The news here is not that President Obama killed a fly. I fully anticipate that any standing president is fully capable of killing flies, mosquitoes, mice, rats, cockroaches, lobbyists, lawyers and other vermin that may pester him. Or her. He or she mey indeed have a Secret Service member or other staffer wholly dedicated to the eradication of vermin.

What is news here is that Obama killing a fly made it on the news.

Being a former journalist I know what it means to have an eye for detail, and that catching a little detail, such as President Obama killing a fly, is a great way to introduce some humanity into a piece without actually having to do any work to find something with which to humanize the subject. Writers in general are aces at doing this kind of thing. I did it frequently in the stories I wrote for the paper, and continue to do it now. But this kind of detail really only works if it adds to the story. Many a time I can count adding in a piece of detail just for the sake of adding in a piece of detail. It's writerly in the sense that it's easy, but it's not writerly in the sense that it actually contributes to the story. Now perhaps I'm seeing this fly-killing out of context. If, perhaps, Obama killed the fly while prepping for an interview on, say, North Korea, the act of killing the fly would send a subtle let chilling message to Kim Jong Il. But if he were talking about, say, health care reform, the fly's death might just serve as an apt but poor metaphor for the state of health care in the United States. What I'm getting at here is that the mere act of killing a fly, even if it's killed by the POTUS, isn't necessarily news. Unless you're the Daily Show and can come up with a clever gag to go with it. Which they might.

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