The Commentator Culture

Last weekend, as with almost every weekend this fall, the college football pundits were proven wrong once more as Oklahoma upset Missouri and West Virginia lost. The commentators were wrong. All this got me to thinking about just that — commentators.

We have sports commentators, who are “experts” on everything from bowling, golf, and football to anything that appears on some form of television — and that’s anything that’s professional, in additional to the collegiate “money” sports. We have financial commentators. We have political commentators. We have news analysts and commentators. We have religious commentators. We even have F&SF reviewers and commentators.

Yet all too many of these commentators are really just dressed-up versions of Monday morning quarterbacks, with explanations of why things happened after they already did. Pardon me, but anyone with a certain amount of intelligence and knowledge about a field ought to be able to explain what did happen. But how many of them, particularly outside of sports, have that good an average in predicting what will happen?

Besides, what about the old idea of thinking for one’s self? Doesn’t anyone think out their own views — by themselves — any more?

While it’s always been obvious that a certain percentage of any population is unable to formulate coherent and logical opinions about much of anything, I have to wonder whether many are even trying these days. Oh, I’m certain that people retain that capability, but with instant polls on everything from whether anyone agrees with what Celebrity X is doing to who leads in what Presidential primary state or whether the results of the Hugo voting are superior to the results of the World Fantasy Awards or whether some other writers and books really deserved the “award,” we’re inundated with commentary and interpretation of news, polls, and events, so much so that it’s often hard to find a complete set of facts by which one might, just might, have the opportunity to make a judgment based on facts, rather than on commentary.

It almost seems that, in more and more fields, commentary is replacing facts and news about the events, as if readers and viewers could not be bothered with learning the facts and deciding by themselves. I know that I have to take and read more and more periodicals, often more obscure ones, just to find information. Even news stories in the local papers are filled with speculations and commentaries on why something happened, so much so that it’s difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to discover the facts.

I’m dating myself, but I really miss the attitude of Jack Webb on the old Dragnet, when he’d say, “Just the facts, sir, just the facts.”

That’s one reason why I’ve been so pleased with the unpredictability of the college football season. At least somewhere, real life is destroying the false image of the infallibility of “professional” commentators.