On Tuesday morning, the news headlines on the radio that I listen to while having breakfast mentioned that president Obama had shaken hands with Cuban president Raul Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. I immediately said to myself that this would be treated as a huge story in our shallow media and I was not disappointed.
There was breathless discussion all that day about the handshake. Should Obama have shaken hands with Castro at all? Was it planned or spontaneous? What did it mean? Was it some form of subtle diplomatic overture, presaging a thaw in relations between the two countries? The fascination with the handshake only let up to allow for discussions about the president and two other leaders taking a selfie.
The fuss was even more bizarre considering that president Bill Clinton shook hands with president Fidel Castro back in 2000, so this was not even unprecedented.
The increased media obsession with this kind of triviality reminds me of nothing less than the kinds of things that adolescents fret about during that stage of life when romantic relationships are fraught with anxiety and every look or gesture is analyzed to detect clues about the other person’s intentions.
Jon Stewart shares my sense that our media is hopeless.
(This clip aired on December 10, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)