Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Millions of Americans Suffer from It, and Now There Is Help

If you are like me, you often find our culture a bit overwhelming. From the hundreds of magazines clamoring for your attention, to the thousands of cable channels fighting for your screentime, to the millions of websites begging for your clickthroughs, information overload is an unavoidable side effect of being a modern American. This is a condition called infomania, and thankfully, there is a cure. Targeting the media for laughs is exactly what one needs after a long week of being targeted by the media.

infoMania – the TV show – is not entirely unique. This half-hour, weekly show, on a little cable network called Current TV, bears a considerable resemblance to The Soup; it features a snarky, young guy with a skinny tie, standing in front of a green screen, riffing on pop culture. The show was also created by one of the original Daily Show creators. Make no mistake, though: it is far more incisive than The Soup and it bears none of the political pretensions that The Daily Show does. infoMania is committed to exposing the absurdity in modern pop culture, not becoming complicit in it.

The show is composed of a number of segments, most of which are presented by host, Conor Knighton. He may seem like a typical twenty/thirtysomething cable host, but his talents reveal themselves quickly. His comments are far sharper and quicker than Joel McHale's or Jon Stewart's, and he manages to deliver scathing criticism without ever approaching pretentiousness. His biggest advantage is the lack of a live audience. No comic ever got funnier while smirking at his audience's laughter. This omission also frees the show to move very quickly through its consistently hilarious segments.

Knighton always leads off with what he calls "The Big Stories," but he is not playing newsman; what he considers a story is how everyone else handles a story. Last week, the segment consisted of a cringe-inducing round-up of cable news puns on Tiger Woods' name ("Woods isn't out of the woods yet!"), clips of MSNBC interrupting serious news stories for meaningless, new details on the Woods scandal (New pictures of the fabled fire hydrant!) and all of the best scenes from TLC's I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant (tip: if you get off of the toilet, only to find an infant staring up at you, the infant should be removed from the toilet immediately). It may sound quite a bit like The Soup, but where Joel McHale takes potshots at a reality TV stars – and thereby plays into their attention whoring – Knighton and his writers are more interested in making larger points about our culture. (Did you know that there's a war going on?) It is nice to be able to laugh without turning off your brain.

Knighton presents a number of other segments, such as "We've Got You Covered," where he burns through the week in magazines, but he is also backed up by an extremely strong group of co-hosts. Sergio Cilli handles "The White-Hot Top 5," where he counts down current music hits with all of the bone-dry sarcasm of a college radio station employee – but with a vital touch of self-consciousness.

Sarah Haskins hosts "Target: Women," where she mocks all of the shameless manipulation that ads utilize to, well, target women. Bryan Safi gleefully picks apart the media's portrayal of gays in "That's Gay." Ben Hoffman lethargically reviews all of the week's new, useless gadgets in "Tech Report." And Brett Erlich hosts "Viral Video Film School," where he provides instructions on how to become part of YouTube's more bizarre and disturbing trends.

The result is a program that digests seven days' worth of media and pop culture dreck into something tolerable, fun, and even thought-provoking. By the time the end credits roll, I feel as if I have ever-so-briefly gotten my head above the ever-rising tide of information, thankful that someone else realizes how ridiculous it all is. Even better, there is no built-in hypocrisy to be found. Unlike Joel McHale, Conor Knighton is not employed by the very people he is mocking; Current TV is independent and infoMania is widely available online. Hulu, YouTube and iTunes all have every episode of the series available for free. For victims of infomania, it looks like quality healthcare is affordable.

1 comment:

Billy said...

Sarah Haskins is one of my heroes - a truly intelligent social critic who points out the absurdities of advertising to women. If you get a chance, watch her 'best of' episode.