McGinnis: The night Santa cameWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I pulled into the Clear Channel parking lot at about 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 14, a full half-hour before our call time. It was already starting to get dark in Downtown Toledo. It’s usually the earliest of morning hours when I arrive at Clear Channel, a quick McDonald’s breakfast in my belly and sleep barely swept from my consciousness. On this day, I was wide awake — in more ways than one.
I turned off the car and saw with a start of surprise that Michael Miller, my boss and friend, was already there as well. He rushed over to me before I could even get out of the car, and I noted with surprise that there were tears rolling down his cheeks.
I had never seen Michael cry before. That unsettled me as much as anything had.
“How are we supposed to do this?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
We’d been planning this show for weeks. A special edition of “Eye on Your Weekend,” our pop culture discussion show on 1370 WSPD, where we would have Santa Claus as our special guest. We would spend the whole hour talking to that right jolly old elf, and kids from all over the area would call in with questions and to tell St. Nick their Christmas lists, live on the air. It would be a fun show, and maybe we’d give some children a beautiful holiday memory.
But mere hours after the Newtown, Conn., shootings hit the nation like a collective punch to the gut, going through with it didn’t seem so cut and dry. How could we maintain our composure? What would the kids ask? How could we do a silly Christmas thing at a time when the world is grieving? Were we being disrespectful by even trying?
There is much discussion in the wake of any tragedy of the media’s role in its coverage. Some things are pretty obviously wrong and disgusting — shoving cameras and microphones in the faces of kids who just survived the attack being one of them. Seriously, dudes, have some humanity.
But there’s a lot of gray area as well. There is much discussion about whether simply by giving the killer and his crimes this much airtime, those in the media are prolonging the pain of those who lost loved ones and perhaps even hastening the next crime of its sort.
“People will hate me,” Lee Harvey Oswald says in the final sequence of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins.” “They’ll hate you with a passion, Lee,” he’s told in response. “Imagine people having passionate feelings about Lee Harvey Oswald.” To those desperate for attention, committing a horrific act can seem like the quickest route to recognition. The sad thing is, it works.
We remember Oswald, Booth, Sirhan and Chapman almost as readily as we remember JFK, Lincoln, RFK and Lennon. By so thoroughly focusing on the crime and, by extension, glorifying the criminal, are we inspiring others to follow in his wake?
But we can’t ignore that something terrible occurred. We can’t ignore the 26 lives lost at the school. Maybe the solution is to focus on them — to think of the children and adults who will never see another Christmas and not the maniac who denied them
that. All this passed through my head as I looked at Michael.
“I trust your judgment as much as anyone else I’ve ever met,” I said. “And maybe tonight will be a nice rest from everything that’s happened.”
As Jim Beard and James A. Molnar, our partners in crime, arrived at the studio, a course of action became clear. We’d do the show as planned. We’d try to do a fun show. We’d give some wonderful memories to some kids. We’d laugh, that we might not cry.
I hope we did the right thing that night — for ourselves as much as our listeners — by trying to do so. We weren’t ignoring what had occurred in Connecticut that day. Michael’s opening of the show (“This is Evan and Sean’s daddy. I know … I know a lot of parents have heavy hearts tonight, but we have a special show planned for your kids and we’re going to carry it through to keep your Christmas spirits up.”) and when he threw it to me at the end to contribute a quote from John Lennon’s “Imagine” made it clear that the tragedy was not far from our thoughts.
But for the rest of the hour, we tried to live in a world where joy still existed, where the magic of the season lived unabated and where Santa would sit in a studio for an hour to listen to all the children as they called. Maybe sometimes, you have to believe in that world if you’re going to survive in the real one.
Email columnist Jeff McGinnis at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.