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Big Surprise!

There are no surprises anymore

By Maddog

IT SHOULD COME as no surprise to you that there are no surprises anymore. Sure, people still manage to pull off 30th birthday parties without the guest of honor knowing about it. Yes, the boss still gives you that annual 15-cent-an-hour raise without asking. And it's true that one time a couple of years ago during the full moon a man in Kansas actually put the toilet seat down when he was finished.

But that's all pretty much in the past. Nowadays people feel compelled to telegraph their intentions.

Take the new TV season. Spending months and untold hours of precious airtime that could be better utilized, the networks run a test pattern to broadcast advertisements that in no uncertain terms tell us how much we're going to love the new shows. This takes all the surprise out of it. Where's the thrill of discovering just how bad a sitcom can be when we've been watching the same clips over and over, realizing that these are not only the best excerpts they could cull from the new shows, but probably the only funny ones?

In the modern business and political world, the concept of surprise must be the career equivalent of announcing that your personal role model and adviser is shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. No one, it seems, issues a press release or calls a press conference these days to announce that they've just done something. Or bought someone. What we get now is advance notice of intent.

Recently, the media reported that Jane Alexander was planning to announce that she would be resigning. The Christian Coalition said it "would announce its new executive director in a few days," then spilled the beans about who it would be. And Microsoft, never wanting to be one-upped, went and announced that early next week they expect Bill Gates to anoint himself Emperor of Earth. Where's the surprise? OK, except that we all thought Gates already was the emperor.

The common link here is that instead of just announcing what happened, or at least what's about to happen, they announce that they will soon announce the impending announcement. And all those announcements are giving me a headache. The worst part is they always tell us exactly what it is they're going to officially announce. When, that is, they get around to formally announcing what they've just announced.

Why even do this? It makes a little sense if it's a company that wants to stay in the news a few more days. They stretch the process out, hoping for a few more inches of ink and a few more seconds of airtime. But we're talking about people in the federal government, who, if they were smart, would do their best to stay out of the news, considering the number of independent prosecutors Janet Reno's got warming up in the bullpen.

Maybe this happens because people have such a hard time keeping a secret. They know something you don't and it's just eating them up that they can't tell you about it. That would answer why it's always "sources" that make these announcements. Sources, according to the Journalist's Handbook of Weasely Excuses, are considered to be a reliable and reputable basis for a newspaper story, when in fact they're mythical creatures that are closely related to trolls, gnomes, and the Easter bunny.

But why should all these people have so much trouble keeping their mouths shut? If they'd been around during World War II, their loose lips would have sunk the whole damned fleet! Face it, if a 17-year-old girl in Central Islip, N.Y., can be pregnant for eight months, have the baby, keep it stashed in a closet for four days, and keep it a secret until her mother accidentally comes across it while looking for a pair of pants (true story!), then a press secretary, public-relations flack, or anonymous source should be able to wait a couple of days before making an announcement.

On the other hand, maybe they think they're doing it for our welfare, which, when combined with the anxiety of holding it in, can cause gastrointestinal distress that Tums can't begin to touch. You know, like when something eats you up inside until you just can't help yourself and you know you can't spill the beans but you spill just enough that they know there's something going on but you feel OK about it because in your mind you didn't really tell them.

Like when Mom thinks she's doing you a favor the week before Christmas by telling you that your present will "get you to the grocery store and back in record time," leading you to expect the new car you've been praying for when in fact she bought you a used skateboard.

Where will this trend end? Will we ever hear a surprise announcement again? Stay tuned. Next week I expect to have a big announcement regarding the impending announcement I'm going to make about the previous announcement's announcement. That should clear things up.

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From the Oct. 23-29, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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