I truly hate who we are these days.
By now there’s a pretty good chance you know A.J. Clemente so well that it feels like he’d get an invitation to your next family reunion. Over the past few days, the guy has been everywhere — from your e-mail inbox, to your “suggested videos” column on YouTube, to every late-night and morning show on network and cable television — all because he did something stupid in front of a camera and consequently became our country’s latest instant pop culture fascination.
Just in case your brain has mercifully succeeded in repressing any knowledge of Clemente and his curse-heard-round-the-world, let me bring it all back to you, because I hate you. On Monday, Clemente was fired from his job as a local news anchor in Bismarck, North Dakota after uttering the words “fucking shit” during his on-air debut — as in, the studio overheads came up, the little red light on the camera in front of him illuminated to let him know he was live, the tracked cold open ended and came out to the two-shot, and there was A.J. Clemente, ready for his first show as a local anchor, and the very first words that came out of his mouth were “fucking shit.” Yes, it was probably the single most cringe-inducing and certainly the most amusing fuck-up you’re likely to see on live television for quite some time — and, as such, it’s of course now our societal obligation to turn the person behind it into a celebrity. We’re apparently that desperate for any kind of entertainment and have to be slavishly appreciative when we’re given it.
It’s been a mere three days since Clemente’s flub and firing first broke and, thanks to our accelerated, social media fame cycle, you can now see the kid pretty much everywhere you look. He did the Today show yesterday, where he was strangely fawned over and condescended to by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie, both of whom implied that he deserves a second chance as a broadcaster because, presumably, they believe that being a television news anchor is a really difficult job, not unlike, say, being a brain surgeon. It’s not easy to read words off a teleprompter and to understand that being on camera and wearing a fucking microphone means that people can probably see and hear you, you guys.
Clemente followed that up with an appearance on Letterman, which he made sure everyone knew about because he posted pictures of it to his Twitter account (of course) where he’s already being bombarded with tweets from supporters using the hashtag “#TeamAJ” (of course). But that came after the moment you could’ve seen telegraphed like a punch from Peter Buckley: During a stop by Live with Kelly and Michael yesterday, Clemente was offered his all-but-inevitable shot at redemption when the hosts recruited him to cover an upcoming red carpet event for the show. So, to recap, just a few days ago A.J. Clemente was a pretty lousy newsreader at Fisher Price’s “My First TV Station” in market 483 and now he’s going to be reporting for a nationally syndicated television show and will almost certainly be able to parlay his newfound fame into a bigger and better job in broadcasting somewhere, because there’s no stunt too cynical for your average local news director. At this rate, Clemente will be dating one of the Kardashians by tomorrow afternoon.
And all because he said “fucking shit” on the air.
In my 20 years in television, I saw plenty of mistakes, up to and including people swearing on camera. Yes, it happens, and, especially during breaking news — though not so much during the first two seconds of a regularly scheduled show — there’s always the potential for unintended moments to go out live. But there are a million kids out there who would know better than to do what Clemente did on the air and they’d kill for the chance he was given. The one he screwed up. But, thanks to who we are as a nation now, there’s no such thing as a fuck-up as long as enough people see it and get a kick out of it; you can ride the instant notoriety right to the top, at least for a little while.
But the thing to keep in mind about this new era of instant celebrity is that it can tear down as quickly as it builds up. There’s no flavor of the week anymore, there’s a flavor of the minute. A.J. Clemente is an amusing enough diversion but his meme period will be over soon enough. I’m still left thinking, though, that it never should’ve been created in the first place. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, and I’m certainly no shrinking violet when it comes to language, but he made an unbelievably stupid mistake that he probably did deserve to get fired for, no matter how entertaining we all found it. The unprofessionalism that led to that mistake doesn’t deserve to now be rewarded, not when there are a hell of lot of other young men and women trying to break into the TV news business who’d love a shot at doing it right and who could do it right.
But as we all know, anybody can be famous for any reason at all now, even if it involves failing upward. And that’s why I truly hate who we are these days.