I make my living off the evening news/Just give me something- something I can use/People love it when you lose/They love dirty laundry
Every once in a while, I hear Don Henley’s hit song “Dirty Laundry” in my travels, and it makes me wonder how he feels about the state of the world these days. The song was released in 1982 on Henley’s first solo album I Can’t Stand Still, and it laments sensationalism in the news and everybody’s abject obsession with the misery of other people. Things have certainly gotten worse in that respect over the past three decades, what with the Internet and 24-hour “news” networks that project disaster and despair on an endless loop. In this piece, I will analyze some of the song’s lyrics and apply them to more modern times, all the while pondering whether Henley, who is still very much alive, is currently digging himself a grave to roll over in.
The song’s third verse comments on the ability of newscasters to relay news of death and destruction with a wink and a smile, never letting on about what they’re actually feeling behind the veneer. I’ve always wondered how they do that.
We got the bubble-headed bleach blonde/Who comes on at five/She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye/It’s interesting when people die/Give us dirty laundry
For some deranged reason, it IS interesting when people die. Whenever there’s a plane crash, natural disaster, or mass shooting, we’re all morbidly curious about the body count. We have an inexplicable need to hear it. The higher the tally, the more worked up we get about it, toeing the fine line between genuine horror and sympathy, and a feigned sincerity about an event that actually affected us in no direct way.
Dirty little secrets/Dirty little lies/We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie/We love to cut you down to size/We love dirty laundry
While it’s not a new phenomenon, the lives of celebrities and other public figures are constantly under intense scrutiny, and are often damaged as a result. Trashy tabloids have for decades flooded the checkout stands in supermarkets, enabling us to find out who has a drug problem, who looks terrible without makeup, which relationship is crumbling, and who cheated on who. The information, usually citing “a source close to the star”, is likely not accurate, or it is, and that star has a very shitty friend who just sold them out to a weekly rag. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of viewing the TMZ show on television, you will have seen the stalkers who comprise that organization sitting in their war room, discussing the week’s take. Armed with powerful cameras and laptops, they scour the streets of Hollywood, and the Web, returning with the latest rumors and loads of candid photos and videos of movie stars coming out of restaurants (why the latter is even remotely interesting is beyond my comprehension). These self-appointed liaisons to the stars have taken it upon themselves to make the lives of already public people even more so, and I highly doubt any thorough fact-checking is going on. To some extent, flashing bulbs, nasty rumors and the like come with the territory for celebrities, but a line of decency that was once blurred is now simply non-existent.
We can do the innuendo/We can dance and sing/When it’s said and done we haven’t told you a thing/We all know that crap is king/Give us dirty laundry
At any time, you can turn on the television and see around-the-clock coverage on war, kidnapping, murder, and any other ills of the world. You can flip to any of those news stations to watch pundits, who are nothing more than glorified talking heads, continue to make a joke out of America’s already embarrassing political landscape. Between other people’s misery, political mudslinging, and the most private dirt dug up on celebrities, it’s rough out there. So, Mr. Henley, wherever you are, what do you think now?