Mediocre like us

Last night we invited "Cristina" into our home. Not our own beloved Cristina, she of the tango and the stained glass (see below), but Cristina Saralegui, star and hostess of the show "Cristina." We don't have much of a TV habit in our house. In fact, the only TV we can receive now that the true believers have knocked down the World Trade Center towers (where New York's major broadcasting antennas were perched) is Channel 41, the Spanish-language Univisi�n, whose antenna was always on top of the Empire State Building. That's just as well, because the only show we normally watch is the Univisión nightly news at 6:30. And that's why we made an exception last night to watch the 10 p.m. show of silly, blonde Cristina Saralegui. She promised us intimate portraits of the people we see every night on the Univisión newscast.

I feel a special connection to those people. I interviewed Jorge Ramos and María Elena Salinas (the long-time co-anchors) for my book, Hispanic Nation, and I still occasionally exchange an e-mail or two with Jorge. (I got to know Blanca Rosa V�lchez, their NYC Bureau Chief -- or actually, the entire bureau -- much better, but she wasn't featured on last night's show.) I was looking forward to hearing more stories of the problems Jorge and María Elena had had to deal with on the job. But Cristina's aim was to produce "un programa motivacional" -- uplifting, I suppose you would say. She repeated that odd word, "motivacional," several times, so you can guess what kind of self-help books she has been reading. So she spent most of her program interviewing Teresa Rodríguez, whose great dramatic story is that her husband (a Univisión executive) died suddenly a few months ago, and another couple -- corpulent Fernando something the sportscaster and his thin blonde wife (does some kind of goofy interview show I never watch) whose "motivational" story was that they'd just adopted a cute Russian infant. Nice, but not very enlightening. As for Jorge Ramos, he wisely avoided talking about the kinds of serious professional challenges he and I discussed when I interviewed him (take a look at that chapter in my book), but mentioned that once in Afghanistan a guerrilla chieftain pointed a gun at his head and would have blown him away if he hadn't forked over the $15 in singles he had in his pocket. That's it? Hell, scarier things have happened to me! And probably to most of the people in his audience. And María Elena, who could also have told a dramatic professional story (again, see the book), recalled having to go on the air in Texas right after she'd learned that a hurricane had blown away her house in Florida. Well, yes, that's dramatic, but it's not particular to people working in the media.

Cristina Saralegui's aim was to show that the glamorous people on camera are just ordinary people like you and me. See? They're as mediocre as you are, so maybe you too can imagine yourself as glamorous. It just ain't true. Professionals are professionals, and they are where they are because they worked to get there (or had some extraordinary luck).

The program motivated me to continue avoiding "Cristina."