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Bob Watch 

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Last month I raised the awful possibility that Bob Greene's entire persona--the aw-shucks, semiretarded bit--was just an act, a sham, a convenient pose to facilitate the cynical grinding out of yet another daily column.

Now I'm sure of it.

Look at "The cameras roll, and the ugliness keeps spreading" (November 7). At first it seems typical Bob boilerplate. A black high school football player punches a white ref. A video camera records it, and TV stations play the tape. Bob lets out a cry of pain. "Anger and bitterness are instantaneously packaged and distributed to the masses," he shrills. Bob decries this as exploitation, blowing a tiny incident out of proportion, particularly the racial element. "What happened on the high school football field has been made into a symbol of social problems," he scolds.

Now recall his column of just two weeks earlier, "Strangers on a train, breaking the silence" (October 22), a column that should have been titled "Bob Greene talks to a black man."

Bob relates how "a black man in his 20s" sits next to him on the train from South Bend. The black man makes a benign comment about the train schedule, and small talk ensues. Bob deems him "a very pleasant fellow." Although the conversation is unremarkable, by column's end their chat becomes an event of monumental importance, a symbol of something true and pure and redeeming.

At the same time--this being Bob--the conversation is also a symbol of how awful the world is. "You'd think that, by this time in our history, we would have moved past all of this--moved past the point where treating people like people is an all-but-revolutionary concept," Bob intones.

So let me get this straight. When TV runs a videotape of a black kid punching a white ref in the face and it becomes a symbol of racial problems in this country, that's exploitation. But it's not exploitation to discover a symbol of racial problems when a black guy speaks to Bob Greene on a train. (Instead of what, killing him? What did Bob expect the guy to do? Shoot up?)

Such tiny, insignificant incidents are a staple in the Bob Greene diet, and Bob busily spins them into symbols of divine good, ultimate evil, or both. Another recent example is "Was she really so very different from everyone else?" (October 16). Here, Bob sees a woman break into sobs as she walks through an airport terminal. He can't just assume she is traveling to the funeral of a loved one, or something like that. No--it is a symbol of the modern human condition, since Bob extrapolates that we are all, all of us, inches away from a humiliating breakdown in a crowded airport.

Now, could Bob be so self-absorbed, so blindly hypocritical, that he can tut-tut the football video while at the same time making a career out of mythologizing a mundane chat with one black man or a glimpse of a woman crying in public? Can anyone be that unaware?

In a word, "No." Cover your ears, squinch your eyes, and scream it together: "No. No! Nooooooooo!"

Not even Bob. Sweet Jesus, it just gets worse, doesn't it? The only thing more horrible than a painfully sincere Bob Greene is a cold, methodical, pour-the-slop-where-the-pigs-can-get-at-it Bob Greene.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Jeff Heller.

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