We were driving back from the South Shore yesterday, listening to the radio when my wife remarked about the Amish schoolhouse shootings of a couple of weeks back. I can’t actually remember the context of the remark, though something must have come up on the news, perhaps a funeral or somesuch. In any case, just the remark started off a train of thought that is now arriving at this post.
I will begin, as did the train, with a question. Why should I care about what happened in that school that day? There is not a thing I could possibly have done to either prevent, produce, or exacerbate the situation. Therefore, why on earth should I care about it? I don’t mean to be crass, and surely that is how this must sound, but if there is nothing at all that I could do about it, why indeed should I even know about it?
Of course I know why I know about it. I know about it because CNN and the other news agencies blasted it 24/7 after it happened, and the web was full of the “news”. The purpose for the fine people at CNN to show it to me, of course, is to sell whatever tampon or, more likely, life-enhancing medication that I need to live life a full and active life, but how really do I benefit from knowing this?
Naturally, since the oldest of my two daughters is around the same age as some of the younger victims, my stomach fell a little when I read about it, but is that why I should know – for the rush of vicarious agony and sympathy? If there is really no reason for my knowing this terrible thing, what then, is the effect of it on me? Not of the event itself – to me it’s just a show, a story totally divorced from my reality, but what is the effect of my knowing about it?
My benefit? Anxiety. It has increased my anxiety just that little bit more because I was able to internalize the event in some way, make it a little real by saying “Wow, she was Kate’s age…” And every time some jackass kills his wife or offs his kids, I get to read about it and maybe see the tape in front of the house that looks just like mine and my anxiety gets notched up a little bit more, because I can internalize it, I can say “Hey, he’s kinda like me – wife, kids, job…” And every time some guy gets in a car accident I say “Whoa, I just drove on that road last month”
Anxiety. The news. News about things that don’t matter to me and in no way affect me, excepting their emotional impact. Useless news that has only the effect of putting me and others on edge to the point that we can feel personally involved and maybe even threatened by all of the world’s ills, while at the same time experiencing none of it’s joys. None of the joys, because joys are only broadcast in the form of travel brochures for things that you can’t afford, and, well, I can’t afford them. And until I can afford that 54″ JVC 1080p LCD television, how can I possibly be happy?
Here lies the central problem; there is news that I need to know about and there is news that is not news – stuff that I do not need. Unfortunately it comes at us at such a rate that it’s like trying to sip from a firehose and in an effort to keep up with things I think I need to know – like what are the Conservatives going to do on environmental issues and how bad is it getting in Afghanistan, I get anxious and depressed. We need the news media to tell us what’s going on in our capitals so that we can produce opinions, generate ideas, and cast sensible ballots – that we can’t turn off.
I guess it is just a matter of filtering the chaff from the wheat – pre-processing the data before it hits the grey matter. Something that I have to do a better job of.
But then I also get to watch the Republicans turn into NAMBLA and Mark Foley turn the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children into No Child Behind Left and I realize that there is in fact some entertainment to be had, even in the chaff.