Well, we just finished watching the news and, as usual, my impulse is to unplug the television once and for all. The stories this evening were virtually identical to the ones with which we were bombarded yesterday, and there is little doubt that tomorrow’s will be much the same:
Blah, blah, blah, Coronavirus, blah, blah, Protests, blah, blah, Unemployment, blah, blah, Trump, blah, blah, Biden, blah, blah, Quarantine, blah, blah, Fauci, blah, blah, Hoax, blah, blah, Stock Market, blah, blah, blah… and so on.
And if, for some reason, the punishment brought by the 4pm news is insufficient, we can tune in and inflict it upon ourselves again at 5pm, 6pm, and even 10pm. And this, of course, is only the local network version of things … a variety of cable news channels are accessible round the clock, with choices sufficient for virtually any point on the political compass.
As if being virtually housebound these days is not stressful enough, the 24-hour news cycle with “this just in” and “breaking now” bulletins is wearing me out. And, frankly, a “users guide” would come in handy in deciphering this new vocabulary permeating conversations all around us. Yes, I get it when someone uses words like hoax, hate, conspiracy, leftist and far right. But where did “QAnon” come from? And “Antifa” … what is that? What about “Cancel Culture”? Near as I can determine, my lack of familiarity with those terms means I am not fully “woke” … whatever the hell that means.
Hunkered down in our little abode, we have adopted some strategies to keep ourselves safe and (relatively) sane in navigating the pandemic. We wear masks … wash our hands frequently … use hand sanitizer liberally … maintain social distance … and avoid exposure in public spaces. We have also found it important to limit the amount of news to which we subject ourselves. For us, one half hour of local news is just about right, with the same amount of time allotted for national and international broadcasts.
In adopting this regimen, we have also limited our interactions on social media platforms such as Facebook. As a reflection, perhaps, of the very contentious political divide in our world, some “friends” seem less reluctant than ever to express incendiary points of view and, as a result, an electronic meeting place that used to be, for the most part, enjoyable, is now a minefield that cannot be safely traversed. As an aside, it may be time for a discussion of the very definition of “friend” in the context of Facebook, especially since that word, itself, has now become a verb rather than a noun.
In our defense, we are not Luddites … we read three newspapers each day, and follow several reputable news sources. And, as it turns out, having to sort through the plethora of conspiracy-oriented and downright outlandish claims populating the airwaves has turned us into better consumers of the news. Now, when a piece of information strikes us as questionable, a quick visit to a non-partisan fact-checking internet page helps separate the wheat from the chaff.
Neither are we strangers to the world of electronic communication. Consider, for example, the networking platform Zoom which, during the pandemic, has given us the opportunity to interact with and enjoy family and friends simultaneously in multiple locations. And despite my earlier criticism, we have come to know Facebook (when properly guided) as a superb place for folks to meet and share information. We administer two Facebook groups and the key to their success and welcoming nature has, in part, been the express limitation on political discussion.
In the 1976, movie Network, Peter Finch played the part of Howard Beale, a disaffected and deeply troubled news reporter overwhelmed by what he saw as social ailments and depravity in the world. As fans of that movie will recall, Beale’s signature lament was: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.”
Unlike Beale, the relentless media circus surrounding us doesn’t make me “mad as hell” … it makes me tired.
Looking back to a college class taken almost fifty years ago, it occurs to me that the young, irreverent professor in that room had the perfect solution for dealing with a contentious and confusing debate. A master at provoking active discussion on a topic, his skill often resulted in two (or three) sides to an argument holding firm to their positions. Then, when the argument seemed to have reached its peak, he would look around the room and declare: “Ah, to hell with it … let’s go get a beer.”
That was excellent advice then, and it is excellent advice now.
I’m going to go get a beer.