Tuesday, 15 May 2012

No News is Good News

It’s official. I’m done with the news.

This has been a long time coming; Five, maybe six, years ago, I remember watching the final segment of the NBC late-night news (it was a lead-in for Conan, I think) where they reported on a brutal assault on an old lady in suburban Detroit: some dirtbag broke into her house, she confronted him, he smashed her in the head and left her on the floor, where a neighbor eventually found her. It’s an all-too-familiar example of just how low people can go.

So, how did NBC follow this terrifying and heartbreaking story? PUPPIES! Yep. A local dog gave birth to a slightly higher than normal number of puppies. Cute, cuddly, roly-poly, and just adorable enough to make viewers in Detroit forget that somewhere in their city there was a scumbag who only hours earlier had broken into an old lady’s house and bashed her in the skull when she tried to stop him from stealing her collection of antique porcelain cats.

This was in no way the first time I’d questioned the validity or intentions of broadcast news. Growing up watching the CBC evening news, you wonder just how many times they can run a story about a housefire back-to-back with this week’s senior citizen birthday greetings.  The NBC story simply stands an example of how legitimate news stories are undermined by their attempts to placate audiences with heartwarming, local interest pieces and nonsense.

Oddly enough, while I’ve continued to notice this trend on virtually every news network, recently I’ve been having the opposite experience.  Between the budding US Presidential race, the corrupt circus that is our current Canadian government, the impending crash of Europe’s economy, and the ever-evolving, alternating tornadoes of war and uprising overseas, there’s just too much negative crap.  No matter how many talking dog YouTube videos they show, they can’t build a levy big enough to withstand the unending wave of doom.  It’s overwhelming. It’s depressing. And it’s ruined too many otherwise cheery mornings or late nights that I could have enjoyed reading a comic book about corrupt governments and impending disasters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for being well-informed. Between the internet, 24hrs news networks, and literally thousands of print and digital publications, there’s really no excuse to not know what’s happening in around you. Still, in my lifetime, especially during my time spent as a teacher and anytime I’ve found myself interacting with others at various parties, concerts, coffee shops, etc., there have been more than a dozen different occasions when I’ve nearly had a rage blackout upon realizing the level of ignorance among otherwise functioning members of the general public.  Christ, you don’t have to know the seat-by-seat breakdown of Parliament, but at least know that Harper is the first Prime Minister to be made of 28% recycled dishwasher parts (reference needed).

Sadly, though, I’m starting to understand why people choose to be uninformed. It’s not that their lives are really that busy.  Of the thousands of people we meet in our lifetime, maybe 1% of them are really as busy as everyone else claims to be.  Nor is it the fact that nonsense reality TV like Fake-tan Douchenozzle Shore and Intervention are especially interesting, enthralling forms of entertainment. They’re not. At best, they’re distractions; at worst, they become a bloated corpse of a role model for a misguided generation.

That said, as awful as some of these justifications for personal ignorance are, they’re almost a necessity in the increasingly globalized and inconceivably complex world we’re living in.

This brings us back to the news; not just the morning news, or the evening news, or the ‘updates every hour on the hour’ news.  Even hourly updates won’t cut it in this age of disposable information.  With the world at its fingertips, the one hour evening news broadcast has transformed into a 24 news cycle – or, maybe more accurately, a 24 hour recycle.  We supposedly live in the information age, but the information is first boiled down to the most compact, tweet-worthy package possible, then rehashed throughout the day with minor updates revealed by each subsequent anchor. 

As a man who enjoys making up statistics, I can say with absolute certainty that on any given day the news is comprised of approximately 86% negative, terrifying, or depressing content.  Broadcasters have tapped into the only proven form of sustainable energy known to mankind: Anxiety.  Whether it’s the local news warning that drunk driving accidents are up, the national report with Peter Mansbridge simultaneously comforting and scaring the b’jesus out of the country, or international correspondents assuring us that day 73 of civil bloodshed was only slightly more horrifying than the previous 72 days of violence and unrest, the message remains essentially the same: We’re more or less screwed.  

It’s an ingenious form of marketing that we’ve all bought into to some degree or other.  It’s basic human nature to empathize with the suffering of others.  I wish bad things didn’t happen, and I’d love it if the answers to the big problems weren’t so goddamn complex. But the problems seem to be getting bigger and those in charge seem to have resigned themselves to communally ignoring any solutions that might crack the status quo. And while I’ll admit it’s important to acknowledge that we live in an amazing world that allows us to transmit this information across the globe within seconds of the actual events occurring, the news cycle is using a fire hose to fill our cups with information.  

Unfortunately, my mind, and my heart, can’t take it anymore. The tension is too much, so until the captains of the ship decide to right its course, I’m gonna sit back and soak it all up through the most absurd, most ridiculous filter imaginable.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life…. Anyone know if Storage Wars is on?

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