Sunday, January 27, 2013

TV News Boycott

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

I'm a sensitive kind of gal: I have sensitive skin that is prone to eczema and freckles; I have thin skin which makes me into a people-pleaser (which isn't all bad); I am also acutely sensitive to the images that I see in today's multimedia.  When my husband and I sat down to watch the pilot for Lost a few years ago, I ran out of the house in an absolute panic during the plane crash scene.  The remote control was hidden under the covers on our bed so we couldn't pause the show or even mute it.  The screaming of the agonized people followed me out of the house.  Needless to say, we didn't watch another episode.

I'm the kind of gal who watches 22 minute sitcoms where the greatest stress is Monica's super-expensive boots being super-uncomfortable and Chandler being super-upset with her or a drugged-up Liz Lemon meeting Oprah on the plane and calling her Borpa.  Modern Family works well for me and old episodes of Seinfeld and Mary Tyler Moore could keep me in bed forever.  As for movies, I'll go for the Merchant Ivories, the Marigold Hotels, the Love Actualies.  Archetypal or not, even StarWars and other such well-produced, powerful movies are nightmare fodder and end up not giving me hope in humanity, but fear under my covers.

So where does that put me in terms of the news?  Up until fairly recently I've been a bit of a newshound: I grew up reading my father's Time and McLeans magazines (along with my mother's Chatelaine and purloined copies of 17).  Journalism was my first career choice that got sidelined for a boyfriend who was at a university that didn't offer it as a course of study.  It wasn't until I was already a teacher that CNN came along; I remember first watching it during the Tianammen Square tragedy and being amazed that I could turn on the TV and watch news 24 hours a day rather than just at 6:00 over dinner.  For a time there, that is exactly what I did.  I was incredibly compelled by all news all the time.

We were living in Minneapolis/St Paul during the 9-11 attacks, and then too, I found myself, like millions of others, horrifyingly compelled by the news coverage that never ended and the incidents that kept occurring.  I feel like news, at that time, started to move beyond the actual events and into the commentators' interpretations of those events as well as predictions about what events might come next.  So rather than just getting the facts (as one-sided as those usually are to begin with) we started getting talking heads who probably didn't know much more than we did, acting as soothsayers as well as controlling our emotions through their own reactions, rhetoric and those hastily produced "real life stories" that were filling up all the spaces between the historic events.

I really believe people's stories should be told and heard; I believe in getting the big picture out through the many stories that populate the background; I also believe these stories help us to look inside ourselves, honor our own humanity and ask important questions about what we can do to prevent tragedies from happening again and in what ways we might be responsible or able to help.

Here's what I don't like: when media outlets spoon feed us emotional drama in a way that predictably triggers us to react in a certain way.  If I want my heartstrings to be tugged, I'll watch Sophie's Choice or read Anna Karenina; I don't, however, want a premeditated, over-cogitated piece that is designed to make me hate a targeted group of people and love another.  Somehow, somewhere the media crossed the line and we allowed it to happen.  I want to be given the facts (from both sides) and to make my own choices about how to feel and what to believe.  I don't believe media outlets have the right to give us their interpretation, instruct us on how to feel, or decide what news we do get and what news we don't. Let us make our own decisions, thank you very much.  I don't know if there is a Hippocratic Oath for news outlets, but there should be.

In my opinion, television news has sold out to the highest bidder and the highest ratings and nobody even seems to notice or care anymore.  It's not 24 hours worth of new anymore; it's 24 hours worth of soundbites designed to get the most reaction from its viewers, and it's 24 hours worth of news that the outlets want us to know about.  Are important stories not being told?  You bet!  There is so much emphasis on non-news such as whether Obama can produce his birth certificate or not that there isn't enough time to talk about the starvation, genocide, and human trafficking that is happening worldwide.  These items aren't titillating enough and probably too guilt-inducing to be covered in-depth.  Plus, the budgets for foreign correspondents have been cut so dramatically that it's easier to stay close to home.  

So, while, I don't want to be overwhelmed over the travesties happening around the world, I also don't want to be buried under a mountain of minutaie.  When I choose to partake in the news, I don't need to hear about the ratings of reality shows or about Michelle's new bangs.  I already subscribe to celebrity magazines for that.

I still keep up with the news, but only through NPR (National Public Radio), the news sources that employ journalists, not hacks, and on Comedy Central with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.  (I will agree that their versions of the news aren't exactly measured either, but they help me to disseminate the ridiculous from the important and, since I live overseas, give me the pulse of what is going on in America.)  Most TV news, though, makes me question humanity in a way I do not want to.  I want to believe that people are essentially good and I want to focus on the goodness of people. If I can't do that, I fall into a pessimism that is so deep it feels impossible to claw my way out of.  I overeat, I cry, I wonder what the use is of getting up in the morning.

And I need to get up in the morning.  I need to be there for the people I love and the people I don't.  I need to be an incarnation of goodness in the world.  For me, I can't do that when I am filling my head with images of violence and depravity and terror.  It's not that I don't want to help or that I won't; it's not that I don't want to be informed or that I'm not; it's just that I need to protect myself in a cloak of peace and kindness if I am to make a difference in the world.  I can't be that person when I've got the TV on and I'm subjected to not just these very visceral images, but also the hateful, incendiary comments that people choose to make about one another.

Sound bites and non-sequitors and people who are paid to state their opinions regardless of whether they are reasoned, compassionate or balanced, seem to have replaced intellect.  This fills me a deep wondering about where our world is going.  I, however, can make an individual choice about where I want to be going and that is best made in the absence of television news.

Finally, I realize this commentary of my own is deeply flawed.  I write about how I am sensitive to violence yet I decry the media for not sharing certain very violent, uninvestigated issues with us; I speak about unreasonable people spewing their opinions on TV, yet I blurt out my own rhetoric here that is not entirely logical.  I have only ever said, however, that I would work through my issues through writing and just maybe they might help you work through yours.  Fortunately, I'm not holding myself up to the same scrutiny as I do the media.

Intense blog, I know.  I'll go lighter tomorrow, I promise.  It's a newstart, you know.  Every day.

1 comment:

  1. Had to be said Leah, it seems people watch Fox or MSNBC depending on your political slant so you are never challenged on your world view. Might as well just re-read your own facebook posts for all the perspective it gives you. I like Peter Mansbridge on CBC, he seems smart and trustworthy to me, and reminds me a bit of of my Dad so that makes me smile.