I spent most of yesterday morning watching television. It sounds unspectacular and hardly novel, but consider how surreal it’d be if your brain was no longer trained to absorb the explosion of useless and contextless information.
I haven’t had conventional television for over 5 years, maybe more—I’ve stopped counting. That isn’t to say I don’t spend most of my day not glued to screens and information of other sorts, and that television doesn’t leak through.
It’s impossible to get away completely from, but it’s engaged on a time and place of my choosing, rather than held captive by the overwhelming sense that in a group of people we have nothing better to do but stare aimlessly at moving lights and colours. People on their tablets or plugging away at their cellphones, in a waiting room apparently the polite thing to do is at least look irked when people verbalized conversation,—heaven forbid in a language that they don’t personally understand.
But the news. Oh, what news. They even muted it to maintain the somber staring at the poorly proofed closed-captioning. Other than the scurrying images behind one talking head, there was no indication theses high-definition cutouts were breathing people. This was only highlighted by the alternating between their forced smiles and feigned concern with grainy footage and photographs from camcorders and Facebook of “reality.”
You could see how distanced people were. It didn’t matter that they spent the last hour and a half talking about an Australian national posting photos of his son with a decapitated head, the shooting of Michael Brown, surreptitious looks at Gaza/Palestine and Iraq, or the intense desire to discuss things like the Ukrainian crisis as a vested interest of us vs. Russia. Terror! Violence! Looting!
One middle-aged man muttered about the looting in Ferguson, that he didn’t get why people were crossing the line to damaging property. As if it was some singular incident, that it isn’t a venting of decades and centuries of strain. Few to no interviews with protesters from earlier, just gratuitous closeups of breaking glass and scrambling bodies. Property rights and the privilege to only see the death of one young man, rather than a long list of victims of which we only hear or know a few. Over and over the reasons conveniently supplied seem try to say “death was deserved, what right did they have to be there?” What right does anyone have to take a life and question it’s value after the fact?
That’s the intent, to make it seem so senseless and fearful, no need for comprehension or frustration over the reasons. People clinging to their dignity, sweeping dust from the debris of their bombed home, piqued into joining paramilitary groups, refugees fleeing said paramilitary groups, or simply wanting enough piece of mind to walk down the street in broad daylight—we don’t inhabit some other world.
What should scare us is that people no different from us are at the brink, and it doesn’t give us pause. That their deaths and cries are so commonplace the reaction is annoyance and indifference rather than outrage or criticism. Nope “it’s just the news,” as if everything they’re reporting is just ephemeral static swept away by the next stock ticker, scrolling marquee, and CG interlude.
Take it all with good sized grain of salt, as was famously said, “the medium is the message,” not just the content. We need to see it from that contextual place, as well as the daily grind and the year or decade after that. Sense must prevail, but sense must be exercised and it’s just not happening.