I have some useless addictions that have cropped up over time, probably to fill the holes of past addictions. I am on the cusp of some bad behaviors taking hold of me and I need to share. I keep gobbling up horrible 24-hour cable news and starting today I am stepping away from the TV. I turn it on because its a kind of annoying form of white noise. But, I often catch myself popping up every few minutes, like a gulping whack-a-mole. Then I get annoyed, with unanswered questions and loop-de-loop answers and go back to my work. Of course this gives me good cause to berate myself, because I am also addicted to guilt and shame. Honestly, I am aware that this is a game of diminishing returns. This is why I am admitting my faults!
The other day, I heard a newscaster announce in a halting tone that raised in pitch with each word, reaching a crescendo of hyperbole that is so typical it has lost its effect. “You. Won’t. Believe. This. Next. Story. AND. IT. MAY. NOT. EVEN. BE. LEGAAALLLL!” But I still popped up to listen, this is crazy, it can’t be legal! Then, I was tricked into a calming nano-second of a moment by an official, someone with title and expertise, so he said and the broadcaster confirmed. Oh good, he will tell us this is dreadful, it should never be committed against the finest citizens of the world. The newscaster was frothing at the bit, asking leading questions loaded with innuendo. But the expert stayed on point, even acted responsibly and simply confirmed that it was all perfectly legal and constitutional as proven by the courts and in fact a very good thing. A pretty far cry from the screeching accusations of foul play. He was rushed off the air with more halting thank yous and fake platitudes. I felt so let down and completely annoyed that I had fallen for the trick–yet again. But the TV stayed on and I went back to my task, letting the blaring voices swirl around me providing a very artificial comfort.
This when I realized I had a problem.
I remembered reading “A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving. It’s funny, I do recall the story in bits and pieces but the strongest memory I have is finishing the books in tears, sad that the story was over and I had to say farewell to characters I had grown to adore.
Owen Meany was the star of course. But the narrator of the novel, John Wheelwright drove the story. One of his many obsessions was reading the news, particularly following the events of the Vietnam War. He ranted and raved about the coverage throughout the novel, keeping track of casualties and battles. I know I would have done the same thing and still find myself wanting to dig into accounts of our current wars, although the information is buried knee-deep in horse shit these days. Probably thanks to some of the more revealing coverage of the Vietnam War.
Anyhow, in Irving’s illustrious novel, John Wheelwright said it best;
“Newspapers are a bad habit, the reading equivalent of junk food. What happens to me is that I seize upon an issue in the news—the issue is the moral/philosophical, political/intellectual equivalent of a cheeseburger with everything on it; but for the duration of my interest in it, all my other interests are consumed by it, and whatever appetites and capacities I may have had for detachment and reflection are suddenly subordinate to this cheeseburger in my life! I offer this as self-criticism; but what it means to be “political” is that you welcome these obsessions with cheeseburgers—at great cost to the rest of your life.”
John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
See my point! I am eating way too many cheeseburgers! Shoot, I am even super-sizing the meal and ordering extra fries and apple pie. Even John Wheelwright wouldn’t be able to remain political, not without clogging his arteries. I pay for this junk food with my logic and tranquility. I can feel the empty calories rattling around in my brain, raising my blood pressure with angst. My temper flaring at injustice and the obvious omission of detail, leading me down an endless pipeline searching for facts that more closely resemble the truth. Sometimes I find more muck than I can handle and other times the search is futile. I will always remain political and will have to live with the costs, because I am certain that the obstacles are put in our way to divert our attention. But I have to get better at avoiding the junk food and find more organic sources of news. I know, I know, I can listen to jazz or classical music for a higher standard of white noise. And I also know, turning off cable news is the first step to clarity.