The 24-7 news cycle has changed our lives and made even
the most meaningless information a way to waste time on the planet.
A story on the morning news recentlywas about a local election in Arizona. The Arizona Supreme Court upheld a law this week that banned a woman who could not speak English proficiently from running in a local city council race. The
point of those who sued to remove her was that a certain level of sophistication in the English language was essential to being an elected official. Who in the world came up with THAT?
The woman, who spoke in elemental English, was actually given a hearing in which she was examined for her language skills. A clip on the news showed a lawyer asking the following:
Lawyer: “And when did you go to high school?”
Woman: “In the 1980s.”
Lawyer: “And where was that at?”
Excuse me? Buddy, you just dangled a participle. My old-school English teachers would be all over you. If you can be a lawyer without proficiency in grammar, it seems reasonable that you could run for office and let the voters decide.
It is the silliest of seasons, that is, an election year. Actually, “election year” has followed the 24-7 news cycle to become a 24-7 political season. Pols immediately begin re-election campaigns the day after they get elected now. Since there are only about 18 minutes of actual newsworthy occurrences each day and the major news networks only cover about 11 of that, it leaves a lot of time to fill. Fortunately, tomfoolery and goofiness fills the void.
There are now three major forms of commentators that have evolved in this present environment. First, there are the pioneers, the radio partisans and their television counterparts.
The Wingnuts of every kind dominate here. The form is simple: you go on the air/television and talk ceaselessly to an imaginary person for hours. You would never respond to an enraged man walking down the street like this, fuming and talking to an imaginary person.. You would call 911 and report him so the state hospital could come pick him up before he hurts himself or someone else.
The second form is more sophisticated. People sit together and argue about politics in front of everyone watching. There is more value perhaps, but still, not much is left to say after, oh, about four minutes on a particular item.
C. S. Lewis said in his autobiography that his father and their friends would often sit and discuss politics. He and his brother concluded that nothing very interesting ever came of these discussions. Their real passion was the world of imagination and ideas. So at least we have politics to thank for Narnia and The Great Divorce. A great thesis for some Oxford young don: “Boredom’s Contribution to the Imaginative Work of C. S. Lewis.”
The third, of course, is comedy politics. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have cornered the market here. Colbert is the more sophisticated—he pretends to be the very things he ridicules and takes it to hyperbolic excess. He exaggerates, too. One has to observe, this is too easy.
It takes tsunamis, wars and death to stop this foolishness, which seems a terribly bad way to get our minds off how much irreplaceable time we are losing every day watching and listening to the cycles of silliness. Only missing children, horrible kidnappings and multiple murders can distract us from the slow train-wrecks of elections. Local news is much better at getting to the real news—how stupid Ed on our county board is, how much of our money cannot be located, and how many regular people got murdered this week. The latter is often followed by something like, (smiling), “Frank’s up next with a report sure to bring a smile to your face on a chili competition this Saturday to raise money and focus attention on a hidden epidemic: people suffering from GERD or Acid Reflux. We’ll be right back.”
Ah, irony. I love you. You bring the REAL smiles in news. So here’s what I noticed once since I got DVR on my television. I tape the news automatically and speed through the commercials and fluffy stuff. And this is what I have learned. The evening news on the major national networks contains about six stories every night. The lead is about things blowing up, people who want to blow us up, war, famine, assassinations or natural disasters. In the absence of that, a story about something a politician did when they were three or said when they were tired. Then something about drought, floods, tornadoes or earthquakes or epidemics. After that, a range of issues take the third tier of stories. Then there is a story about health, followed by a heartwarming piece. The big stories have about 4-6 minutes, often with many sentences about the event followed by, “We’ll continue to follow this one.” And that is the end of it.
The actual newscast, minus commercials, is about 17-18 minutes. Take out the “feel good” story and the Doctor talking about Your Health and how to prevent tarry stools and how obese we all are and that leaves four stories—a political slip or sex scandal, a natural disaster or war, Congress is unable to do anything this time (news?), and some sad tragedy involving a family. About four sentences on each.
This is why I enjoy Twitter. Twitter is actually the same length as the content of the news stories. If you can’t say it in 140 characters, you’re outta there. Besides, I get to pick the stories, causes, and biases I scan every day so that I do not have to, except in principle, read opposing points of view.
Still, if you write a blog, you love the news. It’s like a public Easter Egg hunt put on by a small town with an egg ever 20 inches so every kid gets a basket full of eggs (Hey, did you see the stories about THIS on TV news? Mothers shoving, yelling…).
When I was in England about twenty years ago, I had to get something from a drugstore. I asked the Concierge where I could find a drugstore. We don’t have them, he said. We have Apothecaries. Ok, I said, I’ll try there. Is there one open? No, he said. Everything here closes at 5 pm. What? Why? People go to the pubs and talk. Then they go home and see their families and when it gets dark, they go to bed. Good grief. Who came up with this?
I’m sure it’s changed by now. What are we going to do, clean the house? Help our neighbor who is sick? Go help a local cause? Election years, if you take out the stupid stuff and the expensive lying that candidates’ PACs produce, would only last a few weeks with public debates and we would have to do something else the rest of the year. We’d be left to dangle, and that is something we would not really know what to do with.