Saturday, September 19, 2009

Switching off the media

This week I did what I should have done years ago—I got rid of the television. The cable man came today to disconnect me, and took away the little black box. Good riddance. It is not simply that among the dozens, even hundreds of channels to which one has access in return for monthly payments of ridiculous sums of money there is nothing at all to watch except rubbish, and advertisements. Rather it is, above all, the disgusting feeding frenzy that has unfolded here in New Haven since a sordid murder took place on the Yale campus last Tuesday week, not two hundred paces from where I sit. No aspect of this human calamity has been shielded from obsessive scrutiny, endlessly prurient comment, or what passes for “coverage” by those absurd chattering heads who have flocked here by the truckload with cameramen in their forlorn quest for viable news entertainment. I cannot, and will not continue to watch or listen—especially just now, when there has never been (as far as I can remember) more urgent need of serious debate about issues of real importance. There are other factors as well. Lately I have found that the outrageousness of many of the angry Republican and other critics of President Barack Obama and his administration has made it simply impossible to endure such mendacious, indeed hate-driven sound bites as find their way into the television news. To some extent this is merely a reflection of that greatest of all American paradoxes: The guarantee of rights and freedoms that, under the United States Constitution, extends farther than almost anywhere else in the world, inevitably therefore accommodates, even embraces not just the barmy, but the mad and dangerous as well. Certainly it permits the endless circulation of fear-mongering gossip—cynically destructive diatribes and hysteria dressed up as political discussion. Whereas serious policy-makers obviously know better, the rest of us must patiently sit there listening to ignorant nonsense. So the only option, for me at least, is to switch off the electronic media. Thankfully from now on it will be books only, my beloved T.L.S., the Australian Book Review, and what remains of the New York Times. Far, far better for the soul.

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