I have a friend for whom the news has become a medical problem. It boosts his blood pressure.
You could argue that it’s his problem, he allows the news to get to him. But you could also begin to harbor the suspicion that the news, or at least its presentation, has become a medical problem. I suspect it has. I don’t see how it can be hyped every day, as it is, whipping up anxiety about this and that, without affecting our health. I have learned the hard way that what I read and watch directly impacts my sleep; is it reasonable to think the news merely washes over us?
More and more we see and understand the mind-body connection in medicine. We get that our emotional state affects our health. And the media get it, too, or they wouldn’t adopt these familiar ploys:
-wait until you hear this
-are you ready for this?
-listen to how your taxes are being spent
-wait until you hear what so-and-so has to say about so-and-so
…. and on and on it goes, plucking our nerves, putting us on edge, inviting us to wait for the other shoe to drop, suggesting day after day that news is controversy, nastiness, hard-headedness. Who said news had to be defined this way? Where is the holy writ? And in the absence of writ we surely should inquire into the commercial purposes for presenting news this way. We are allowing our culture to be defined as conflict.
Is it a health problem? I think so. When I think of the things that wake me up in the middle of the night and threaten my equilibrium I have to consider the way the news is presented as an assault on the peaceable kingdom I would like to inhabit.
Is it inevitable? Of course not. It’s no more inevitable than the special-effects violence and the obsession with blood we see on television and in films. Rational, calm discourse is possible. The camera can dwell on many intriguing things besides mayhem. Issues can be explored without planting the seeds of rage and suspicion. But the media have not chosen this course, and that is why we have hate radio and television with all its stupidity and smarm.
The low road is also the road to ill health. But ill health is big business, isn’t it? Whoever produces a cancer cure will make big money, but can it possibly equal the multifaceted industry that now accepts cancer as our fate and reaps fortunes in cancer care? I doubt it, and I think therein lies the reason we have no cures.
There is an eerie parallel between the delivery of news on television and the ubiquitous pharmaceutical advertisements that support it. The shared message is, You’re sick, life sucks, and we have a product that may kill you, but if you give lots of money it may not. Big Pharma and the news organizations it supports want us to know how precarious our lives are, how important they are to our survival and how much it’s going to cost us. Underlying their pitch is intimidation, a daily battering of our self-confidence, our optimism. Trust us and we’ll make your awful lives a little better, but not much, because we wouldn’t want you to know too much and get cocky.
You can present information in many different ways, but if you choose the special effects of a Nuremberg rally in Nazi Germany, as television chose in the run-up to the Iraq War, you had better prepare yourself for the consequences. High blood pressure will be the least of them. We have not discussed this as a people. We have docilely accepted that the way news is presented to us is the only way it should be presented. And we are paying a price for this complacency. Our definition of news is considerably less sophisticated than our technology. It is inextricably bound up with marketing. News is delivered as product rather than education. Can a different business evolve? We’ll see, just as we’ll see if newspapers and magazines can make the transition from costly presses and ecological waste to the iPad and other technologies.
It would be interesting to perform various stress tests on a control group after it had watched a baseball game, a newscast and a talk radio rant. My bet is that stress would accelerate from baseball to news to rant. I would bet that if information were imparted to students for four years at colleges the way it is imparted to the general public every day graduates would have to be uniformly treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.
I believe the news is traumatizing us and that we are exhibiting PTSD symptoms in our society because of it.
This musing of mine is easy to dismiss on two counts: there is no plausible evidence and the media have an understandable interest in laughing it off. But I am convinced that at some point in the future, studies of contemporary civilization will conclude that we were distressed and jerked around by the way news is transmitted to us-indeed by our very definition of news. And observers in the future will wonder why this eluded us, just as we wonder why the Germans of the 1930s could not see they were being headed down the road to national criminality and catastrophe by pageantry and oratory and mountains of lies that eventually began to look like the truth because so much had been buried under them.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latte first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller’s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del’s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latte’s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother’s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt’s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com