Would You Like Fries With Your News?

I do not read or watch the news.  I know there are those out there who would consider this irresponsible, and perhaps for them this is true.  But I know most of it is designed to keep my heart rate elevated and probably also to make me shop, two things I have no desire to experience on a regular basis, so for over a decade I have engaged in a “news fast.”

Ironically enough, this has not kept me from being aware of what is going on in the world around me, although I did not know who Laci Peterson was, the pregnant lady who was murdered, until her husband was on trial (and in fact I had to google Lacy and pregnant to get her name for this, such is my lack of knowledge on the subject).  I like to peruse the Living section in the paper and get the little entertainment blurbs.  I also like the Metro section and when I’m at Starbucks or see it somewhere, I’ll read a lot of it.  This is the section on Portland and surrounding areas, so often the information is useful.  I will occasionally glance at the opinions section, and I like to check out the obituaries to see if anyone young died.  Weird, I know.  All of this is only when I’m at Starbucks or another coffee place that has papers and I’m sitting alone and forgot to bring a book or desire something a little more fluffy than whatever I happen to be reading at the moment.

I never watch television news.  Ever.  I absolutely hate it.  When I last watched news, the stories were less like music videos than they are now.  When I catch a glimpse of the news at someone else’s house or in a store where its blaring, it blows my mind how far it seems from anything desiring to impart information.  It’s constant noise and visual effects and seriously, it looks like music videos.  I hate it.

I am on a few political listserves, MoveOn and People United for Change.  I get emails from them and I read through them.  I unsubscribed from most of them because when I was getting too much, I never read any of it.  At least by limiting the number I can absorb some of the information, but I limit what I take in because there is just so much to get angry about, and I do not want to spend my life pissed off.  I know someone once said that if you aren’t mad, you aren’t paying attention, but I can’t spend every minute of every day being angry.  I can make choices that hopefully contribute to change, but being angry all the time isn’t going to help anything and will likely make me sick, so my choice is to limit the sheer volume of information, especially about the current administration.  Yes, they are power hungry.  Yes, they are liars.  Yes, they’ve created multiple disasters that will take years to sort out.  Okay.  I get it, but I’m not spending my time on this planet pissed off every minute of every day.

There is a point to this.  I have a yahoo email account.  I use it for things like ebay or Craigslist ads, stuff I don’t want in my personal email.  When you login to yahoo, the front page is one liner news.  I have been following the Heath Ledger stuff.  I liked him as an actor.  A lot.  I thought he was brilliant in Brokeback Mountain, but he was a standout even in his early stuff like 10 Things I Hate About You.  And I loved A Knight’s Tale.  Plus lately it seems like I keep hearing about people dying from prescription drugs.  A friend of mine died last spring from the drugs she was taking for eczema.  In December, two friends of mine each had a friend who died in their sleep from taking prescription drugs, and I read it was a possibility Brad Renfro died from prescription drug interactions, possibly with illegal drugs or alcohol.  (See my post from 1-22-2008.  It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but I noticed all these people dying from prescription drugs.) So I have been following the Heath Ledger story out of interest from that angle as well.  I’ll be curious what the autopsy report shows.

Anyway, as I logged in to my yahoo account each day, I saw the stories on Heath and I actually clicked on them and read them.  Mostly the yahoo stories seemed to add a new paragraph to the top of the same story while the bottom paragraphs stayed the same.  Then the other morning, I went to Starbucks and decided to hang out for a while.  I went to the used paper bin and started pulling out the sections I like to read.  The front page had a story on Heath, so I grabbed it.  Back at my table, I started reading the story and maybe there are those out there who will not be surprised by this, but the story was one hundred percent, word-for-word identical to the stories on yahoo.

Okay.  I’m not naive.  I know that media is consolidated.  But really, do we get one story every time we read the news?  Does some person out there get to write it, then that is the story that is copied here, there, and everywhere?  For the next several days, whenever I went into a Starbucks, I pulled out the paper and there was the same Heath info straight off yahoo news.  It was the same whether the paper was the Oregonian or the NY Times.  How boring is that?

I KNOW how publicist’s work. I KNOW that if someone wants something to be the official story, get all the news orgs to pick it up and that will be what’s reported.  I KNOW the vagaries of the media conglomorate system.  But does that still mean we have to have one story written by one writer that’s put out into the system of what we get to read?  That is so boring!  And these stories don’t have a byline. They are just bland.

I find this disappointing.  Are we all so used to this now that I shouldn’t be surprised?  No wonder people often don’t believe what is in the news.  You get one story over and over, it’s easy to believe we’re being fed what someone wants us to believe.  Reporters are supposed to report what they observe, the truth as they see it.  And there are those who believe there is one truth, one thing that factually occurred.  But we all know that we each see things differently according to our own conditioning.  If we get five accounts of the same event, we can put those together and perhaps get a more flavorful account of something we were not there to experience.  When we get one sanitized, flavorless, boring version of what supposedly is, it’s hard not to wonder if there is more to the story.  I think we’re all less likely to trust what we’re given when it’s force fed, canned blandness.  Or perhaps we’re less likely to question.  Don’t question it and don’t believe it.  It’s like the television news with its music video visual bombardment, all hype and no substance.  There’s nothing there.  We’re not being told anything.  Here we have the internet and this theoretical access to the entire world, but we’re all being fed the same thing.  We have this opportunity for imagination and creativity to flourish, and instead the entire world gets the same thing. Assembly-line news.  News like Starbucks.  And Target.  And Walmart.  And Sears.  And on and on and on.  Even politicians have turned into mass market products to appeal to everyone and no one.  Yuck.  What a sad state of affairs we’ve gotten ourselves into.

We need a change.  I have been sitting here mulling over the sheer enormity of the bland mass marketing of every single thing.  I guess people will have to want it to change in order for it to happen.  The number of various levels on which change would have to happen to actually succeed is staggering.  As such, it’s easy to see why anyone would look at that magnitude, feel powerless, and so do nothing.  But that doesn’t work.  Each person has to change what they can if they want things to be different.  If each one of us does that, anything is possible.

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