September 29, 2020

Is This the “Better World” You Were Talking About?

tvComments are moderated.

I grew up as television was growing up. I was born in 1956 and lived through the “Golden Age” of network television.

Television was part of my childhood and teenage years, but I had no reference point before television. Captain Kangaroo had always been there on the black and white television in the corner of our modest house.

My parents also lived through the “Golden Age” of television, but they had many years of life without television. They had grown up in rural America in the first quarter of the 20th century. Nether had education beyond high school. They grew up around the birth of radio, but television was something new to them.

I remember the many experiences we shared together around the television. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedy and King assassinations. The Space program. Sporting events. Vietnam.

Every evening, the news with Walter Conkrite was the touchstone for my family’s view of the world. Yes, we had a local newspaper, but the immediacy and authority of television worked its way into our lives as it did the lives of so many Americans.

I never thought much about what television meant in our family until years later.

My dad had many anxieties, and one of his worst was the weather. He was extremely afraid of storms and he was devoted to the local television weather reports, the weather warnings on local radio and the information from his weather radio.

All of this before the Weather Channel and the endless hype about weather on every television channel.

When storms were coming, my dad was terrified, and the weather media helped him stay agitated and frightened for hours.

If my dad had lived to see the Doppler Warnings on today’s weather reports and the endless focus on weather disasters on 24 weather channels, I’m pretty sure it would have caused strokes, heart attack or a complete nervous breakdown.

But that’s how the world has changed. My dad didn’t know all kinds of things that I know, whether I want to- or need to- know them or not. And that seems to be a good thing.

I now have media telling me about every disaster, every danger, every warning, every piece of research, every scary statistic and every threat to world peace imaginable. If I don’t imbibe the media kool-aid myself, I’ll meet ten people every day at work who have information bombs to explode.

(Christians are so susceptible to media gullibility that it’s frightening. When I sit down to lunch in the cafeteria and hear the sentence, “I’ve been researching his on the internet,” I know I’m very likely about to hear 1) complete distortions and untruths 2) swallowed whole, digested and now spit back up with authority that would make any scientist blush.)

Last week, one of the major internet news outlets did a front page piece on 5 ways the world might end. Have a nice day America. Here’s your water cooler topic. For a whole day, we learned how a solar storm would take us back to the Neanderthal age. (If you believe in that sort of thing.)

I’m glad my dad didn’t have to deal with that amount of information. Or the story just below it: Oprah Gushes Over Winslet’s Breasts. Or the next day’s proclamation that the national debt won’t be paid off unless Jesus gives us the money.

My dad didn’t have Bill O’Reilley or Keith Obermann ranting five nights a week about all the terrible things the ordinary person can’t get by without knowing and getting furious over. C’mon, ordinary Americans. Are you pissd off yet? Well WHY NOT!!) Of course, the irony is that most people get by without knowing those things quite easily, but if you watch the media flamethrowers, western civilization and the existence of God are all up for grabs every night .

The farmers, illegal immigrants, working Joes and people in the nursing homes seem to get by just fine without knowing there is a desperate crisis every ten minutes.

The whole world is now drowning in undifferentiated information; everything is a panic and a crisis. Everything must be heard, everyone must pay attention. All the bad news that has happened and could happen must be paraded out for panic drills. All the unsolvable and uncontrollable situations must be heard about so we can demand the governments solve the problem.

Contemporary life must be lived with maximum information and maximum hype. It’s a crisis!! All the time!!! But first….ANOTHER CRISIS!!! AFTER THE COMMERCIALS!!!!!!

My mom and dad lived through the onset of the television era when we still had some sanity regarding the amount of information a person needed to live. The Cuban missile crisis really was more important than……I’m actually afraid to write anything ridiculous here because some of you will go nuts no matter what I mention.

The world is the world as its always been. But now we know about our carbon footprint. Now we know there’s a war on Christmas. Now we know what President Obama’s pastor once said in a sermon somewhere. Now we know what Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews consider to be worth writing a book about. Now we know how many pets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and how big Paris Hilton’s lips are after the injections.

This isn’t a better world than the world of my parents. Oh sure, there’s better health information in there somewhere amidst all the hype, spin, ads and unadulterated crap. I guess we can all be grateful that we’re able to see the problems in the world we can each solve with a small monthly check, just before we learn if Tom Cruise really has Katie locked up in a tool shed on a Scientology ranch.

The information age is the ultimate double-edged sword. It’s brought to you by the same technology and information pipeline that brings you this blog. (A blog where, by the way, posts on egg nog are right next to the ones on starving children in the Sudan.)

My parents grew up in a world where a crisis was the ’37 flood taking away the farm or a world war taking away your brothers. They grew up in a world where television entertained and only occasionally sought to tell you what was important.

For my parents, what was important happened in your family, your neighborhood or maybe your county. Events in Washington or around there world were distant, and when they touched you, it was for reasons of obvious importance.

Were they ignorant? Were they under informed? Would their lives have been better if they could set in front of Fox News or CNN and watch the stock market’s every move?

I don’t think so.

They trusted a few sources of information. They believed that what they heard in church and Sunday School was what was really important. (And that came from their own pastor! Not a religious channel!!)

They believed in talking to their neighbors and family about what was going on in the community. Perhaps they needed to be overwhelmed by information, so they would know they couldn’t be happy without the stock market at 14,000 or a flat screen television. Perhaps they needed to be wired into the world-wide information superhighway, where “friends” are tiny pictures on facebook that may never say a word to you and “neighborhood” is the a collection of property belonging to other strangers you never talk to.

No…I think their world was better. And I say that with full knowledge that I never saw my parents read a book or listen to music that wasn’t on the radio. They were deprived of a lot, but their world wasn’t utter and complete chaos.

They didn’t believe the nonsense we believe. They weren’t enslaved to the consumer religion. They didn’t judge their children in comparison to anyone other than Wally and the Beaver. They didn’t judge their lives in comparison to the houses on the Better Homes Channel. They didn’t judge a meal by Rachel Ray or a church by Joel Osteen.

Media occupied its place in their world. They didn’t serve as pawns in the world of media.

And that’s what many of us have become. Pawns in a game where we hardly exist except as an audience for the information, consumer and entertainment establishment.

Shall we talk about pornography? The entertainment addicted personality? The damage to American health by the couch potato lifestyle? The philosophical relativism that lies at the heart of this construction of reality? The loss of our souls? The loss of simplicity and blissful ignorance?

For another day. For now, I’m just remembering the lives of my parents, and wondering if anyone has lived through the same sad revolution in the quality of our lives?

Would you consider anyone who lives submerged into today’s media culture to have much of a dependable idea of what it means to be a normal human being?

Yeah, me neither.

Comments

  1. If you think the tin foil hat wearing whack jobs are all Christians, you are not getting out enough. There are lot’s of black helicopter theorists, Rove conspiricists, AIDS and Crack are government plot fearers, and Ming is the end of America’s empire nut jobs out there in non Christian circles.

    I don’t find that the right wingers or the Christians have any monopoly…or even a dominant market share… on Crazy.

  2. I certainly didn’t say I was describing “all” Christians.

    Do I really need to load up my writing with a dozen qualifiers for each sentence? OK. Read fast in a hushed voice.

    “Description does not pertain to all Christians or all older persons. Exceptions occur a significant amount of the time. General statements are meant to be interpreted with common reasonable limits.”

    I guess I do need all those qualifiers. I am writing to Christians after all. 🙂

  3. All generalizations are false, including this one.

  4. iMonk:

    Your points are well made.

    Along with this ‘oversaturation’ of the media, I am beginning to wonder if the media is on the thin line of breaking one of the cardinal rules of journalism

    Reporting the story and not being the story.

    It seems with the ‘oversaturation’ and also the ‘breaking news’ and ‘anonymous tips from our sources’ that news is appearing to one day get to a point where someone is going to commit a crime but first tell a ‘pre-selected’ news media outlet beforehand to where they can get their cameras there and record the crime calling it ‘exclusive coverage’ in the name of ratings.

    It is really a sad day when news is being broadcasted and we no longer report the basic facts of the news. We now have ‘on staff analysts’ (a retired army General who tells us how Iraq should have been conquered, a retired wall street broker who tells us how we could have avoided bailout, a retired FBI agent who tells us how we could have prevented this terrorism, a retired police detective who tells us how he would have found more leads and have already solved the crime, a former presidential cabinet member who is buying time for his bestselling book contract, a former district / prosecuting attorney who would have told us how they would have prosecuted this case, a former public defender who would have told us how to get the alleged criminal free, a former CIA agent who would have set us straight on foreign policy, a former judge who would have told us if he would have sustained or overruled an objection, etc) who analyzes everything about a particular piece of news and analytical speculation is discussed more than the facts and the analytical speculation is peddled off as news.

    The most ironic thing about it all is that all of this is immediately followed by a segment of

    ‘ANALysts’ who analyzes the other analyst’s analysis.

    And the news and facts are now lost and everyone is so saturated to where it would be hard to find a jury of your peers who hasn’t been ‘tainted’ by the news coverage because we now have a nation of armchair experts, armchair analysts, armchair jurors, armchair lawyers, and a armchair expert on experts.

    It all started with the OJ Simpson trial and how popular that trial was (it pre-empted a NBA finals game) to where we had to have constant news coverage and court tv and it exploded from there. It was further escalated when Richard Jewell was named a suspect and found to not done the crime and we created the term ‘person of interest’ because suspect predetermined ‘guilt’. Remember the 2000 election where we quit calling the winners of electorial college votes because it caused people in California to not vote thinking the election was over? Remember the DC Sniper and the numerous ex police detectives who became news media superstars? Remember Caylee Anthony? Remember Michael Jackson? Remember Hurricane Katrina?

    The news phenomenon has now become the soap-opera of choice for people who want to know now what eventually happened to a particular person instead of waiting for tomorrow’s episode.

  5. Well, as they say, everything has two sides. I’m of the television age of Rin Tin Tin, Roy Rogers, Hit Parade, Father Knows Best, and other ‘pure’ programming. Told my age …didn’t I? Television is like medication….can be used for good or abused. I’m a lover of Nat GEO channel and recently saw special programming on the Hubble Telescope which my brother-in-law helped construct, the Mars rovers ….Opportunity and Spirit, and on origin of the Cosmos. I gotta tall ya……..they beat the heck out of Roy Rogers, Rin Tin Tin, and Hit Parade. I watched all those and literally thanked God for technology that would allow me to see His magnificent universe.

  6. Bob Brague:

    All generalizations are false?

    All people are sinners. False generalization?

    peace

    ms

  7. One of the problems about the media is that pundits and spinsters grossly outnumber the axctual journalists. Its easier and more profitable to package, market, and distribute the news for ratings sake than to do honest journalism.

  8. That is not a generalization. That is a statement of fact.

  9. Onward,Forward,Toward: Now that you mention it…does seem as though the news media is practicing what we teachers are encouraged to to…..teach to the lowest levels. When you think about it….those of us who are informed don’t need an analyst telling us what we heard. But there are lots of folks out there in media land who sometimes find it hard to understand the why and how of things. My husband gets so frustrated at the sports commentators for ‘explaining’ every play. I keep reminding him of those watching who need the verbal play by play in order to enjoy the game.

  10. Ky boy but not now says

    “It all started with the OJ Simpson trial and how popular that trial was …”

    This is so incredibly true. My wife has worked at a call center for a major airline for 20+ years. The phone calls have only stopped twice. One was for the verdict in the OJ trial. Absolutely no calls. The other I forget but it wasn’t quite as noticeable. But for OJ, silence.

    “A family member has been trying to convert my mom, but since the conversation also includes government microchips in vaccines, aliens really being demons, and the need to invest in gold, Jesus comes off as just one more strange item on the list.”

    Are you sure we’re not related? This family member sounds like my mom on one of her better days. On other days there’s a lot more baggage. Mostly from, as my brother calls them, the “blue haired preachers.” The best (worst?) is the TV preacher who has convinced her that most medical problems are due to intestinal parasites and “he” has the Christian cure. And none of her college educated sons earning a living in technical knowledge based fields know enough to know the “truth” of the matter. 🙁

  11. I’m thinking of pitching a remake of Father Knows Best, only instead of a salesman the Dad is professional clown —

    I will call it Father’s Best Nose ;@)

  12. “You are surely aware that on any given day James Dobson can say jump and 90% of the Christians you work with come in with knots on their heads from hitting the ceiling.”

    I think 90% is an exageration, but let’s say it’s true. Is that Dobson’s fault, or the fault of those easily led? By your own admission, you blog endlessly. Is that the fault of the internet and its creators, or have you perhaps done a poor job managing your time? I happen to like your blog, and don’t think that time is wasted.

    If Dobson said “jump” regardless of what other Christians do I wouldn’t even know about it. Today I had the chance to spend about 4 hours online, but the rest of this week I’ve been driving a bus, teaching at BCM, and watching high school basketball games. The media wants us to think everything is a crisis. It’s up to the individual to filter, and there are many people that manage to. Just because there’s pie in the fridge doesn’t mean we have to eat it.

  13. Clark,

    90% is an exaggeration. Apparently I’ve reached a point here at IM that I need to hire a professional statistician. Remind me not to make any statements with numbers anymore with lawyers nearby.

    I’m thrilled beyond words that you- and I- completely ignore James Dobson. But there’s a reason every conservative politician kisses his….ring. There’s a reason he gets tens of millions of dollars and is known as the “Big Gorilla.” There’s a reason he dictates to most evangelical organizations who their audience can be.

    The reason is that when Dobson says jump- i.e. write your congressman, etc.- millions of people say “How high.”

    Forget the 90%. Forget the people like you and me that could care less if Dobson leaves his wife and marries a chihuahua. In evangelicalism, his does the thinking and the general bullying for millions and millions of people. Hundreds of thousands of pastors take their culture war orders from him. The FRC is the biggest bully in the conservative evangelical schoolyard.

    So sure, I can ignore him, and plan to continue to do so. All that has nothing to do with the millions of people he does influence.

    Your logic seems to be: If the influence doesn’t influence me, then there’s nothing to be alarmed about. Everyone can do what I do.

    Exactly how does that work? I get to say that I don’t buy Sean Hannity’s version of political dialogue or Bill O’Reilly’s bull, so if someone rings out a warning, the answer is “You can turn him off like I do?”

    Fine. Let’s deal with what’s going on in evangelicalism that way and see how it works. I’m pretty it will end up with the whole county flooded and me and my cow on the roof of the barn. “Where’s the rest of those dummies? Couldn’t they swim?”

    My way is this: Ring the bell and warn the town that there’s a flood coming. Warn evangelicals every time I can. Call it like I see it on the day to day, even if there are other things I could look at. When I’m done, I may be an alarmist. Or I may have been a ringing bell. Small difference to me, but maybe a big difference to someone listening.

    peace

    ms

  14. I have to quit reading your comments like they are your doctoral thesis statements. Sorry about that. I will promise to switch to de-caf.
    Remember that movie where the newscaster said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”
    and TV’s rained out of windows onto the street? ah,, wonderful thought. Dump the tube.

  15. Four years ago we took the rather misunderstood step of stopping watching Tv. I mean totally. Know what? My husband and I don’t miss it and our ten year old twins are fine without it too. We took up new musical instruments and I had more time for writing and my art.

    For news we go to a couple of pretty credible websites. For weather, internet as well. So ya, I agree with willoh, dump the tube!

  16. “Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.”
    G. K. Chesterton

    When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit back in ’89, we tried to call our friends–and failed; the phones were dead. So on went the TV, and we heard the endless loop of the same statements over and over, with minor updates. The Goodyear blimp was available to show us what was going on, but for what seemed like hours all it showed was the same burning house.

    I grant you that this sort of thing makes for an exciting story–something people can take an interest in; but what I really wanted was for the camera to pan the city, and focus in on random places to give the rest of the world an idea of how severe and widespread the damage was. What was the probability that our friends were still alive?

    How about a map with pins on it showing where people had reported damage, or fire, or no damage?

    That didn’t have the human interest of interviewing some official, I guess.

    Hours of TV and no information: I was angry.

    We found out the next day that our friends were fine, and so was their house.

  17. Ky Boy but not now says

    Getting back to the tittle of this blog:
    Is This the “Better World” You Were Talking About?

    One thing that has definitely gotten worse is the concept of local community. Before cable TV, iPods and such, local high school basketball and football games were broadcast on local AM radio in many (most?) parts of the country. And people went to the games. Even folks with no kids on the teams. I remember going to basketball invitational tournaments in rural KY where it was wall to wall people. Standing room only. All to enjoy the game. Adults and kids. Now it’s hard to fill up a gym for a top ten team in a state, much less a typical game. Ditto football. Everyone is home watching the latest new episode on the SciFi channel on Friday nights or playing XBox or surfing the net while texting their friends.

    And yes I understand KY is a bit outside of the bell curve with basketball but still many schools across the country have lost that community involvement in school athletics over the last 40 years. I’ve lived in KY, PA, CT, and NC since my youth and this trend has been happening in all of those places.

  18. >….everyone is home watching the latest new episode on the SciFi channel on Friday nights or playing XBox or surfing the net while texting their friends.

    Don’t even get me started. So true, even in Ky, though we have a lot of small town support for sports. And for church.

  19. Nice post Michael. Though I find it funny and ironic that you post this just after I have spent 1 entire week at a youth convention (so I’m probably at least half your age and well and truly within the “net-generation”) here in Australia where we didn’t have television. Or newspapers. Or even access to the net (well apart from one person in my dorm room who brought along his netbook and a prepaid wireless net connection that I used for a bit to check my emails for a church activity that I was involved with organizing).

    In that one week away from the world, I only heard about one major issue (that is the situation in Gaza) and daily, a simple weather report from the convention organizers. Nothing more. And in that one week away from the media (Christian or otherwise), I was probably the least stressed than I have ever been. I was happier than I have been in that one week meeting & developing new friendships & acquaintances rather than watching stock market reports, mindless and soulless entertainment and pointless news reports on issues that are of trivial importance but which are sensationalized up to become “breaking news”.

    It’s reminding me a lot of what my own grandmother keeps telling me whenever I go overseas to visit her. That TV and the media are pathetic substitutes for human-to-human interaction and that I need to use my noggin’ to really process and think about the information that I do “consume” each day instead of blabbering whatever it is that the media tell me is important.

  20. Great post, Michael. I’ve been thinking the same thing for some time now. At the end of our lives, I don’t think that we’re going to give a rip that we kept up with Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan or the news/opinion/gossip that we injest. I don’t think that we’ll wish that we had watched more television or spent more time surfing the net.

  21. This would be too funny if it weren’t so true. I work at a mainline seminary, and I’ve never met so many well-educated, intelligent people who listen to so much right-leaning talk radio and so easily buy into any conspiracy touted there (or on right-leaning tv). They have no understanding that if these programs didn’t shock and excite, the audience would shrink. It’s also one of the more depressing things I’ve witnessed in my life. These are the people who will be teaching and preaching to future generations, and they so easily “drink the kool-aid”. The main stream media may not be perfect, but neither are the conservative pundits who are all over the airwaves; but where I work, you’d never know that.

  22. “The best (worst?) is the TV preacher who has convinced her that most medical problems are due to intestinal parasites and “he” has the Christian cure.”

    Tell her not to worry; the Communists/New World Order/Jesuit spies have been putting the deadly poison fluoride in our drinking water to make us stupid/docile/infertile/dead. With any luck it will kill the parasites first:-)

  23. Perhaps I’m straying too far off topic but I would agree that the most egregious outcome of the information and entertainment glut is the loss of community.
    When I was a boy in the 50’s and 60’s our evenings were spent mostly visiting with neighbors and relatives.
    Almost every Summer evening was spent with adults on my grandparents front porch and the kids playing in the yard, barns and pastures.
    These adults were all a part of my raising. Not just my parents and grandparents but uncles, aunts family friends and others.
    The topics of discussion were sometimes world or national events but mostly the topics were local.
    Weather, crop and livestock prices, local politics, church.
    For entertainment someone might sing or tell a joke or an oft told favorite family story.
    Is the world better now?
    No. We live in insulated isolated prisons of our own making while we quake in fear of the current disaster and then sooth ourselves with mindless “entertainment”.
    And before anyone thinks I’m preaching I am guilty as charged.
    When we lost our sense of community and family we lost something extremely valuable in being human.
    Can we go back? No, I think the genie is out of the bottle.
    But we can find ways to connect. This is not easy as we have become effectively a nation of agoraphobics.

  24. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit back in ‘89, we tried to call our friends–and failed; the phones were dead. So on went the TV, and we heard the endless loop of the same statements over and over, with minor updates. The Goodyear blimp was available to show us what was going on, but for what seemed like hours all it showed was the same burning house. — James

    Or when that airliner piled into the Pacific off the SoCal coast one January night. I remember hours (not what seemed like hours, actual HOURS) of helicopter coverage showing only the waves of the Pacific. That was it.

    Some afternoon drive-time wags talked about “What would have happened if there’d been a freeway car chase in the middle of that? Would the TV News Anchor switch to that? Or stay on the ocean waves? Or go crazy with indecision — “WHAT DO I SHOW? WHAT DO I DO?”

    And if you’re not too Church Lady to take PG-rated mashup videos, here’s one that says it all — JibJab’s “What We Call The News”.

  25. Rob,

    I tend to agree with you about the loss of community. I admit that my closest friends are those who live at a distance; two of whom I’ve moved away from, the third I’ve never met. (only the Internet.)

    So now, the question becomes: How do we become communities again.

    Or for me (having lived in 7 different areas in 18 years) find those who will help me find my place in their established community.

  26. I don’t really know unless it is with small support groups from your church or elsewhere but even these are not really deep because you are put together by one common interest not an entire life.
    As I said, I’m guilty.
    I’ve lived in my current home for almost 6 years and only really know one neighbor.

  27. Weren’t they promising personal jetpacks and flying cars Back In The Day? Where’s my jetpack!?

  28. Ky Boy but not now says

    If anyone is still reading this posting…

    “When I was a boy in the 50’s and 60’s our evenings were spent …”

    Growing up in Ky during the 60s winter & spring was:

    Tuesdays & Fridays were for high school basketball
    Saturdays & Mondays were for college basketball (with tape delays of all UK games by the later 60s)
    Sunday was for church and visiting
    Wednesday was for prayer meetings
    Thursday was our off day.

    During the fall we got Mondays and Tuesdays off with Friday and Saturday for football.

    Summers were when kids played baseball, rode bikes, scraped knees, etc..

    Now it’s just a bit different.

  29. In or around 1854, Soren Kierkegaard described what he called the “unnatural world-historical consciousness” of the modern (wo)man. By this he meant the awareness of global events that makes one feel totally insignificant, like a gnat being swept along in a hurricane. He said that by having this unnatural consciousness of world-historical events, one is blinded to the ethical. Because people were being inundated with information about events they could do nothing about, and that they were assured were of the utmost importance, they began to feel like their individual lives had no import, and so they would neglect to do that which was in front of them to do.

    We’ve got it 10 times worse nowadays, but it’s been going on for a long time…way before OJ. Turn off the TV, only read the local section of the paper and change the topic when the co-workers start in on the next big disaster news story, if that’s possible. Personally, I’m just waiting for the day when the electric grid collapses and we all get a little forced perspective on what life is really about.

  30. Ky boy but not now says

    “Personally, I’m just waiting for the day when the electric grid collapses and we all get a little forced perspective on what life is really about.”

    Move to the southeast coast. 3 times since 96 much of the area has lost power for nearly a week due to hurricanes and ice storms. And for a few days several times. Lots of neighbors got to “catch up”. I’m somewhat for turning off the grid once a year. In nice weather of course. 🙂