I was working on my weekly calendar when the library clerk approached me.
“So what do you think about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie getting divorced?” he asked.
“I don’t give a flip,” I answered. I wanted to say something else, but I promised my boss I’d clean up my language around the inmates.
He looked shocked so I continued.
“Are you asking me how I feel about two people I have never me,t and will never meet, doing something that has absolutely no effect on my life?”
“I guess so,” he nodded. “I didn’t really think of it that way. It’s just in all of the papers and in the news.”
“And that’s why I don’t watch television news.”
I actually was aware of this catastrophe in a teakettle. Many online sites I use to get real news have clickbait about the demise of this so-called Hollywood power couple. But in the same vein as stories about what kind of jam some royal muckymuck likes on their toast, I avoid most such time wasters.
I’d like to blame the media for this sorry state of the news industry. But the fault really lies in the mirror. The media, new and old, run the stories that capture our eyes or our cursor. As much as people want to blame the media for Donald Trump, he brings incredible ratings and therefore dollars to the media. If all rational people avoided stories about the orange wonder, he would disappear like the wicked witch of the west… drowned in the black hole of his own self-aggrandizement. Like a villain from the old Star Trek show, the narcissistic Trump cannot exist without the energy provided by the media circus that Americans pay for.
It’s probably not enough for only rational people to practice self-discipline with media stories. There are too many irrational people with cell phones, computers, and TV’s who respond to media bait like snakehead fish jumping out of the water at the sound of a boat motor. They just can’t help themselves. And lest I come off as some kind of elitist, I understand the appeal of global village gossip. When your own life is a daily struggle, it is a small comfort to know that people who won the genetic lottery still have some of the same struggles you do. Sometimes, the problems of the paparazzi prey can even make people welcome their own drab existence.
I don’t begrudge people satisfying their voyeuristic itch; I have my own. I read a lot about the Denver Broncos, for example. But I treat such stories like dessert; I don’t make football my main media meal. Too many people in this country know more about drug addictions of celebrity kids than they do their own. It’s bad enough that barely half of eligible people vote in general elections. Worse is the miniscule ten to twenty percent who bother to vote in the local elections where the outcomes are much more likely to impact their lives.
Even more disturbing is how ignorant the people who do vote are. Exhibit A is the Ohio woman who claimed that racism didn’t exist in this country prior to Obama’s election. Or how about the California man who thinks Obama was president on 9/11? Is it too much to ask that voters spend at least as much time reading actual facts about important issues as they do reading about which celebrity is getting divorced? Forget photo ID for voters. How about proof they can pass a citizenship test? Even better, don’t let anyone run for office unless they can pass one. Furthermore, with role models like these, is it any surprise that elementary students have an easier time identifying different kinds of beer than presidents?
Sustaining a democracy takes work and effort on the part of its citizens. But the rich and powerful know they can keep most people from doing the hard work of democracy by using gossip and entertainment to distract them. How sad that after five decades, Walt Kelly’s political observations about politics are still relevant. As his cartoon character, Pogo, proclaimed in the 1960’s, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”