I said this to a CNN producer who was ‘vetting’ me to see if I’d be good fodder for a weekend interview.
Within a few hours, I was re-educated about what the news viewing audience seems to desire: Conflict, controversy, fear and blame. Once i devised my list of ‘talking points’ or the boundaries of the points I was willing to speak about, including the fact that I had no interest in decrying the beleaguered Dallas hospital emergency room staff, physicians, administrators for being unprepared to treat a condition they had never encountered, the frenzy of interest dropped like a stone with only a few exceptions.
The CNN producer named Dana was an exception, at least initially.
My comment was said half in jest but only half. Dana laughed as she asked for an explanation to my ‘health is boring’ remark and listened with interest while I explained why I had said it:
After thirty minutes or so, Dana thanked me for my time, explained that CNN was looking for discussion specific to Ebola but that what I had to say was very interesting, she would call me on Monday.
Monday came and went, she never called.
In the five years since I wrote the above piece, the Ebola crisis is a barely remembered blip submerged by the magnitude of the media hysteria surrounding the current pandemic.
Is hysteria a proper noun to use for what is happening? Some would agree while perhaps more would strongly disagree with me.
A quick online search reveals the number one cause of deaths for Americans: 647,457. Quick math reveals that in a three month period in 2017( deaths confirmed by CDC) 161,864 Americans died. Slightly less than that number died from cancer reveals fewer but still in the six figures.
Did you hear about those deaths on the TV?
Were economies shut down?
Of course not. Because this is different.
Another online friend-a full-time virologist- wrote this to explain the difference:
Before my mother died (at 104), I asked her which disease scared them the most when she was a child. Her answer was scarlet fever (they had no antibiotics). She told how if any member of the house was sick, they were all quarantined and could not leave the house. Even back then they knew what to do. Today we don’t know who is infected and who is not because it isn’t always obvious. We aren’t even sure that people are gaining immunity by getting infected with the virus. That makes everyone incredibly vulnerable, and the people most at risk have zero protection. We can return to an era of survival of the fittest, but that means we are abandoning those who have no protection at all.
I cannot help but wonder how the world would be responding in the absence of what has been called the “tyranny of the 24/7 news cycle.” Absent the new commandment: the need and right to be informed, perhaps the majority of Americans could believe that their safety and peace of mind resides not in the words of strangers on a screen but in their own heart and psyche…and those of their neighbors.
In the middle of WW ll, Wallace Stevens wrote of the “pressure of reality” and its poisonous effect on our consciousness:
“…for more than ten [now, more than sixty] years, the consciousness of the world has concentrated on events which have made the ordinary movement of life seem to be the movement of people in the intervals of a storm. The disclosures of the impermanence of the past suggested, and suggest, an impermanence of the future. Little of what we have believed has been true… It is a question of pressure, and pressure is incalculable and eludes the historian…”
In a climate like this one, there is an especially addictive quality to the accumulation of data, information and knowledge. All we need is a quick online search-no need to get off the couch. The number of opinions we can gather is truly limitless. And since we know that conflict, controversy, fear, and blame are our favorite attractions, should we be surprised at the current hysteria?
This relentless pressure of 24/7 news has dangerous physical and psychological side effects that can be readily found. The addiction- and it as an addiction- can make us think that our lives and happiness are dependent upon events occurring thousands of miles away. To people we will never meet but whom we think we know. And resulting in an obsessive focus that robs us of joy and peace.