“Health is boring, disease is sexy.”
I said this to a CNN producer who was ‘vetting’ me to see if I’d be good fodder for a weekend interview.
- I’m a writer.
- Like most other writers, I want people to read what I write.
- Like most of us, I write about what interests me, often using my own experience and mistakes to help others think about .
- When I switched from non-fiction to fiction, I knew I needed help getting known therefore hired a publicist to promote my first novel. Because of my background and experience, the publicist achieved quite a media frenzy when she offered up a former hospital director from Texas to comment on the then nationwide panic about the Ebola cases here in the States.
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:
- The likelihood of an average American contracting Ebola was practically non-existent.
- The number one cause of death was heart disease, but for many dying daily, preventable.
- Diabetes is an epidemic in America, one out of three adults and one out of four children now a Diabetic and was completely preventable.
- The prevention was cheap and fully in the hands of each of us, consisting of very simple changes in lifestyle, diet and exercise.
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. Health is Boring-Disease is Sexy: Lessons from the Media
Disease is sexy. But only some diseases.
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 recent online conversation with a friend succinctly explains the dilemma we find ourselves in. While agreeing about the obvious political agenda, inflation of Covid 19 reported deaths and usurping of rights, Cindy wrote that “anecdotal evidence” caused her to be torn. And proceeded to explain the near-death from Covid experience of close friends. They were the “healthiest among us,” she wrote. And yet both came perilously close to death from this virus.
- Even those like me who avoid TV news at all costs cannot ignore the profusion of online videos from ostensibly credible sources. Only to find other experts that refute the entire content.
- And the humungous number of laws worldwide to deal with the crisis are as frightening as the pandemic itself-perhaps more so.
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.
Lessons from the media
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. Health is Boring-Disease is Sexy: Lessons from the Media
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.