By David Chorlton
Each day the radio-alarm
wakes me up at 5 AM. The first thing I hear is a voice telling me, courtesy
of National Public Radio, that a suicide bomber caused six more deaths
in Jerusalem, a helicopter went down in Afghanistan causing loss of
life, or that some other such disaster has occurred. My comatose hand
floats toward the relevant button and cuts off the flow of information
before my eyes have had chance to open. After avoiding Morning Edition
for a couple of hours, I give in to temptation and switch it on. Nothing
has happened while I was eating breakfast to bring the dead back to
life. I know I ought to care, but I canít.
By ten or eleven oíclock,
I have listened to some baroque music, a little Howard Stern, and the
sound of the doves and mockingbirds ushering in the daylight around
the house. Life has improved. Aesthetics work wonders. And the raunchy
irreverence brings such earthiness to the airwaves that I think it to
be almost mandatory preparation for the inevitable sound of the president
trying to be presidential, or worse; Donald Rumsfeld offering the kind
of comfort to America that only a bombing campaign can bring.
What is wrong with the media,
I convince myself, is the way it assaults us with a catalogue of tragedies.
So, off to the World Wide Web where I can pick and choose stories and
sources. For news of the United States I turn to online versions of
foreign newspapers where I can at least be spared the jingoism and cheer-leading
of domestic news agencies. With luck there is a bizarre story being
reported of the colorful sex lives of the French or the ability of Austrians
to consume record quantities of alcohol. Such froth helps to buffer
the impact of more drastic announcements, although it cannot persuade
me that the pursuit of happiness is going anywhere but backwards.
By the time the mail arrives,
the sun is high and it feels good to be in Arizona with unseasonal warmth
for March. Only as the envelopes are opened does the light seem to fade.
A gift of $25 will help . . . Please contribute to . . . You can fill
in the dotted line. Most of the causes look good at first glance. That
doesnít slow their passage to the recycling pile. By the time the blue
bin is hoisted high in the air by the mechanical arm on the truck that
comes by once a week, I see a shower of starving children, endangered
species, and death row inmates rain down into the jumble of cans and
cartons destined to reappear at a future date in a transformed state.
If only the world could be recycled in such an easy and productive manner.
Now I find my friends calling
to report that they have chosen to turn away from problems they cannot
cure. They arenít mindless individuals Hell bent on Dionysian dreams,
but thoughtful and conscientious citizens. We have reached the common
conclusion that life is good if you concentrate on that which is personal
and beautiful and stop believing that we have the power to turn back
the ominous tide of unscrupulous politicians and weapons manufacturers.
Still, a comment by Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko comes to disturb
me; to the effect that in this world only an idiot can be happy.
What is wrong with us? We
are the people who rush out of our houses when an elderly neighbor has
a dangerous fall. We are the ones who try to save the injured birds
we find in our yards. We have learned to care on an appropriate scale.
The events of the world as a whole are for heroes to tackle, and we
know we are not heroes.
Meanwhile the latest movie
releases are bringing us more superhuman feats by actors pretending
to make the world safe for America. Everyday life makes dull viewing
for television shows, with medical examiners and police officers facing
blood, fire and brimstone on the small screen as they unfailingly succeed
in stopping evil in its tracks and always within the allocated sixty
minutes, advertising included. Only in those ads are lives most of might
recognize portrayed, replete with magic cleaners and stomach medicines
to make our houses and bodies feel good. This diet of indigestion and
superhuman heroics seems to keep the country preoccupied even in terror-troubled
times, but judging from my limited exposure to them they are no more
realistic than Franz Kafkaís metamorphosis of Gregor Samsa.
Kafka knew something that
NBC, CBS and ABC will never admit: that harmful events strike without
rationale and that they come in mundane disguises. At the beginning
of The Trial it is not the impending arrest of K that shocks, but the
fact of the officers who come to his house sitting down and eating his
breakfast. How better to show the way tragedy slips into our everyday
I think more Kafka and less
Rumsfeld would work wonders for us. Dark humor strikes me as being more
comforting than the optimism that Americans insist on as their national
birthright. If we are to be subjected to exaggeration, let it take us
down into the subconscious realm where we process information honestly.
Even John Ashcroft canít censor our dreams. George W. Bush has no power
there. In those unguarded moments of sleep, we can admit that our enemies
have a cause and our protectors have their own interests at heart. If
only we could hold on to our nocturnal insights, we would be less susceptible
to taking the reports that ambush us in waking life at face value.
If we are to get news noir,
we may as well go all the way. Enough of pretty faces telling us about
the dayís robberies and murders in our cities, enough of professors
with their weighty theories of why men kill one another, enough of analystsí
analyses. They are too much to take if we care and irrelevant if we
donít. The off switch is the first line of defense of course, and that
leaves silence, beautiful silence, in which it is possible to reflect
on why we care about anything.