March 28, 2022
I recognize that much of what I’m about to write (or, if you’re listening to the podcast, say) is due to seeing the world through the lens of clinical depression. I see the sadder parts of the world with greater clarity, and I become uncharacteristically cynical. Normally, I eschew cynicism. I think it does nothing to move us closer to solving problems. It usually gives us a reason to throw up our hands in despair and accept the unacceptable. Nevertheless, today, probably because the chemicals in my brain are malfunctioning, I am feeling cynical.
My feed is filled with opinions about what two multi-millionaires did on television last night. Because they are celebrities, everyone feels the need to discuss their behavior.
And I’m frustrated by that.
Week after week, I discuss ideas that might help us to change the world. I discuss the evils of hunger, poverty, insufficient health care, and homelessness. I talk about the existential threats to freedom. I discuss the value of Love and the Joy of having Enough.
Since I’m not a celebrity, and I never will be, and I don’t have celebrities on my show, (although a good friend pointed out that I did have Sara Niemietz on my show once, and that’s true, and I was ecstatic to have a chance to talk to one of my heroes for more than an hour!) I am fortunate if I can get even a single like or comment on my ideas. I have begun posting them in writing, for those who don’t want to listen. And all of this is largely ignored.
Next week, (which, by the time you read this or hear it, will be last week… Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny used to have a good time on Saturday morning discussing this issue) I’m going to talk about the possibility of alternative universes. Science tells me that if we could create human-made wormholes, we might be able to travel to such places. Instead of putting our money and our greatest minds into the work that needs to be done to make this possible, we are inventing new and more efficient and effective ways of killing one another, and we are concerned about who embarrassed himself or someone else. We live for click bait and blood. We live for hatred.
So, today, I am depressed. I want to live in a world where ideas are not only more important than celebrities, but they are also more interesting.
Please, I beg you, don’t tell me in the comments which celebrity was right, or why they are more important or more interesting than trying to create a better world. I already have seen that in abundance.
Perhaps there’s nothing to say. Perhaps this is just the world in which we are all required to live.
So today I am depressed.
There are real problems in the world today. Children are dying in Ukraine. Children here in The United States are going to bed hungry. Income Inequality continues to rise. Someone you love is sad today.
And there are real Joys in the world today. Children are being born at this very moment, their lives just beginning. Children here in the United States are meeting their puppies for the first time, finding a love they never knew existed. People are getting jobs that pay them more than they need to make ends meet, feeling successful and fulfilled. Someone you love has a reason to celebrate today because they have earned something valuable to them.
These are the places I would prefer to focus attention.
On March 27, 2022, on National Television at the Academy Awards, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face. (I realize the people who will hear or read this during its first run will know that, but I hope to create Art that will last through the ages, and, frankly, it’s so entirely unimportant that I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the time this is published in April, it has already begun to fade from the public consciousness. Ten years from now the moment will probably have faded into the mist of trivia. It really ought to.) What was the result of this behavior?
Social Media was filled with opinions.
“Chris Rock was insensitive to tell a joke about a woman suffering from alopecia losing her hair.”
“Will Smith committed assault on National Television.”
And from those two camps sprang pages and pages of subgroups of more opinions. Sensitivity was a big topic. Standing up for your spouse was another. Violence on television was a third. The list went on and on.
It was discussed as though it was a topic of great importance. I’m sorry. It’s not. It’s two millionaires behaving badly. If this happened in the house next door, it would receive no attention. Spousal abuse and domestic violence are important problems that are rarely addressed, and they receive scant media coverage. Since these are celebrities, we are enthralled and anxious to tell everyone what we think.
What is the cause of this? I suspect I may be a part of the problem because I participated, actively, in public education for 29 years. Somehow, despite my best efforts, I have helped to produce a society that values celebrity over ideas.
In 1967, Andy Warhol told us, “In the future, everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” And that fame is vital to us. What’s trending is where you must focus your attention because everyone else is doing that. You can’t afford to be left out. In 2022, many of us hope to “go viral.” This has nothing to do with the quality of your content. It’s about what amuses people for a few seconds.
We have developed a media that garners ratings by creating divisions. Compromise in Congress is tantamount to taboo. This will be covered by the media, and the voters will decide you’re not sufficiently devoted to your own team. You will lose in a primary. I heard somewhere that in Congress reelection is at 92%, even though only 28% of us are happy with the job they’re doing. The attitude is “He sucks, but he’s on my team.” We have to be Republicans or Democrats. We have to be liberals or conservatives. The slightest move to the right or left can be political suicide. Journalism sold out for the ratings.
In the infancy of mass communications, the Columbus and Magellan of broadcast journalism, William Paley and David Sarnoff, went down to Washington to cut a deal with Congress. Congress would allow the fledgling networks free use of taxpayer-owned airwaves in exchange for one public service. That public service would be one hour of airtime set aside every night for informational broadcasting, or what we now call the evening news. Congress, unable to anticipate the enormous capacity television would have to deliver consumers to advertisers, failed to include in its deal the one requirement that would have changed our national discourse immeasurably for the better. Congress forgot to add that under no circumstances could there be paid advertising during informational broadcasting. They forgot to say that taxpayers will give you the airwaves for free and for 23 hours a day you should make a profit, but for one hour a night you work for us. And now those network newscasts, anchored through history by honest-to-God newsmen with names like Murrow and Reasoner and Huntley and Brinkley and Buckley and Cronkite and Rather and Russert – Now they have to compete with the likes of me. A cable anchor who’s in the exact same business as the producers of Jersey Shore.
— Will McAvoy, The Newsroom, “The 112th Congress,” 2012, by Aaron Sorkin
How do you feel about the fact that children are sleeping on the street tonight? What do you think we should do about that? I’m interested in your opinions about that.
How do you feel about the fact that a person whose sexuality is different or whose gender is subject to change is likely to be assaulted for having the audacity to vary from the norm? I’m interested in your opinions about that.
How do you feel about families all over America being forced into bankruptcy because someone got cancer or any of the hundreds of other illnesses that can bring lives to a sudden and painful end? I’m interested in your opinions about that.
The fact that someone is annoyed with me now for even suggesting that the Slap in The Face wasn’t important is a serious contributor to my depression. Again, I recognize that much of this is chemical. That, however, does nothing to minimize or mitigate my feelings.
For me, The Real Slap in the Face is the one to those of us who want to change the world. I’m not close to being alone in this. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are smarter, stronger, and more charismatic than I am who are trying to end poverty, get everyone enough money to live, end the bureaucratic labyrinths one must navigate to get any assistance, renew and revitalize public education, and save us from the nightmare of out-of-control health care costs. They are doing plenty of things to try to make a difference. I’m ridiculously small. Others are going to be more successful. But that doesn’t mean my cheek doesn’t sting right now.
I want you to know that since you are listening to this podcast, or you’re reading this on Word Press, you are actively helping to defeat my depression. You’re saying that my ideas are worth considering. You’re telling me that I’m not singing an aria in an empty cave. And because so few people do what you’re doing at this moment, you’re more valuable than you believe. I thank you deeply, sincerely, and humbly.
There are those who would suggest I relax and get some Prozac or some other medication that would straighten out my brain chemistry. It’s kind of you to think of me. Thank you. And that’s not the solution I think will help me. As opposed to muting my response to the inequities of the world, I would prefer that we change the world into one where liberty and justice for all is more than a mindless chant.
I know I can’t hope to do that, but maybe you can. I have a friend who is getting involved in politics. She was instrumental in helping The Yang Gang get started. Perhaps she can help. You may have friends who will benefit from listening to or reading this. Perhaps you could pass it on. Maybe one of your friends knows someone in Washington or in your state’s capitol who might be able to change a bad law or write a better one. If nothing else, maybe we can get one more person to the ballot box to vote for someone who can change something. I don’t know. What I know is I just can’t give up yet.
Even my worst depression won’t allow me to buckle under to cynicism for long. I can still hope.
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
— Emily Dickinson