Dare Americans tune out?

The Rachel Maddow Show may contribute to Alzheimer’s. Her investigative discoveries right before bedtime upset my circadian rhythms, and studies point to a connection between sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s. Mornings, when I watch “New Day” on CNN, I’m reminded that our democracy eroded even more overnight.

A lot of my friends are saying, “I’m to the point where I avoid the news. It’s too upsetting.”

I’ve also heard—this from both liberals and Trump supporters—“All the Russia stuff is too hard to keep track of.” There are all those -oviches, -akovs, and other foreign sounding names. Even the Americans—Manafort, Flynn, Gates, Papadopoulos, Pinedo, Cohen—seem indistinguishable after a while. Hearing who’s been accused, who’s pleaded guilty—so much input can overload the brain.

Meanwhile our president rants against “fake news.” At a recent Trump rally, the crowd’s profanity and obscene gestures at TV cameras had to be bleeped. I fear for our democracy’s survival when a large segment of the population believes professional journalists are not truthful.

What kind of news do Americans want? Entertaining news. Hence stories on TV networks often cover animal rescues and freak accidents. News conveyed simply, in a few sound bytes. I’m as bad as anyone when it comes to having a lazy brain. I look at a science article for non-scientists and quickly decide I don’t want to concentrate that much. Understanding complicated issues such as immigration, climate change, and world trade requires too much effort. Besides, with our traditional American optimism we want to believe that somebody will solve the problems.

We live in a time when we dare not avoid information just because it depresses us, bores us, or taxes our brain. Russian interference in the 2016 election, migrant children and parents separated at the border, the opening of Alaskan wilderness to oil producers, lifetime appointments of conservative federal judges—all of these demand our informed consideration.

Many highly trained journalists are putting the information out there if we but bother to read or watch. They write for The New York Timesand Washington Postand can be heard on PBS and CNN. And of course there’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. (For the sake of a good night’s sleep, my husband and I record her and watch during the day.)

The times call for vigilance. A sentry doesn’t have the luxury of averting his/her eyes. A sentry must concentrate and be hyper-aware. For Americans vigilance demands that we be well informed. We need to stay tuned in so we can turn out.

Nancy Werking Poling, of Black Mountain, is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

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6 thoughts on “Dare Americans tune out?

  1. Oy, Nancy, It also seems that constant instant media is eroding our attention spans. I too sometimes say, “too long” and stop reading. I also notice I skip to the end of some articles. Russians? Californians?

    Jerry Pope http://serpentchild.org — “The Art of Community”

    On Sun, Aug 5, 2018 at 4:29 PM, Nancy Werking Poling wrote:

    > Nancy Werking Poling posted: “The Rachel Maddow Show may contribute to > Alzheimer’s. Her investigative discoveries right before bedtime upset my > circadian rhythms, and studies point to a connection between sleep > deprivation and Alzheimer’s. Mornings, when I watch “New Day” on CNN, I’m ” >

  2. Absolutely right on, Nancy!

    And our short attention spans sometimes lead us to spread fake news. Case in point: A friend who professionally photographs such events as Renaissance fairs posted some sample photographs on her website. They depicted several people in full Crusader costumes, painstakingly researched and thousands of hours in the creation. These people are doctors, lawyers, history lovers, who do not hate Muslims. However, she has been shunned as alt-right for posting photos supposedly promoting white supremicism.

    These are such difficult issues to navigate. We shouldn’t be too quick to pick up our PC spears and make judgments. Judgments must be made, but with care, and maintaining the dignity of those whose views we disagree with.

    • Verna, you raise two points to consider. Yes, none of us seems immune to our culture’s short attention span. Even though I appreciate the PBS News Hour, I tune out when they present more than I really want to know about a subject. Your second point is disturbing yet real: how quickly we pass along judgments based on faulty, inadequate information.

  3. The question for me is how to balance my mental health with my civic responsibility. Too often I find myself settling for parodies of news (The Daily Show and Colbert) and tuning out the actual news. But parody doesn’t help assuage my anxiety. I wish I could just go live in the mountains and read and write poems. But the nature of this political moment requires that we all stay vigilant. I think it’s up to everyone to contribute something positive to the world, whether we all follow the news minute by minute. When I get bogged down by the news, I can’t focus on my actual work of creating art and teaching, which is what I think will make a bigger difference in the long run.

    • But maybe the circumstances of the time call for IMbalance. I worry there’s too much at stake for me to selfishly feed my spirit through reading and writing. We probably must each respond as we feel led. And where a person of your generation is led probably differs from where I feel compelled to spend my energies.

  4. Good one, Nancy! No time to tune out. Do you know about “The Weekly List” — a blog that’s compiled by the journalist Amy Siskind? She keeps track of all things Trump, especially his lies and misstatements. Her book, “The List” is incredible. Here’s the link: https://theweeklylist.org/ Cheers — Sylvia

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