4.30.2013

The Most Important Diet I Ever Went On. And I'm Not Talking About Food.

We like the phrase "all things in moderation." It gives us permission to do things we know are bad for us but can't quite seem to give up. And that's okay. I'm all for hedonistic pleasures and feel that strict austerity and celibacy (in the material sense as well as the sexual) is a miserable way to live. For instance, I love gin and beer and chocolate cake and boxed mac & cheese and eighties pop music. I partake of these things from time to time. They make me happy, even though I know they aren't exactly healthy. But I don't do it every day, because I find things like water and tea and fruits and vegetables and Radiohead are just more in tune with my body and soul, and I want to live a long life.

Some bad things are very hard to moderate. Like, say, cigarettes. I used to smoke. I loved smoking. I think deep down I will always love it. But I had to stop doing it because it was killing me and making me feel and smell terrible and robbing me of money I much prefer to spend on things like groceries, rent, a Spotify subscription, and the occasional bottle of good quality beer and gin. So I quit smoking for good. Oh sure, I've been known to quit for a couple years and start up out of the blue for a little while (when things get really stressful) and then quit again out of the blue. And for a while, I was pretty good with that cycle. But then I got a case of bronchitis that lasted about six months. During that time, I couldn't lay down without having this horrific wheeze deep down in my chest that sounded a lot like Linda Blair from The Exorcist. At first I thought it was related to acid reflux (which, oddly, was also related to the smoking), but even after I stopped smoking and went on a pretty intense vegan diet and removed any other dietary triggers from the equation, the wheeze never completely went away. Thoughts of emphysema or some other form of COPD were the next things to go through my head, and that's when I REALLY got scared. Finally, I broke down and went to the doctor, where I was given a breathing treatment, some antibiotics (to rule out any infection) and some steroids.

Well, something in that cocktail worked, because after a couple days of eliminating huge gobs of green phegm that had been living in my chest for months, I finally coughed up something so huge and vile that I almost choked to death in the process. It was semi-solid and filled the palm of my hand, and it was about the color of a green Jolly Rancher. I have a picture of it, but I won't post it here as I'm sure my prowess as a writer and knack for description put a revolting enough image in your head. After that terrifying moment, I never wheezed again and I have never even so much as craved a cigarette (and believe me, I've had a lot of stress in my life since...not once did I think to go buy a pack of my trusty menthol coffin nails).

Don't worry. I'm getting to my point now.

There is another thing that is very much like cigarettes. No amount of moderation is safe, and it's doing to our culture what smoking was doing to my lungs.

It's called cable news. Fox, CNN, MSNBC.

He's saying a lot, but I'll boil it down: "Derrrrrrrrrrp."
Have you ever noticed if you're sitting in a group of people and the topic is some current news event, that everyone in the group is saying completely different things? That even their facts are different?

Thanks, cable news!

Have you ever noticed that after some high profile crime happens... like, say, the Boston Marathon Bombing... that the suspects become living and breathing (okay, only one of them is living and breathing, but whatever) exhibits of Schrodinger's Cat? They're jihadists, but they're not. They're white, but they're not. They're the member of an organized terrorist cell, but they're not. You get the point.

Thanks, cable news!

Have you ever noticed that people are more angry and less likely to engage in thoughtful, intelligent discourse these days? That they're more likely to retreat to outposts that reflect not the truth, but their political leanings?

Thanks, cable news!

Have you ever noticed that indignant outrage never really goes away, but only changes its shape, and that this change often coincides with the rhythm of the news cycle?

Thanks ever so much, cable news!

And that's not all. Honestly, I think ever since 9/11, the thing that has hurt our democracy the most is not the Patriot Act or the wire taps or the general distrust of brown people (all bad, yes). It's the way we started covering the news. What was once a thoughtful analysis that people took the time to fact check before tossing it out into the pool is now a glitzy, well-coiffed race to see who can fill the most empty space with the most meaningless and/or potentially harmful words possible. It's like professional wrestling, but it takes place with people in suits behind gauche desks, where news crawlers with even MOAR INFORMATION run below them, like a ticker tape of cynicism and misery. They consistently pit one ideology against another and then "let the people decide" what's truth and what's crap, because if there is anything your average overworked and underpaid American loves to do, it's sift through metric fucktons of bullshit to find the one kernel of truth.
INFOSPLOSION!!

As the President Obama recently put it at the White House Correspondent's Dinner: "I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is, I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate."

But it isn't just CNN. It's all of them. And yes, even my pinko liberal ass is pointing to you, MSNBC, because it isn't just what you say, it's how you say it. Each network uses the same delivery method of bombarding the viewer with information and graphics and words words words, and ask questions later, or ask questions now but so many questions that none of it has any real meaning. Increasingly, this disease is moving off the cable networks and onto the regular ones too. I don't care what your political ideology is. This whole process, if you will, is hurting us. You want to talk about how Congress is full of a bunch of do-nothing blowhards who are holding hard to their ideologies and not giving an inch to the other side? That's because they exist in this toxic ecosystem that is fed a steady diet of cable news sludge.

Politicians are nothing if not a reflection of their  brain-addled constituency. THANKS, cable news! You want to see an improvement in the people we put into office? Stop watching election coverage on the major news networks.

Three people standing around saying whatever shit they want. That's news today.
So this diet I talked about that had nothing to do with food? That was it. I stopped watching these networks a number of years ago (around 2004 or so, when ol Dubya won re-election). And wouldn't you know, my blood pressure improved right along with my outlook on humanity, and my overall temperament and level of fear and paranoia smoothed right out too. I hate people a LOT less than I used to, and it's all because I stopped watching that mind-numbing screed.

I also feel smarter since giving up the "chatter." The ultimate effect of this machine gun of information is that it dulls your brain's ability to think critically. Once you stop that bombardment and put some space between yourself and "what's happening right this second," you find you can breathe and think rationally. It was hard enough watching the news unfold about Sandy Hook and the Boston bombing without that steady diet of talking heads. I can't even imagine how much worse off I'd be right now if I'd had that shit turned on. Hell, even watching it for fifteen minutes as it plays in some restaurant while I'm eating has a way of turning my stomach and elevating my heart rate.

Do I think there is any such thing as an unbiased news source? No. There never has been. Do I think there are some good eggs working in the cable news biz? Absolutely. I like Anderson Cooper and Rachel Maddow quite a bit. But am I ready to throw those babies out with the bathwater if it means improving my overall state of mind?

Fuck yes.

People have always had the onus of separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the information they're getting from the media. But what's made this more challenging than ever is that there is so. much. chaff. It becomes overwhelming after awhile, and that's what the networks depend on. They don't want you to think. They want you to let them think for you, and in doing so, make them very very rich.

Watch us, because we need to be able to afford this completely unnecessary 500-foot-long screen!

Beneath every yammering word coming out of their mouths is this: "Here, you've had a long hard day... let us fill your mind with so many words and flashy things that you won't want to question anything anymore."

That's the methodology. And the sooner people realize that, the sooner they can stop feeding these networks' coffers with ratings, and the better off the human race will be. Go on a cable news diet. You won't regret it.