Friday, January 14, 2011

Crime! Disaster! Death!

Who said crime doesn't pay? As I discussed here a couple days ago, last year I used my mad skillz to pay the billz doing crime reporting for Louisville Mojo, despite my misgivings on the subject and despite my original stated desire to write about entertainment and nightlife.

Why the misgivings? Because I think crime reporting, like much of the mainstream media in general, is a scam. TV news producers and newspaper editors, desperate to generate "controversy" to attract readers and viewers, make it a matter of policy to bombard their audience with detailed lurid descriptions of crimes. So-and-so's house got broken into at 2434 Schmuckingbird Lane. A mother killed her child at 615 Slopco Avenue. An arsonist from Splopville was caught burning down his own property for insurance fraud. Ned's Sporting Goods was held up by an "armed black man" who was wearing a mask and gloves yet they're somehow 100% certain he was black anyway.

Bear with me, now - the average person has most of their day-to-day life taken up by a job. In the few remaining hours they have allotted to themselves, they have to spend it trying to maintain their home and deal with other errands and business. If they're lucky, they get to zone out with a little TV at night or maybe playing Facebook games on the net.

If you have a family, your responsibilities are drastically more onerous and your precious time is even more stretched out; you have to keep that spouse happy and make sure you spend quality time with your children - not just token moments for appearance's sake, but serious quality time to make sure your kids are progressing as they should. Family outings, church, school functions, visiting relatives and hosting visits from in-laws, all of these come with a family and all of these shave away even more of the insufficient hours of the day.

If you own your own home rather than rent, your duties are multiplied still further - you have to deal with the yard guy, the roof guy, the furnace guy, the chimney guy, the pool guy, the plumber, the walk-shoveling kid, and so on.

If you have any personal dreams and goals of your own, there's a good chance that they're pretty much shot to hell by everything I've enumerated, if by nothing else than sheer time constraint. So if you intend to get anything done outside your family, home and job, you'd better make minutes count. In the words of Roger Miller, "knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it."

Given all of the above, no one has ever been able to adequately explain to me why I need to know that some nutjob across town shot his grandmother in the face and then killed himself. It is not useful information. It benefits me in no way. Even if it happened on my street, I gain nothing from having learned of it, because it's already happened and there's nothing I can do; so much for "neighborhood watch".

For many people, reading about the misery of others is a pasttime, a form of cathartic entertainment. The media, understanding this, feeds on this and actually promotes it as normalcy. The net effect is that the world is presented as a far more dangerous place than it really is, because the "news" is almost exclusively dwelling on every bad thing done by every misguided loser in the tri-state area. While I don't suggest that the media turn to total fluffy pollyanna "light" happy-crappy news, there is a way to report on vital information that a citizen can actually put to good use. But the media moguls, great and small, nevertheless stick to their formula of selling chaos and negativity.

I don't know about you, but life is short and I don't have time to read "community gossip" detailing the sordid stories of deadbeat dads, or "crime beat" reports about some random idiot crackhead who took too many drugs and ran over a family at a bus stop. Society has been gradually sculpting you into believing that "this is just the way things are" and that it's "normal" that the world is filled with danger and that we should keep "informed" on it all. Sensitive people are driven into inaction and apathy by the information overload, and less-sensitive people are driven into greater sociopathy by getting daily doses of gradual confirmation that "people suck".

I jumped off the whole shared myth of "the way things are" long ago. Just as I no longer feel obligated to stay hip on the latest generic pop star or reality show, I no longer feel a need to burden myself with negative news of the failed lives of others. It's not the same as not caring - it's caring, but it's also knowing that being dumped upon with the emotional contagion of the collective misery of the world does not solve the problems at hand.

Join me, won't you?

- - JSH

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