I can’t say it’s been easy. I can’t say I haven’t been tempted. I can’t say that the vestigial draw of a habit, once dominating but now hopefully overcome does not sometimes urge me to abandon my commitment, and surrender to the impulse. But so far, I have held strong. I have resisted the pressure, and stayed true to my agreement.
It’s been two month now since I went “cold turkey” and stopped watching cable news.
And I think I‘m going to make it.
One day at a time, I watch reruns of Have Gun Will Travel, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Marshal Dillon (the half-hour version of Gunsmoke) and Gunsmoke (the hour version) instead of Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Lawrence O’Donnell. (I have not sworn off television. People can change, but there is a limit.)
How did it happen? I’m not sure. There was no inciting incident, no “I got real drunk and I ran over a puppy.” What happened was I just finally reached my limit. Years of over-indulging had inevitably taken their toll. My reaction, in the words echoed by that great philosopher Popeye:
“That’s all I can stands; I can’t stands no more.”
I know this is tricky, to talk about my decision to curtail an activity that others, possibly readers of this blog, continue to enjoy and see nothing at all wrong with doing so. I have noticed that, more often than I wish were the case, people who hold opinions contrary to one’s own are not content to say “I respectfully disagree” but proceed directly to the incendiary “I hate you!” Suddenly, you are disinvited to their bowling party, and they stop reading your blog.
You know what they call a blog that includes only opinions that you agree with?
My blog includes opinions I believe in. Plus – and there have been more than a few of these – “I have not figured this out (and I am open to persuasion.)”
One day, enough had finally become enough. Switching off my cable news outlet of choice, I could hear my mind conclude, “I am not learning anything here. These guys are simply in a business. And their business model – the one that maximizes their profits – requires them to not educate their viewers, but to beat the bejeezus out of the opposition.
How many times have I seen an issue come up, and the commentary excludes anyone who can explain why the people in favor if it believe it’s a good idea.
“The Republicans have proposed something really stupid. And to discuss their reasoning, we welcome Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who never liked them in the first place.”
The cable station I used to watch once complained about a Congressional hearing on which there was a panel discussing reproductive issues that was completely bereft of women. That didn’t make sense.
And neither does this.
If you want to know what’s behind people’s opinions, you don’t ask the people who disagree with them. You ask them.
I used to believe that cable news was meant to illuminate the issues of the day, but I was wrong. Cable news is something else.
It’s a Pep Rally.
And that’s it.
Are the cable commentators knowledgeable? Are they smart? Are they entertaining? Are they skillful? Sure. But have they ever applied their prodigious gifts to promoting one idea or suggestion that would be acceptable to a constituency beyond their own viewership?
That’s not their job, it turns out.
Their job is to fire up the faithful.
And keep them coming back.
Fox started it. MSNBC fought fire with fire. And what are we left with?
I am not cynical. I am just “partisaned out.” I don’t enjoy partisanship, or at least extreme partisanship. Regular partisanship is okay. It usually comes with jackets. Extreme partisanship has led to gridlock. And gridlock has led to nothing getting done.
The way things have evolved, I am not entirely sure about voting anymore. As somebody once said, “I don’t vote. It only encourages them.” Our electees don’t need encouragement. What they could use is a spanking.
I must admit that, still on occasion, as my thumb has not been deprogrammed from reflexively pressing Channel 48, I will inadvertently “remote” over to MSNBC, and not immediately flip away, drawn, like a former drinker walking by a bar, hoping to inhale a nostalgifying whiff. So far, the Good Lord has been with me, and when I go there, it’s a commercial.
On occasion, however, I do catch a snippet of their act. What I notice is that what I once passively absorbed without question is now reminiscent of the ice cream I have tried after a week’s stay at a health spa – too rich and unpalatably over the top.
I heave a sigh of relief, and return to my cowboys.
It is never the “Party Line” with Marshal Matt Dillon.
He always tells the truth.
(Unless you’re rooting for the bad guys.)