Stoking fears of the commoners

Posted Dec. 12, 2008, at 5:51 p.m.

Bangor Daily News editorial cartoonist George Danby hit the nail squarely on the head in his cartoon in the Tuesday morning newspaper.

Danby’s sketch featured Joe Everyman seated in front of his television, watching as the identifying logo “24-Hour Fear-Stoking News Network” flashes on the screen. On the floor beside the poor sap’s easy chair is a newspaper, “The Daily Blues,” bearing multiple unhappy tidings of doom and gloom.

At every turn, unmitigated woe is upon us. The economy lies in ruins, the government may still throw good taxpayer money after bad in bailing out the automobile industry, terrorism shows no sign of abating, and the governor of Illinois has been hauled off to jail in handcuffs after allegedly trying his damnedest to auction off Barack Obama’s old U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The times are so tough that even the idle rich are said to be experiencing the shame of luxury, worried that they might have to cut back on their conspicuous consumption lest the rabble take offense and sack their penthouses and mansions. One waits to see what the morrow might bring.

Nowhere is the news as bleak as on television’s nonstop cable and satellite news-and-shout shows, where the “nattering nabobs of negativism” — as Richard Nixon’s late Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was fond of describing his news media enemies — can make a viewer consider searching for a very tall building from which to plunge.

Anyone who can endure a steady barrage from these doomsayers without coming away convinced that the end of the world is lurking just around the bend on the road to the poorhouse deserves a pay raise.

A newspaper article in the morning paper reported on the use of loud and continuous heavy-metal and other kinds of alleged “music” to torture inmates in military prisons until they desire nothing more than to pound their heads against a concrete wall in blessed relief.

Upon reading that, I thought perhaps prison administrators had resorted to such sadistic tactics because it simply hadn’t occurred to them that exposing the inmates to loud and continuous broadcasts from Danby’s 24-Hour Fear-Stoking News Network could drive the convicts nuts much more efficiently than could nonstop paint-peeling rock music from the likes of Nine Inch Nails.

Confined to my quarters for one very long day this week because of the latest overnight spate of global warming that had transformed the highways into ice-glazed corridors of guaranteed death and destruction, I broke the house rules and turned on the television before darkness had set in.

With the possible bailout of the carmakers, the erratic behavior of the stock market, the shuttering of factories and stores, layoffs and the rising unemployment rate, the home mortgage crisis, unspeakable government fraud and waste, multimillion dollar golden parachutes for the multimillionaire chiefs of bankrupt firms, and so forth, it was wall-to-wall gloom.

I sat there like a mummified couch potato for several hours, taking it all in, when what I should have been up to was something more relaxing, such as visiting my dentist to have that root canal procedure I’ve been putting off.

The news-and-shout shows seem to have a couple of things in common, whatever their political biases. Many appear to have taken a vow to cut off and talk over their guests at every opportunity. And they all seem determined to flog the subject to death in their allotted hour before hosts of subsequent shows check in to repeat the drill, far into the night.

There is plenty of bad news to be had these days, most of it tied to the nation’s yearlong recession. But it’s pretty hard to argue that the malaise of cynicism and despair that seems to be in the air can’t to some extent be tied to the effect that the repetitive nature of the 24-Hour Fear-Stoking News Network has on viewers. Pound something into a person’s head often enough and before long he may come to adopt your mind-set.

Still, if you were to hold me prisoner and force me to choose between the malaise thing and marathon sessions of amped-up caterwauling by Hootie and the Blowfish, I’d opt for malaise so quick it would make your head ache.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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