Today, I took my son on a homeschooling field trip to the local news station. It’s not a big place, and I can’t say I have watched their reporting more than once or twice in all the years I have lived here. We don’t have t.v. programming at home, but we have watched enough while travelling that I thought he would find it interesting. If nothing else, seeing the miraculous transformation of a man and a greenscreen in front of you to a man in front of a weather map on the t.v. screen is always fascinating, right?
We saw the receptionist, the array of satellite dishes, the computer banks, and the tapes where they store the commercials. We traipsed through rooms coated in t.v. screens where the incessant babble of ten canned voices talking at once threatened my sanity. We saw a live newsfeed from NASA, where an astronaut was rearranging the luggage in the bay of the space shuttle, and saw a producer typing in the afternoon’s newscript. And then…the big finale…we were let in to (very quietly) watch the afternoon news being filmed.
We sat on the floor, the children sternly admonished to keep silent, sniffles and giggles met with quelling stares. The two anchors (one wearing his slippers underneath his suit) took their seats and listened intently to the countdown. What I had failed to factor in was that this was the news, rather than the edited version I give my son off of the dozens of stories I read each day.
We started out with a local tale of a fourteen year old boy who was shot trying to protect his twelve year old brother when two men broke into their house and threatened them with guns. Then we moved on to suicide bombings in Iraq, missile strikes in Israel, an adult “novelty” shop which was robbed…but not the cash register. Only a life-size Marilyn Monroe doll and some “other items” were taken. About this point, I am gazing saucer-eyed at the other Moms in the room, torn between covering my son’s ears and bursting out laughing.
But we’re not done.
Next we have the fires in California, tornado damage here in the midwest, children being forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance in the public schools (I am proud to report that I got a saucer- eyed stare from my son on that one), and a giant yellow jacket nest somewhere around here that everyone was too afraid to take down. Throughout it all, we watched the anchors alternate rapidly between the projected emotions of concern, sadness, and mild outrage, only to have them switch in a heartbeat to joking about jelly doughnoughts as soon as the camera was off.
My son sat, openmouthed and amazed.
The green screen bit was just as cool as I had promised, though it was complicated a bit by the warning that our air quality was at some level less than “great”, and we shouldn’t engage in extended physical activity outside. As we left the studio, my mind was a-whir from all the bad news.
Mind you, I read a lot of bad news every day. Like many of you, I am a news addict, and spend hours each day prowling through the available reports, trying to understand what is going on in the world, and if there is anything I can do about it. What I discovered today, however, is that it is much harder to search for the bare facts when you are being informed breathlessly in classical frantic staccato about the latest bombing, than it is if you are reading the same information. It is harder to quell fear when fear is being visibly presented to you. As a saving grace, it is also hard to take anything seriously when it is being presented by a guy with moccasin slippers under his shellacked coiffure and business suit.
On the other hand, I saw my son’s face as he was hit with this barrage for the first time. It ran the gamut, from alarmed, sad, scared, and angry, to looking around for someone to tell him it was all o.k. Most of us, deep inside, are still much more identified with the child we used to be than with the adult we pretend to be. Our reactions are the same as the ones I witnessed on my son today. There is no hope and no solution presented on the emoto-robot faces of our newscasters. They play on our emotions like a broken banjo, and we find ourselves responding with the mild level of panic required to keep us coming back, hopeful that a way out will be presented. But it never is.
Is hope dead because of the lack of profit in it?
I tell my son about the news because I feel he needs to grow up with an understanding of what is happening in the world, with a sense of the underlying issues. I censor his news content because I want him to hear about issues in which we can make a difference, places in which we can help. I do not, however, tell him about the latest serial killer or bombing of innocents, because there is nothing we can do. There will be time enough for these things when he is older. Right now, I want him to have hope.
If we grow up with hope, with faith in the notion that we can do something to change the bad in the world, then we are outraged if anyone tries to deny it to us. If we grow up believing in the inalienable right to equality and fairness, then we have reason to fight when those rights are threatened. If, conversely, we are raised with a sense of unfairness, of inadequacy and impotence, then we have nothing to fight for. We believe it is already gone.
I don’t regret taking my son to the studio today. He is old enough now to handle a little more of what the world has to dish out. He did not walk away from the studio looking for tornadoes or bombs. He did ask me why the anchor was wearing slippers. I told him “because he only has to be official from the waist up,”. My son smiled as if he knew exactly what I meant.