I have often been criticized.
More specifically, however, I have been criticized about the sheer amount of news I watch. People ask me how I can stand to have CNN constantly droning on in the background, or why it is that my car radio is constantly tuned to NPR.
I have been called a “news junkie,” thought I prefer the term “aficionado.” But, let us not dwell on semantics. Instead, I think I should explain how it is that I landed up in this current events-gathering condition.
It started in my childhood. Seriously. I know I’m only twenty-two, so my childhood is considered, by some, to still be ongoing. I am speaking, though, of my younger days.
For any of you reading this over the age of 15, I’m curious if you remember the San Francisco earthquake of 1989. And if you do, do you remember what you were doing when it happened?
I remember it almost perfectly. I was sitting in the basement of my old house, in front of the TV. I was on the funky black and orange and brown rug that stretched out between the sofa and the wood-burning stove. I was playing with my G.I. Joes. This was a pretty common scene for me.
My parents didn’t really keep too tight a rein over what TV I watched, so many an evening would be spent with whatever the big three networks had to show for the evening droning in the background while I merrily created scenes of plastic warfare. G.I. Joes were my main source of toy-based entertainment. Even when I would play with other toys, my G.I. Joes would probably get dragged in somehow.
I had a hard time justifying why my troops would be fighting with each other, though, since I really only had about three Cobra figures to face off against the hordes of good guys. So, in my mind, they were always just having war games.
And it was a war game they were having that night as the World Series played out in the background. Now, in most cases, the TV would be on, but not watched. I really just liked having the noise in the background. But something went differently that night.
In the middle of the game, there suddenly came sounds of shouts and confusion from the screen. I noticed that. The soldiers were put down as I turned to find out what was throwing my simple formula out of whack.
For the first few minutes, it was just scenes of baseball announcers trying to figure out exactly what had happened as well. But then, it slowly unfolded into terrible scenes of damage and fire. The helicopter shots of the collapsed freeway. The smoke rising over the skyline. Shipwreck and Beachhead had to be forgotten for a while as I ran off to tell my parents what was going on.
The same kind of scene played out again a little over two years later. There I was in the basement again, this time with the wood-burning stove happily crackling away. I was working on a large-scale Construx project, a spaceship of some sort. I don’t quite remember what show was burbling on in the background, but I do remember the moment that the “Breaking News” came blazing onto the screen.
Suddenly, where once there were sitcoms, there was now Dan Rather announcing with a grave face that U.S. forces had commenced bombing over Iraq. Primetime TV was taken over with garbled scenes of night skies full of red plumes of fire and streaks of orange. Fuzzy night-vision shots showed an endless barrage of green lines shooting forth into the sky. And again, my spaceship was left on the launchpad as I went to spread the word.
A pattern was slowly realizing itself in my mind. I was the younger of two siblings in my family, and I of course believed that there was a secret world of information being passed between my parents and my sister that I never knew about.
Yet here, thanks to television, I was suddenly the holder of information. It was up to me to pass it on as I saw fit. At school, when the teachers would ask the kids if we knew what was happening in the world, I actually did. Maybe I didn’t really understand it all, but it sure felt good to at least know it was happening.
This went on for many years; though as I grew older, my understanding gradually increased, until I could fathom the importance of the world beyond me. I even fell into a state where I became greatly annoyed if something happened and I didn’t know about it first. I hated hearing news from other people. That is why when I found myself in college, things just grew more severe.
I had never had a television in my room growing up, so the luxury of my little 12″ screen was not lost on me in my dorm. And with CNN, I suddenly had a way to avoid ever being last to know again. Much to my roommate’s dismay, the sound of Wolf Blitzer hummed through the air at almost all times of the day.
I still took breaks for Batman and Superman, which fortunately came on at the same time as Talkback Live. And honestly, between watching Batman smash clay-based villains or listening to John Q. Public complain about what Hillary Clinton is wearing, I think the winner is clear. But I digress…
I look back on those four years now, and I can still see the screens flash by. Dark pictures of some far-off tunnel where a mangled car that carried a princess sat empty; machine gun toting SWAT teams bursting into the halls of a Colorado high school; and, of course, that damn blue dress.
I think sometimes that having watched all those moments play out in their entirety wasn’t such a good thing, that maybe I should have just turned the TV off and spent some more quality time with Mario and Luigi.
I didn’t, though. And I still don’t. Even as I write this sentence, I feel compelled to run into the other room and switch on over to channel 27 because my little computer news ticker tells me that the Taliban have left Kabul, and I didn’t know about it until just now.
And now that I know, I need to tell everyone else.