“What do you think of all that business in Boston?” I asked. “I guess they shot one of them last night.”
The young lady, an acquaintance who I don’t know very well, didn’t look up from the magazine she was flipping through. “Really?” she said, disinterested. “I haven’t been keeping up with that. It’s too depressing.”
Too depressing? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The biggest manhunt in history had been going on for the past two days, dominating every corner of the news. How could you not keep up with it? How could you avoid it?
It turned out she at least knew about the Boston Marathon bombing, but only that a bomb had gone off during the race and people had been hurt, maybe killed. But beyond that…
She explained she’s busy raising two young boys, and they’re a handful. Between that and trying to get a business off the ground, she didn’t have the time — or the interest — in following the news of the day. And besides, all it was going to do was bring her down.
At first I was shocked by her cavalier attitude, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made, especially considering the morbid nature of what had been dominating the news the past few days. Death and dismemberment of innocent people. The constant replaying of the footage — a crowd of cheering spectators, the boom and billowing cloud of smoke, the screaming and panic, the second explosion. The image of the old jogger knocked to the ground surrounded by three cops with guns drawn.
Rewind, replay. How many times did you need to see it? Was watching it over and over going to accomplish anything other than to drive the viewer into a catatonic state of dread? But turning it off didn’t seem like an option. It felt irresponsible to not keep tabs on the ongoing investigation. Or was it?
My mornings are usually emotionally marred by National Public Radio. Don’t get me wrong, I love NPR, specifically our own KIOS 91.5 FM. There’s nothing I’d rather listen to while getting ready to battle the world than the intelligent-speak of Morning Edition.
But too often over the years, NPR has sent me on my way in a bummer mood. Regular listeners of public radio know what I’m talking about. The seemingly unending coverage of the latest conflict in the Middle East. The gut-wrenching story of another species lost to extinction due to mankind’s constant encroachment on Mother Earth. The usual granular examination of death in one form or another, amplified by odd captured noises. Something like, “That buzzing you hear is the sound of 1,000 carpet beetles eating the flesh from a corpse that has been left rotting in the woods for three weeks…”
Morning Edition? More like Mourning Edition. And each gruesome story is followed by 15 or 20 seconds of crying cellos or, more often, wonky-noise “music” that, if you were only half awake before, has ratcheted you to a standing position, poised to smash your clock radio.
But NPR topped itself last night. It happened during an interview on Fresh Air, hosted by Terry Gross. The topic: Are animals capable of committing suicide? Terry’s guest said of course we all heard stories of family pets refusing to eat as they reached the end of their lives. Was this suicidal behavior? And what about the lowly cricket, which we all know can’t swim. Scientists have documented instances where crickets willfully walked into bodies of water to drown themselves.
I imagined a forlorn Jiminy Cricket dramatically casting aside his six-sleeved smoking jacket as he strode purposely into the ocean. Goodbye cruel world.
I hit a breaking point a couple weeks ago when the Morning Edition host “teased” an upcoming story about the inevitable destruction of the planet’s coral reefs due to global warming. It was exactly what I wasn’t in the mood to hear. I reached over and flipped the station to one of the all-sports programs that litter the AM dial and turned out my brain as two former jocks nattered on and on about the upcoming NFL draft.
As I got into my car, instead of listening to NPR, I popped in a cassette mix tape circa 1994 (Yes, my old POS Tracker has a tape deck). Surely it was better for my tender psyche to listen to Morphine sing “Sharks Patrol These Waters” than to drive through a fog of tears listening to another heart-wrenching StoryCorp piece. On the drive home I tuned in one of the FM stations that conceivably plays nothing but Van Halen and Led Zeppelin rather than listen to the latest update on the unending European financial crisis.
This went on for a few days, and believe it or not, the new routine was working. I could feel the cloud of ennui slowly lift from my shoulders. The world, it seemed, didn’t have to be a sad, frightening place. All you have to do is ignore it.
But no matter how I tried, I couldn’t keep it up. As distressing as it may be, I have to know what’s going on. The news may be one unending tragedy, but it’s my tragedy; it’s our tragedy. And turning it off isn’t going to make it go away.
And it isn’t always tragic. My reward for tuning back into NPR this morning: a story about a man who successfully fought off an “8-foot gatah” as it tried to eat his 6-year-old son. The takeway: Aim for its tender underbelly. Now there’s news you can use as you head off to battle the world.
Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.