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April 16, 2013


I agree 100%, especially with the role of the media in promoting this kind of story.

Wonder if our drone strikes get the same kind of media coverage in Arab countries?

As a person who must be medicated for inherited anxiety, I don't watch tv news anymore. Even though there are scary stories on NPR radio news as well, at least I'm not forced to confront photographs of bombings, etc. It helps quite a bit. My suggestion? Bring a book to the doctor's office. Or get the office to switch the channel to Food Channel or a film channel.

This is a subject that really hits home for me. In the last few years, when I've had to be at the hospital for tests for my husband or myself, it seemed that we were always bombarded by these TV's. It takes all my courage, but frequently I ask those who are waiting with me if they mind if I turn the TV off. I only do this when it seems like no one is really listening. Many times, people seem amazed that I had the audacity to ask, but many times, they agree, which is a huge relief. There was one incident, however, when I asked the other person in the waiting room if they minded if I turned the TV off and they said, "No." But then, when I turned the knob, I found I couldn't turn it off. I went to the receptionist's desk to ask what the problem was. She said the TV could only be turned off from the administrative desk and she's told not to touch it. I'd really like to know who instituted this kind of invasion of our privacy, especially when people are in a place where they're bound to feel more vulnerable.


let's start here: the two small bombs in boston weren't the only bombs that went off around the world yesterday.

the two people who were killed (horrific enough) were barely a blip on the tally of those who died yesterday.

yes, it was sad and frightening.

yes, it was a bad thing.

it does not begin to warrant 24 hour media coverage. come to think of it, very little warrants 24 hour media coverage. we are not emotionally or neurologically equipped to process the bad news of the whole world every day.

this morning i heard a newscaster (i was, like you, trapped in a waiting room) urge people to get on with their normal lives.

why don't we start with resuming regular television programming?

i heard someone declare resolutely that boston will survive this.

yeah, probably. if a city the size of boston can't survive the equivalent of a couple of bad bus crashes, they have bigger problems than are visible on the surface.

it is a very, very sad thing. for some small group of people life is changed forever and for two of them it is over.

it is not a grand scale disaster nor is it a national tragedy. news presenters who have nothing to say should stop speaking.

"that's all we know, folks. here's some music."

Well said, Beth.

Hard to pump gas down here anymore without being talked at by a TV.

Beth, you construct brilliantly a graphic and unsettling picture of a society more besieged by a self-generated culture of paranoia than by the actuality of real and manifest threats to its security and general welfare. But hasn't this been a feature of life and times in the United States since at least 1941 when the USA was finally and irrevocably dragged fully onto the world stage? I can remember from childhood in the late '50s/early '60s a sense of bemusement here in the UK at the level of anti-communist hysteria in day-to-day life.

In fact, it's within that time that the predominant British perception of the US as a nation at once dazzlingly sophisticated and startlingly naive has its roots. And if there is a concomitant general assumption here it would be that 1,000 years of collective marination have provided the jumbled and constantly mutating countries of Europe and Western Asia with a shared understanding of the cycles of history. Nothing surprises us, nothing truly catches us unawares because ever since the rise and fall of the Graeco-Roman Empires and their subsequent imperial offsprings, the same tides seem constantly to rise and fall. The United States became a nation in 1776 - and even that relative stability was seriously compromised between 1861 and 1865 with deep discomfiture as to binding centralised nationality lasting into contemporary times.

Maybe the US needs to experience several centuries more of the grindingly slow social/cultural/political progression towards the jaded but still engaged and purposeful world view that characterises the European overview of global events. Until such times, maybe paranoia and its reaction mechanisms of shock and awe must be the American lot.

(All of which reads, I realise, as suffocatingly patronising! But you know, Beth, of my acute interest in so many things intrinsically American and my understanding of their inestimable value to the world).

TV watching competes with smoking and obesity as a threat to health:


More than one reason to turn it off.

The larger phenomenon is, I think, a by-product of the fact that media moguls didn't know how to deal with 24 hour broadcast power and the acceleration of information proliferation since the TV. I think your example of keeping TVs out of waiting rooms at the doctor's office is a perfect analogy for the strategy we can take towards reducing the anxiety-producing behaviors of modern US society. We, in private communities (within our circle of friends and family), need to commit to conscious consumption of media (because its so hard for one person to change their consumption habits alone). There need to be spaces where those media, including Internet accessing devices, are absent.

@Loren: I agree that the 24-hour anxiety-generating machine is terrible, but it tends to point its nose in the right direction every once in a while. Drone warfare is one of those times. As a US citizen, its distressing to hear President Obama talk out of one side of his mouth about ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, while at the same time pushing legislation that technically allows him to direct drone strikes at any person under suspicion of terrorist activities, including US citizens.Here is one great piece on drones.

Excellent post, Beth! And great comments. It seems to me that we get up here in Canada a lot of American stations (such as CNN) which seem over eager to feed us this kind of excessive and over-excited news reporting which promotes so much anxiety and fear in viewers. Then politicians (even some in Canada) use all this to promote more policing, more anti-terrorism, more jails and border-tightening measures, on and on. We rarely watch TV as we no longer have cable, only a small antenna for a few free channels such as CBC. Internet news is bad enough but is easy to control. I dislike any public, restaurant or office spaces with a loud TV always on. Fortunately not at my doctors and the dentist offers it but always asks if we want it on and I refuse.

N.B.: http://www.theonion.com/articles/this-what-world-like-now,32068/

Right on, Beth. America keeps ratcheting up its daily servings of sugar, salt, and fear. God forbid people acclimate or they might get bored and look for other options. It's like a conspiracy theory: an industry that makes money by keeping the people riveted to fast food, news, and political authorities, because "you'll never survive on your own."
As for the peace and quiet that should be in a doctor's office (to keep that blood pressure down), news broadcasts seem like the equivalent of a dentist handing out candy. Counter-productive. Is this preferred to the option of letting people entertain themselves or communicate with fellow patients?

I often think that most people would go stark-raving mad to find themselves in heaven with only a harp and eternal happiness. They wouldn't know how to deal with the lack of constant trials and upsets (which so effective draw attention away from one's own inner life). It would be interesting to have a grassroots push toward soothing environments becoming an integral part of the health system.

Well said. We really have no need to be force fed anxiety producing "news". Turn it off.

Thank you for speaking out and for speaking up against anxiety, and for saying it so well. I've been tongue tied, unable to express many of the same feelings, thinking that it's just me.

In 1973 I had just emerged from lunch with colleagues at a pub near Smithfield meat market in London and there was an explosion close by. I can hear it now. A shockingly loud, plangent sound as if the surrounding tall buildings had been transformed from bricks and concrete into sheet steel which was resonating sympathetically at the shock wave.

One street away from where we stood was the Old Bailey, London's central criminal court. We looked at each other; none of us said anything but the abbreviation IRA hung in the air. I turned with one of my friends towards the office; the other friend said he intended to have a look. He didn't have far to walk and quickly caught us up. "It was a bomb. Pretty bad."

At the time I regretted not seeing what there was to see. Later I was glad I didn't. To gawk is to concede something small but undeserved to terrorism.

Round about this time I started changing my mind about the transmission of news. Other than the pictures which, with few exceptions, rarely convey anything useful TV is a dubious news medium. Immediacy is all and immediacy may not tell us very much. Rather the reverse. Finding hysteria many reporters feel it necessary to become hysterical. Time after time I tell myself this: OK, such-and-such event has happened, now I'll go to bed and discover what matters in tomorrow's newspapers. I should add I'm lucky in that I take a newspaper I can trust.

But it seems I'm in a diminishing minority. Many people not only feed on immediacy (with the same sub-facts repeated over and over) but feel it necessary to participate, adding their half-baked comments to that which was quarter-baked in the first place. And then come the professional commenters. You are right to distrust the transmission of anxiety masquerading as a public service. At times like these we need catharsis; the act of writing can sometimes provide it.

Thanks for all these thoughtful comments. One note: my dentist/dental surgeon used to be addicted to the news, which was always running on the TV in the waiting room (though softly.) However, he's a very smart guy, and he finally decided it was detrimental to his emotional well-being. He turned off his own TV, and those in the office. Instead he bought a fancy massage chair, and a monitor/DVD system. Patients can go in early or stay after their appointment, have a 20-minute massage, and watch calm videos like Planet Earth if they want to watch something; otherwise they can shut their eyes and listen to music or simply silence. I think it's innovative, and terrific, and a treat rather than a waiting-room experience to be endured. Obviously that's not a solution for a larger patient-base, but if there really must be a TV in the room, why not have it play something calm, relaxing, and beautiful?

My earlier comment seems to have vanished....oh well, now I can't quite remember it!

Wow, this really hit home. I can't stand being force-fed any of it – news, cooking info at the checkout line at the grocery store, music in the drugstore, even ads playing while you're pumping gas at the gas station. Waiting room screens are the worst, especially if they're playing a news channel. In those situations I frequently ask other patients if they mind if I turn the television off. Almost every time the response is "No", so off it goes. I suppose most people wouldn't be comfortable doing that, but if more did, maybe waiting rooms would be quiet once again.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.