We’re all afraid of something. I, for one, experience a stomach tightening at the sight of bats (the flying kind), have serious trouble with heights and don’t even think about suggesting a spin on a roller-coaster. Flying, also, I’m not too keen on. Well, it’s really more crashing and dying than flying itself.
But fear, or rather FEAR, has become the way of things, the modus operandi of life in this country thanx in large degree to the blue messiah in our houses that we can’t imagine doing without. Of late, though, it’s become more insidious than just The Boob Tube or The Idiot Box. It’s become The Fear Box.
During my noontime constitutional under a cloudless spring sky I gave quite a lot of thought to the sources of fear we all face, spurred by a line I had read earlier in the day from Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill,
“…certain unethical people have engaged in the business of “selling health” by keeping alive the fear of ill health.”
I let the truth of that statement scurry around in my brain for awhile. How many drugs are pandered on TV for fear of the loss of perfect health? Certainly Insurance Companies sell us fear of death (life insurance), sickness (health insurance), loss of our material possessions (homeowners and auto insurance). News broadcasts are easy targets. Plastic drones sell us stories reeking of personal-danger-at-your-door hysterics or wanton humiliation and you better be careful because this could happen to you. Oh and if you see humiliation in progress, please call our news desk so we can send a crew over directly. Politicians sell us security (re: loss of freedom) by hammering the fear of terrorism at us in neat little rainbow colors. Please keep on eye on the people next door especially if the they don’t look, smell, smile and think like you.
It makes me wonder why are we not all engaged in a lemming-esqe exodus; leaping off tall buildings, throwing ourselves prostrate on local rail lines anxiously waiting the 5:02 commuter special or ingesting Kavorkian sized helpings of Drano casserole?
Because that’s not what the television, political and industrial machines want. Now before you get your loony-paranoid-left-wing rubber stamps inked up, hear me out. It seems to me that in order to keep us riveted to the terror all around us yet still consuming all the potions, notions and lotions to assuage our fears, at least temporarily, we must be pushed right to the edge of insanity without wanting to fling ourselves head-first off this mortal coil. TV does a masterful job of this. In my mind television broadcasts are split into two types: 1) fear inducing (as mentioned above) and 2) fear soothing, or at the least fear distracting. The fear soothing program takes us away from the school shootings, the baby drownings, the mass murders the dumpster babies, the fear of wrinkled skin, beer gut, anxiety and not having a five bedroom three bath colonial, and makes us feel just jim dandy about ourselves for 22 or 45 minutes at a clip. What better way to calm our fears than to show us people we don’t know being humiliated, debased, shot, mangled, snarled at or, having the type of sex we all SHOULD be having, but aren’t and for God’s sake why aren’t we there must be something wrong with us and where’s my dammed Cialis???? Would American Idol be a hit if Simon were replaced by, say, Martha Stewart? Would Hell’s Kitchen be still running if the head chef was the queen of perkiness Rachel Ray? Even Oprah’s entry into altruism is based on, to a certain degree, rejection. “If you don’t give enough, you’re history. Get lost” We are programmed to ease our tension at the humiliation of others.
So we sit there is our living rooms, dens, bedrooms, kitchens and even bathrooms staring at an inanimate mass of circuits and glass. We choose to invite all these mind-games into our lives, on average in America, for four hours a day. Paddy Chayefsky wrote it over forty years ago in Network: “This is mass madness, you maniacs!”
I’m reminded of Huxley’s Brave New World or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 depicting a society whose fears and anxiety’s have been thoroughly medicated, feelings cease and interaction with families on the wall-TV is the main focus of life. As we sit, night after night, day after day, anti-depressed to the max, conceding that life without knowing the latest drama on Wisteria Lane would be intolerable. Oh, they’ll be happy to let you know the latest risque shenanigans as long as you buy into your fear of love lost, fear of criticism and fear of rejection if you don’t drink this, rub that, inject this, look like that, eat this, don’t eat that, drive this, wear that, look nineteen years old, have six pack abs, dress like a hooker, smell like this and just plain aren’t cool!
We have the CHOICE to not have TVs in our houses. I know this is blasphemy…especially when I look around to see the half a dozen satellite dishes attractively bolted to every other chimney, wires from which snake along rooftops and hang like swinging vines from the rain-gutters of our neighborhoods.
Oh by the way, next week is National Turn Your TV Off week. Just think about it.