I’ve never understood my mum’s obsession with the news. She sits in her armchair with her glasses perched on the end of her nose devouring every newspaper available on her ipad, with BBC News 24 on in the background. Occasionally she’ll read out a particularly contentious statement to get a rise out of my peace-loving dad, who will look up from his crossword, sigh, and roll his eyes at me.
My mum is scared of everything and everyone. She doesn’t get out much, so she gets her view of the world painted for her by the media, and, judging by the bits she reads out to my dad and I, it’s not a very pretty, balanced, or realistic picture: Every Muslim is a potential threat to our lives, civil liberties and freedom of speech. Every shabbily dressed person on the street is a Romanian beggar. Syrian refugees are all gang-rapists. Every person in a council house is scamming the government for benefits they don’t deserve. Every teenager is doing drugs. Every charity squanders their funds on huge salaries for top execs. Every unknown number that flashes up on the phone is either an Indian call centre or a Nigerian criminal trying to scam elderly people out of their pensions.
Despite my best efforts to explain how the media works, she refuses to accept that the stuff she reads in the papers is just one journalists’ version of events that is often poorly researched, sensationalised, and twisted to sell stories. That one specific incident is not a broader reflection of a societal group as a whole, and that if good news sold stories everyone would think the world is wonderful.
‘A meteor called Nubiru is hurtling towards Earth and will kill us on [insert date] and they’re saying it’s all a big coverup by NASA’
…it said so in the newspapers, therefore it must be true, right?
Lo and behold the date came and went with no meteor. No apocalypse. No extermination of the human race. No surprise.
I don’t read the news. I don’t watch the news. I never have. I never will.*
People are shocked – no – horrified when they find this out — ‘How can you possibly live in such ignorance?’ they ask.
Quite happily, actually.
What good does it do for me to know that an elderly lady was stabbed by teenagers for her fish and chips? It’s awful, tragic, yes — justice must be done… but what sense is there in getting riled up about something that you have absolutely no power to control or change? I can’t arrest those teenagers, or decide their punishment, any more than I can put a stop to world poverty or the problems in the Middle East. I have no desire to be a campaigner or trailblazer and certainly no desire to become a politician. I also don’t spend my time sitting around complaining about how everything in the world has gone to shit, and waiting for someone else to sort it out for me. I see things within my control that I can change for the better, and do what I can to build the world I want to live in, instead of criticising the one I’ve been handed. All I can do is control myself and try and live my life as intentionally, mindfully and compassionately as I can, do the least damage possible, and leave the world a little bit better than it was when I came into it.
Another, more worrying affect of this steady drip-drip-drip of daily atrocities is this: When you’re fed a steady diet of awful things you eventually become immune. Just another teenager involved in crime. Just another politician doing something immoral, Just another war being fought in some distant land caused by people whose names newsreaders struggle to pronounce. It’s like my dad and his crime shows — every night there’s some gruesome murder committed in some strange and convoluted way, and once you’ve seen several episodes it ceases to shock or horrify, and you cease to care.
When the Parsons Green bomb went off, you’d think I’d have been glued to the news about that, because I would have got on that train at Parsons Green to go to work, if I hadn’t moved out of London a few months beforehand. I heard about the Parsons Green bomb from my mum and shrugged. Well as long as nobody is hurt and they catch the bad guy if there was actually a bad guy and not just some freak accident that’s all that matters. I don’t need to listen to live updates from on-the-scene journalists relating second and third hand gossip from breathless eye-witnesses hungry for their 15 seconds of fame, and reporters repeatedly stating ‘we don’t know anything officially yet’… well how about you don’t say anything at all until you do? Otherwise all you’re doing is filling the airwaves with pointless chatter, and people’s heads with speculation and unnecessary panic.
A few times a year, I would pick up and skim-read a copy of The Metro on the train on my way in to London, and by the time I got to Waterloo I would be filled with despair and horror, as every page I turned told me something worse than the last. My heart felt like a bucket that had been placed under a burst pipe of doom and gloom. The only saving grace of the Metro was the good deed feed. If I read the papers every day, and believed everything I read, I’d be scared to leave the house, and end up like my Mum — being innately suspicious of everyone; or, like many others, making assumptions about people based on their age, their race, their religious attire, or their fashion choices. I don’t want to be like that. I prefer to judge individuals by their actions, rather than basing my opinions on what some journalist has said about a very specific group.
These days I only pick up The Metro so I can try and do the Sudoku.
Blissfully content in my ignorance.
*Obviously, if I want to find out about a specific thing and a specific article will tell me about it, I will read it – but I never go online and ‘see what’s going on in the world today’