Betty Duffy

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Am Asleep and Awake at the Same Time

I love driving fast on country roads. I like the bobble-headed feeling as my car takes the dips in the road, the drop in my stomach as I coast over the peaks wondering if a car will be on the blind side of the hill. It’s hypnotic. So I was cruising in autopilot along the country roads to a friend’s house when a squirrel ran in front of me, and I awoke to find myself having driven halfway to my parents’ house instead of to my friend’s. I was ticked. If you think driving on autopilot is dangerous, you should have seen me once I turned around, driving like a bat out of hell back towards my missed turn, to make up for the 20 miles I’d driven out of my way (ten out, ten back), and the thirty minutes I’d lost.

In a leap of metaphor, I find myself in a cultural current of late, in which I steadily and absently forge through life on a media-induced soma holiday. Sitting in the doctor’s office I bounce back and forth between the TV screen and the latest People Magazine. Online, I drift through the blogosphere avoiding any reliable news sources. A Valentine’s Dinner date, found my husband and I inadvertently allowing our attention to drift to the E! Hollywood true story taking place on the flat-screen. I have to wonder what the cost of all this complacency will be when we wake up and realize we are off course. Does 787 billion dollars sound about right?

I heard a rumor that the US conscientiously exports media to Iraq to win the natives over to Democracy. When people are hooked on Western TV shows, technologies, and fashions they are friendlier to the political influence that introduced them to such pleasures. I find that idea just a tiny bit disturbing.

For some reason, perhaps because I subscribe to Harper’s magazine (for the fiction, I tell you), I find myself on the mailing list for the ACLU. It’s interesting to receive their mailings with their presumptuous sermons on how outraged I should be about the state of life in America. I am outraged, come to think of it, not only because they are impinging on my role as the designated deliverer of presumptuous sermons, but also because the ACLU is putting its efforts in the wrong places.

They sent out a survey recently in which I was meant to rank in importance certain items on the ACLU litigation agenda. On issues of religious freedom, they wanted to know how important I considered freedom from religion in the public schools (important, somewhat important, or very important). If they had allowed space for comments, I would have told them, that what I would like freedom from is this mind numbing popular media that intrudes on my life everywhere I go. Talk about an “opium of the people.”

At the gym where I work out, there’s a row of TV screens on the front wall that all the machines face. One day, as I absentmindedly (as per the usual) spun on the elliptical machine, I glanced up from my reading material to see three half naked people in a hot tub engaged in an intense make-out session. I looked around at the retirees who work out in the morning alongside me and the other stay-at-home-moms, thinking surely someone would pipe up at the disturbing visual, but everyone else plugged along as though there were nothing particularly scandalous or surprising about a communal viewing of soft porn in a public place at 10 a.m.

I jumped off the machine to complain to the manager, and he said, “Well, you can ask the people around you if they don’t mind if you change the channel.”

“If THEY don’t mind?” I asked, incredulous. “Shouldn’t they ask me if I DO mind watching pornography?” Imagine the possible responses: “Well my wife doesn’t let me watch it at home—so I’d rather you not.”

Has the media not become some sort of secular religion? And if so, I demand to have my thoughts released from its influence in public places so I can think freely and independently, and occasionally in silence. DO YOU HEAR ME, ACLU???

To drive the point home, I leave you with a little quote from my favorite Pope:

“The human person is a being which does not become itself automatically. Nor does it do so simply by letting itself be carried along and surrendering to the natural gravitational pull of a kind of vegetative life. It becomes itself always and only by struggling against the tendency simply to vegetate and by dint of discipline that is able to rise above the pressures of routine and to liberate the self from the compulsions of utilitarian goals and instincts.” (Pope Benedict XVI)

There is our German Shepherd urging us not to be sheep.


Kristin T. (@kt_writes) said...

I find being surrounded by so much constant media very mind-numbing and surreal, too. Particularly at the gym and at restaurants, where as individuals we have little or no control over it. It's as if we're afraid, as a society, to have open spaces in which to think, or to converse, or simply to *be.* And THAT'S what's truly scary.

What a great quote to leave us with, too. Thanks.

Gretchen said...

HATE T.V. in restaurants--esp sports...although the occasional porn during the elliptical seems nice and distracting. Do yoga! :)

megan said...

Great post. That quote by Pope Benedict is just what I needed to read before the start of Lent.

Patrick said...

I will be giving up reruns of Three's Company for Lent.

You are a fun read!

Betty Duffy said...

Kristin, you make a very good point. It's societal and individual, it seems, to fill the void with chatter. What are we afraid of? Or are we just bored?

And if boredom's the case, I think giving up "Three's Company" would be a very good discipline.

Thank you, bytheway, Megan for reminding me that Lent starts next week. In my mind, it's still months away.

OK Gretchen, I'm trying yoga.