Friday, March 2, 2012

My Life in the Sand

Did you know my first declared major in college was politics? My husband didn't, either, until the other night. I was telling him how infuriated I was about various issues of the day, and told him that I was reminded of the sensation I had in college, which was the last time I actually paid attention to what was going on in the world.

I learned not long after Matt started being at home all the time that his habit was to watch the previous evening's broadcast of The Daily Show every day on the internet; presumably he did this at his job while on break, and now that he's at home, he does it at home. It mutated to DVRing it rather than watching it with obnoxiously repetitive commercials on the internet, and then I started watching with him. It's a show I've always liked, but I am not in the habit of watching first-run television at all.

I strongly believe that Stewart provides the least biased journalism in America. He makes jokes, no doubt, but he makes jokes about everybody. And I sincerely believe that he's not beholden to any other interests than his own. Of course we've been watching The Colbert Report after Stewart's finished, and I'm torn about which one is more effective. I think Stewart has the harder task, but I also believe Colbert has done more actual activism, more to attempt change.

Both of them attest to being comedians, not commentators. Even though they are more than aware of the environment effected by the 24-hour news cycle (because they would not be capable of their jobs without that environment and a high level of awareness about it), I think they are not quite cognizant of its extent. I trust no television journalists at all except Stewart (and dead ones like Cronkite and Murrow), and I think he would be surprised to hear that. The reason is simple: the "real" ones are more farcical than either of them, and appear too dead-eyed and well-coiffed for my taste. Col-bear may be a character that Col-birt is playing, but he is absolutely no more ridiculous than certain commentators.

Case in point: this. I find myself speechless at this story. Like, I can't even construct an argument in this space to talk about why this story makes me so angry that I'm dizzy and my heartbeat is irregular. I thought, well, surely Limbaugh isn't going to be taken seriously on this. And then I scrolled down and read the first dozen or two dozen comments, and my mouth got dry from hanging open. Who are these aliens, who fail to understand what paying for prescriptions entails? Who have no conception of hormonal medicine? Who...gaaaaaah.

This is just one of the stories bouncing around our national political scene in the last several months that has gotten me riled and furious about What's Going On, as Marvin Gaye had it. Women's reproductive health is obviously the biggie for me, but everywhere I look I seem to see corruption and greed, about which I feel horribly impotent. I can laugh, at Stewart and at Colbert, but laughing doesn't fix it.

This is how I feel about it:

And it was how I felt about it back in the early 2000s when I was in college. I was inspired by an incredible professor to become a politics major, but I lasted less than a year. I was depressed, horribly clinically depressed. Due to other factors as well, but partly due to the ugly discovery that the political cycle hadn't changed at all, across the world, throughout organized history, and that in all likelihood it never, ever would. Politicians would continue to be corrupt, the media would continue to be partly a freedom but mostly an accomplice and a palliative, and the system would churn forward with very little actual change.

During my sophomore year I took a 101-level class in film studies, and to my surprise I kept getting As on the papers without really trying (I have never been a natural A student). I discovered not only that I was really good at film studies, but that I really liked film studies; it was more interesting to me than pretty much any subject matter I'd ever studied, and it got me excited about learning in a way politics no longer did without my inspiring professor. So I switched majors, and I stopped paying attention to the news and to current events, and for many years my life was happy. I stayed absorbed in fictional media and left entirely alone the media related to politics.

And now Stewart and Colbert and their exceptional wit have brought me back to being angry and depressed 9 hours a day. Because once you start paying attention to the stuff that satirists draw your attention to, it's pretty hard to stop. You stumble across Monsanto, you read some of the egregious things that our government has passively endorsed, you see the balsa-wood structure behind it all. You start to really think about courageous bozos vs. well-intentioned cowards and who's likely to come out on top and whether it even matters and why the job of the politician, to represent us, has gotten pressed and reprinted as greenbacks and styled and gelled as TV-ready hair.

And you get really, severely depressed.

Matt was amazed I used to be a politics major. His exact words were "You were? Really?", and we agreed that it was for the best that I changed to film. I'm presently trying to decide whether I should bury my head back in the sand. The world didn't end in 2002 and it's likely not going to end in 2012, and it didn't hurt me to be politically ignorant for all that time. In its individual-level way, it helped me, in fact. The question of whether it's better to be willfully ignorant and happy with your little life, or to get informed and be fucking miserable, is one that I've been struggling with on and off since my sophomore year in college, but never at such a dramatic peak as I am right now.

And the thing is, Colbert is really really funny. He leaves me with a residue of joy, even when I'm angry. I was waiting for someone to make the perfect joke about the contraception flap, and he did it:

But I don't know. My life in the sand was untroubled. Quiet. Filled with art and music. This way, I either channel my rage into a non-profit and never say die, or I sit in my house screaming at my clenched fist until I can move to Canada (if Canada ever gets warm enough for me to move to). Neither is a Middle Way as satisfying as ignoring it all.

Of course, following the Oscars isn't too satisfying, either.

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