Woke up this morning at the usual five o’clock deadline. NPR was presenting the latest news instead of music. As if the week’s news had not been bad enough, there was a report of a shootout and explosions and more disaster.
So how much can we take?
I’m sure there is are studies about what people can tolerate from natural or otherwise disasters. Well this week brought it to focus.
There have always been these disasters, but it was written in the newspapers or magazines so it gave some distance from the reality. Then came television.
The first disaster I remember was the assassination of a president. I was in junior high school and didn’t know what was going on. I knew we were in a cold war because I had learned to duck and cover but had no idea of politics. I knew we won the last war with the big bomb but did not hear or read about the Cuban Missile crisis. There was no discussion of politics at home.
The president when I was born was Harry Truman. From the pictures he just looked like any old guy in a suit and a hat and did not look like the guy who had ordered the bomb. In elementary school I remember making a handmade button saying, “I Like Ike!” He just seemed like another old bald man but he had been a general.
That November day our school principal announced over the speakers in each room that the school was closing and we kids were all to go home. We gathered our books and knapsacks and walked home like it was a snow day. There were no sirens or police cars or anything to indicate a disaster was happening.
I went to my room and tuned on my black and white television and started watching the steady stream of Walter Cronkite delivering the news that the president was dead. I even invited a friend over to play with soldiers and toys while history changed to a constant drum beat. I didn’t see it in live time but heard my mother gasp when the assassin was assassinated.
These events seem to happen only now and then and were quickly forgotten, but today they seem to be more frequent. It is ashamed.
The first real even I remember was Kent State. Here was a bunch of kids in college my age protesting a war and suddenly they were shot. I understand the poor kids in uniform who felt threatened but it was our own government was shooting people my age.
Politics had become more familiar as our innocence tried to protest changes. Then one by one our heroes we had followed we dropping one by one.
There were other crazies who started to make the news. And every week there seem to be more crazy events happening. More reporters and newer technologies covered every event or disaster in overwhelming detail. When a camera or microphone couldn’t get into the site, a string of experts in the field would describe what was happening. Every point of view was covered and discussed and stated again and again.
Today with the Internet and social media, events are announced before the new agencies can get the story. My first notification of the Va. Tech disaster was from an email from someone at the campus. Then the networks cut their typical programming with a constant stream of images and descriptions and interviews. One wonders who much can an individual take.
My wife told me about the Challenger explosion. She was an avid television watcher so the TV was on the first thing in the morning until the last thing at night.
When I got home she was a wreck. She described the constant television coverage of the disaster and the day’s repetitive review of the disaster.
The 9/11 tragedies happened while I was at work. People started rushing over to televisions or online news coverage to watch the towers fall again and again. I tried to keep the work ethic going because we had a special edition to print and then do our regular newspaper work. I got to see images that we never printed but pushed our way through the day and did not fully understand the magnitude of the event until I got home and watched it over and over on the news.
This type of mayhem must be good for ratings. Just like a train wreck people gather around to see the carnage. The most popular video games promote violence. And then the government finds a reason to invade another’s land so these kids can tryout their skills at war.
Jake was a good plumber and liked to work on his truck. Harry ran the local wash and dry. He had two good kids on the varsity softball team and attended the Methodist church. Mary was known for the best applesauce cake in town. These and millions of others don’t make the history books. They live their lives, do their jobs, raise their families and even run their marathons.