I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real – ‘Hurt,’ Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails
That’s the second time we’ve recently applied those magnificent lyrics and I never get tired of hearing them. To wit, I would highly recommend watching Johnny Cash’s amazing video cover of that song – but I digress!
When we last referred to them back in September, using 9/11 as a reference point, the theme was refusing to allow our worst moments to define us. My theory was, while I certainly want to learn and evolve from my mistakes, I’d really rather not celebrate their anniversaries. I’d prefer to believe that my best moments are what truly define me.
I can kind of understand why people put crosses up at fatal accident sites, keep a deceased child’s room intact, or even keep a pet’s ashes on the mantle. I have a plaster paw print of every dog I’ve ever owned. But what I don’t understand is, per another great musician, when these same sad folks “get stuck in a moment that they can’t get out of.”
What brought this strange consideration to a head, you ask? One of my favorite friends and I were discussing how there’s a special place reserved in hell for the local newspaper editors and reporters who prey on and profit from public fears by the frequently repeated administration of pandemic panic porn. And that’s particularly true of the Kane County Chronicle
Day after bleepin’ day that yellow tabloid gleefully offers the slow painful drip of the latest COVID case numbers, what schools went on the “watch list,” infection rates, and the exactly how many people have perished from the plague.
But when I added that, not only did this truly terrible journalism fail to move the pandemic story along in any meaningful way, but it incited readers to tremble under the Sword of Damocles, my friend came up with quite the cogent response. He said, “they wouldn’t print that shit in the paper if it didn’t get more hits than other news stories.”
And he’s right! Though it’s not nearly what a newspapers is supposed to be, the Chronicle is simply giving their readers what they want.
The best analogy might be how we curse the illegal drugs that tear our communities apart, but we rarely stop to consider how their existence solely relies on the vast demand for them. As unprincipled as the Chronicle is, if their horrific COVID coverage didn’t draw readers, they’d quickly moved on to something else.
Which brings us right back to Mr. Reznor’s lyrics and the question of the “moment” in which we choose to live.
To a lesser degree, pandemic panic porn works because, despite our technological capacity to contact anyone on the planet within seconds, we’re a lonely culture that longs for some sort of shared experience.
To better understand this stark reality, all you have to do is observe four high schoolers at the morning bus stop glued to their cellphones as they utterly ignore each other. They’re only three feet apart but it may as well be light years!
So, this persistent worst case scenario coverage works partly because the plague provides that infrequent and impossible to ignore shared reality. It’s like a neighborhood reaction to a 10-inch snowstorm on steroids. Everyone comes out of their warm houses to help their neighbors dig out and commiserate about the hazards of choosing to live in the North American Tundra.
Then there’s the biblical aspect to the COVID coverage phenomenon.
To a varying degree, every Christian generation claims they’re living in the End Times, and what better than a persistent pestilence to prove their point! These superstitious folks clearly derive a great deal of self-importance and standing from the pandemic, because in their minds, God wouldn’t thrust this test on just anyone, He chose to test us!
But while these two theories go a reasonable way towards explaining this pointless COVID coverage, as Mr. Reznor so grimly described, the far greater factor is that a host of Americans require a constant pain and fear infusion just to feel alive. And the perishing print media has learned to tap into this dysfunctional dynamic.
Of course, just as it is with any self-perpetuating feedback loop, the constant coronavirus catastrophe drumbeat only serves to make the situation that much worse. And just like it is with any addiction, like moths to the flame, those insistently terrified folks desperately need their daily fear fix.
So, now we’re made it to the point in this column where I try to sum it all up and do my best to come up with some sort of solution. But in spite a vast wishful thinking, I don’t have one here. I suppose I could start screaming “deal with your fear and pain addiction and move on from it,” but that would probably work about as well as trying to get those Elgin Democrats to abide by the indoor mask mandate.
But all is not lost because I do have a conclusion!
The aspect of the pandemic that terrifies me far more than any potential medical issue is how so many folks are becoming so much better at learning how not to live. Then, in an effort to prove their bleak reality, they become equally bound and determined to drag the rest of us down with them! And that’s a far worse fate than any physical plague reality. To quote a third stellar musician:
I got God on my side
And I’m just trying to survive
What if what you do to survive
Kills the things you love
Fear’s a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black, you can trust
It’ll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust