Sunday, November 16, 2014

"If a Martian came down and met us they'd think we were all involved in gunplay, most of us had met a serial killer, and many of us are engaging in some sort of espionage . . .

And what he's saying is that life doesn't have to be hyperbolized.  What we actually experiences is good enough."

That comes from an interview with Ethan Hawke in the LA Times today, talking about the character Rick, the stepfather, in the movie Boyhood.  Hawke is responding to critics who say the movie is too mundane.

This is a theme I've been thinking about a lot since I actually see tv news when I visit my mom.  Just this morning I was dismayed watching the local news with  the car crash pictures repeated over and over and the 30-70 mile Santa Ana winds hyped as a serious danger complete with video of a tree knocked over onto two cars.

It's clear that 'the news' has changed over the years.  Excerpted from a piece in Psychology Today article by Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D.
". .. there is good reason to believe that the negative sensationalism in news has been gradually increasing over the past 20-30 years. So first, we’ll have a look at what negative news is, we’ll then examine the reasons why the broadcasting of negative news has become so prevalent. Then finally, we’ll look at some of the ways in which viewing perpetual negative news might affect your mood, and particularly your tendency to worry about your own specific problems.
. . . News bulletins also have to compete with entertainment programs for their audience and for their prime-time TV slot, and seem to do this by emphasizing emotionally relevant material such as crime, war, famine, etc. at the expense of more positive material.

He writes about his study that showed that watching negative news caused people to "catastrophize."
Catastrophizing is when you think about a worry so persistently that you begin to make it seem much worse than it was at the outset and much worse than it is in reality – a tendency to make ‘mountains out of molehills’!
This is just one study.  But there are others.  From a piece by Jesse Singal New York Magazine, The Science of Us.  He writes that people who watch a lot of negative news coverage aren't necessarily clinically depressed:
“But if you ask how they feel about the world, what they end up with is this malaise: ‘Everything’s kinda bad’ and ‘Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help’ and ‘I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.’ 
Is this a contributor to the low voter turnout last week?
”The consequences of this are one thing if you live in an age in which, once or twice an evening, you’ll see a short, bloody dispatch from a war going on across the world. They’re quite another today, when you can have news of every civilian death in Gaza or every Islamic State military advance streamed to you in real time. People could be forgiven for adopting a hell-in-a-handbasket stance toward the rest of the world. 
And what about when the images are repeated over and over again, relentlessly?
That’s a problem, because when people are led to believe things are falling apart, it affects their decision-making and their politics — whether or not their pessimism is warranted. We already know from political-psychological research that the more threatened people feel, the more likely they will be to support right-wing policies. And people who believe in the concept of unmitigated evil appear more likely to support torture and other violent policies.
McLuhan said 'The medium is the message" back in the mid 60's.   The medium still bears as much attention as the message.

Now, let's not be guilty of sensationalizing the dangers either.  Singal also writes:
"Before getting into the effects of all this, it’s important to state what a steady diet of bad news won’t do. It won’t give you PTSD, anxiety, or depression if you weren’t predisposed toward those conditions, McNaughton-Cassill said. Causation is tricky here: It may simply be that depressed or anxious people are more likely to seek out bad news, and bad news could in turn worsen the effects of these conditions in certain ways."
This was the preface, though, to the paragraph above on malaise.

He also writes that people still tend to be positive about their immediate setting - their neighbors are ok, their local schools are ok.  But when you look beyond their personal experiences, their perception of danger 'out there' is definitely biased by the news.

I think about the people who have asked me over the years about dangers I face when traveling.  I was headed to India when there was news about a Dengue fever breakout.  40 people out of 10 million people who live in Delhi were affected.  The odds of hitting a moose driving in Anchorage were much higher.

Rick Steves makes this point strongly:
Q: Is it safe to travel overseas right now?
A: Travelers should understand the risk of terrorism in a cold, logical, statistical way. Your odds of being killed by a terrorist overseas or in the air are 1 in 2,200,000. Your odds of being struck by lightning are 1 in 600,000. Your odds of being killed by gunfire in the United States are 1 in 18,900.
He also has a new book called Travel as a Political Act.  His Facebook page hypes the release of the second edition of Travel as a Political Act:
To make travel a political act, sightsee with an edge. Seek out political street art...and find out what it means. Read local culture magazines and attend arts and political events. Take alternative tours to learn about heroin maintenance clinics in Switzerland, Copenhagen's Christiania commune, and maquiladora labor in Tijuana. Walk with a local guide through a slum in a developing country. Meeting desperately poor villagers living with a spirit of abundance, ponder how so many rich people live with a mindset of scarcity. All this week, I’m celebrating the release of the second edition of my book, TRAVEL AS A POLITICAL ACT. I’m sharing my top tips on how to pry open your hometown blinders, bring home a broader perspective, and implement that worldview as citizens of our great nation. Find more tips at and find the book at

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