The Big Blur

by Seymour Schechtman

I used to get this enormous feeling of guilt when throwing out the Sunday Times, that enormous compendium of current history , the newspaper of record. I was ashamed that my cluttered, disorganized life style never allowed sufficient time to properly appreciate the vast scope of its coverage in detailing all of the great flow of current important events. How much more insight into life I would have! How much more meaningful everything would be if I had diligently attended to its many pages and multiple meanings. And here I was , even after furtively holding out till Tuesday or Wednesday vainly hoping to catch up with many of those tantalizing sections, finally discarding the paper still largely unread. And then too, those weekly and monthly super relevant , meaningful periodicals and news letters, which gave you overall perspective, relevance and wisdom from a more detached global viewpoint, perhaps not completely unread and perhaps with more substance retained, but still mostly a large cognitive blur of naked fact, a plethora of information unrepentant, thrashing about in the mind and refusing to conform to comfortable, preconceived stereotypes.

But to compound this initial dubious information feast, the perceptions of what these facts mean---certainly in the weekly or monthly commentaries-- are endlessly recycled, reconfigured, reinterpretated and reformulated to fit whatever ideological stereotype is being currently promoted and/or worshipped. And since there are at least conservative and liberal....feminist, multicultural, racist, sexist, gay, homophobic, vegetarian, view points-- to mention only a few off the top of the head---ways to order the facts, we can easily end up with an unending flood of words on paper, a multiplicity of fact which is then bent,shaped and molded into commentary, analysis, projection and advanced gobbledygook in reinforcing current ideology and theory.

So just imagine my sense of guilt as I shovel out this welter of heavy punditry, still only partially digested and myself still not enlightened enough because of my inexcusable lassitude in not coping sufficiently with all this glorious ultimate clarification. A river of print, a flood of fact and opinion that can submerge, dishearten, and even drown the striving intellect valiantly trying to make sense of it all! And three months hence, as the new facts and incidents emerge and the punditry continually adjusts and reanalyzes and reinterprets, and many more reams of print are elaborated and have to be disposed of, much to the dismay of the earnest strivers for enlightenment and clarification, who still know not enough and feel upset because they have not sufficiently confronted all the documentary revelations presented. Not to mention all the radio and TV eruptions in their ever expanding news and talk show modes.

But, lo, we have the other side of the coin, Consider the poor hapless fellow who for about t hree lamentable months or so is out of touch with all these modern marvels of communication. Maybe a GulliverÕs travel sort of thing, months away at some distant Shanga-La. On returning after so long out of touch with the crucially relevant events so dramatically detailed daily in the press, how long will it take him to be aware of the true import of all these celebrated and significant happenings on oneÕs life and perception of reality by this three month torrent of verbiage so direly reported and not assimilated because of this dreadful void in his life? The way my old high school French teacher of blessed memory would pithily describe it, the relevant stuff could be detailed on the back of a postage stamp, and with a garbage manÕs broom no less--there were no sanitation workers back then--and there would be enough room left over for the LordÕs prayer. Have you ever confronted a three month old newspaper? There is nothing so painfully archaic and irrelevant, so full of verbal noise and upset signifying so little of current, only three month later, value. At least an earlier news periodical has the mellow charm of history, since we accept the vain thrashings and trumpetings that it details with both amusement and amazement at the way people were mistakenly enthralled and even motivated.

I am perhaps being crassly simplistic. The newspaper has many important functions; the advertisements, for some important wheels of commerce and industry depend of that daily disseminated information, the daily weather information, financial tables and sporting results, and perhaps reviews of the various arts,, plays movies, books, etc. But for the average person and his or her life style and value system, what will be really relevant will generally rise up to him (I am loosely paraphrasing Mark Harris here) and be readily apparent, either by word of mouth or the unusual universal concurrence of the media. Perhaps not as pithily as my old French teacher put it, what I am saying is that a prior vital function of newsprint was its use as the wrapping of choice for the fishmonger or the butcher in the sale of his vital product, but alas in this modern age of plastic that important function has been supplanted, and hence we poor enlightenment seeking mortals in our homes become the dead end for this avalanche of fact and information and are forced daily to remove it before it actually becomes as physical threat to our lives as it already has to our sanity and emotional stability by the cognitive confusion it has fostered.

We always smiled in amusement at the ancient Romans and their bread and circuses, the use of gladiatorial events in the sports arenas and the dole of bread to keep the mob in check. Our approach is a tad more sophisticated, but not much different in function. We are continually being manipulated and ultimately overwhelmed---amused, beguiled, upset, perturbed, enraged---with the cognitive dysfunction of overwhelming media material, verbally by radio , and visually, by print and TV., but it is really only a more sophisticated version of the ancient Roman technique. The great mass of profound printed material that surrounds us daily, and its verbal and visual accompaniment on radio and TV is only an amusement and diversion, part of the great comedic flow of life, every day a new scene developing, and its true significance and import for our essential living hardly to be found within the parameters of the continual media barrage shaping in into a product that will enthrall you at least long enough to be receptive the appended commercials and advertisements that are really paying all the freight for the whole enterprise. Unless, of course, it is still the outer wrapping of a good piece of fish, or perhaps some savory meat or chopped liver.

My old French teacher of almost sixty years ago also imparted a sound, practical advice on good survival techniques on passing the French three year regents. (Actually he spent more time philosophizing than teaching so this was a necessary if educationally dubious strategy). But we were bright kids and we learned the French, too, mostly by our selves!) Whatever the subject of the required essay to be written in French was, you would just prepare a large section on, say, my lovely house in the country, and simply lead any required essay topic right into that with as few non sequiturs as possible. This is still essentially how we protect ourselves from the big blur of media warp today, a defensive mental digging in against the continual onslaught of formless information. Most of the time we become one issue advocates, if not zealots, trading our objectivity for the emotional security of pro choice or anti abortion, for or against affirmative action, the environment, free trade, capitalism,etc... as if these individual causes were the Holy Grail brought up to date. Sometimes this attitude of "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts" is the only sound reaction to the media big blur we are engulfed in, although sadly it is true that some times things do change, only we will generally only know what was meaningful change years later as one looks back retrospectively. The one topic technique that was sound strategy for the high school regents does have many drawbacks, but due to the media blitz sometimes it is unfortunately the only viable option for many. And years later, when we are all hopefully still alive and sentient, we can look back fondly at this or that past time, safe in our Monday morning hindsight command post and able to see how ludicrous our current media bread and circuses truly were. And from that future vantage point may we all not distort our past misguided topical passions with too many "see, I told you so's" that we really did not feel or perceive as the ultimate reality in the heat of our wisdom of the moment.

In those distant days our sage French teacher---he had a slight goatee, a title of "Doctor" no less before his name, which, of course, greatly exalted the rather mundane Jewish of his Max Lieberman patronymic, also would sarcastically opine that with all those postage stamp size profundities and five cents you could get a ride into the city---from any part of Brooklyn deep into New York. In those dim, past days of blessed, if nostalgically distorted memory you could, for another five cents change in Manhattan for the train to the very outermost tip of the Bronx! I know , being able to afford becoming romantically involved with some Bronx girls who were only ten cents (but almost two hours!!) away. At this remove it is possible that it was not Max who uttered this last immortal bit. It may have been Eddie Cantor. However, none of us had any trouble with the French regents.