Like most people, one of the first things I do in the morning is go online and look at the news. Usually just the headlines are enough; those five or six words are all I need to know about, say, the progress of health care or the latest natural disaster. Stories like that, there’s no reason to delve for further details. But I’m sometimes appalled by the things I do click. Take today, for instance. Here’s a partial lineup of the stories on CNN’s site just a few minutes ago:
- Obama pushes health care in Ohio
7 die in nor’easter
Cyclone hits Fiji with 170 mph winds
Lights back on in Chile
‘Mission: Impossible’ star dies
Marine dies in wrong-way crash
Ticker: Edwards mistress reveals all
Chaz Bono: ‘I was never a lesbian’
Which one of those do you think I was drawn to first? Which one did I almost click, just before coming to my senses and realizing that doing so would make me part of the problem? Yep: Chastity Bono and the lesbian thing. I’m deeply ashamed. It’s arguably the least important thing on the page, and perhaps the universe, and yet there I was, for some reason wanting to know more. Ditto with the bit about John Edwards’ “mistress.”
Through sheer force of will, I remain in the dark about Chaz Bono and the Edwards strumpet. But I wonder about this. I’m one of those who likes to bemoan the corrosion of American culture, and yet seem unable to ignore the freak shows that facilitate that corrosion. I know that every time I click on stories like that, the click is indelibly registered in some corporate data center and adds to the mountain of proof that prurient bullshit outweighs significant news every single time. Supply and demand, baby: over time we get more of what we want, and in the process become precisely what we click.
And watch. If we didn’t dig stuff like “Real Housewives” and “Jersey Shore” and “The Bachelor,” it wouldn’t be on TV. But is on TV, and apparently doing pretty well. I’m not going to point fingers, because I’ve already admitted I like mindless titillation as well as the next guy. But maybe we should consider that while we’re partaking of crap, crap is also partaking of us. (With apologies to Friedrich Nietzsche).