Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Day the Newsfeed Died

"Writer's block: when your imaginary friends won't talk to you." 

For those of you who aren't old enough to remember the movie referenced by the above picture, it was the film "Harvey", made in 1950 from the play by the same name.  Jimmy Stewart played the main character, Elwood P. Dowd, who communicated with Harvey, an over-6-foot invisible rabbit. 

Harvey was invisible to everyone except Elwood, of course.  This made it difficult for Elwood to get anyone, including those he loved and who loved him, like his sister, his girlfriend, etc. to believe in Harvey.  In fact, it made all of them think that Elwood was mentally deficient, and they tried to commit him to a sanitarium.  No, not a Santorum.  A sanitarium.  A mental hospital, a loony bin, a nuthouse.  A place where people once were committed by family when they no longer could be trusted to care for themselves due to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and multiple personality disorders.  And seeing invisible friends like Harvey.

What made me think of Harvey and his real but bemused friend Elwood was the quote above, which I saw in my Twitterfeed from

It put me in mind of a running conversation I've been having with a trusted circle of friends over these past few days.  Some of us, you see, are growing increasingly distressed at the vitriolic turn taken by the public discourse over this coming election.  The interweb media is rife with sensationalistic headlines which pique the interest in their grab for readership (translation: hits, clicks, advert dollars) This has been exacerbated by the mainstream media with spin and sound bytes replacing responsible, source-checked journalism of the sort which the public could once trust...Edward R. Murrow hasn't been around for a good many years, and neither has Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.  

For that matter, even as recently as 9/11, the late Peter Jennings of ABC in covering the tragedy of the Twin Towers balked on air at reporting something that might not have been accurate.  I can still recall my sense of shock at seeing him turn from the camera and address the production crew with an admonishment to find out what was really going on that dreadful morning...he basically refused right on the air to tell the public something that might be inaccurate and inflammatory.

I don't know about you, but I'm seeing a lot of spin from any number of self-professed "journalists" through my Facebook and Twitter feeds.  Many are passed on by my own imaginary friends.  By imaginary friends, I mean acquaintances, friends of friends I've never even met, or people I went to high school with who didn't give a flying fig about me back then and don't care any more than that for me now.  

What's worse, I'm hearing that people for whom I care deeply  are being ostracized or ridiculed online in much the same way.  Every day.  On Facebook, or Twitter, or on their own blog comments.  People whom I happen to know are decent human beings are having to block or restrict their sites because others who are more talented at watching reality TV than thinking critically and communicating civilly are clogging up their feeds. 

I say it's time to choose our imaginary friends - those who have no true interest in a real relationship - more carefully.  Invite your them to civil discourse. Reach understanding about points of view if they are truly folks whom you love and value.
Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" – she always called me Elwood – "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.
James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd
Here is where my opinion diverges from that of Elwood P. Dowd.  

I used to take a lot of guff for being one of the oh so smart kids in school, so I learned instead how to be oh so pleasant.  Frankly, if listening to much more of the invective being passed around by imaginary friends is required to be thought of as pleasant, I'd rather be considered as nutty as Elwood.  At least HIS imaginary friend was real. 

Just put me in a sanitarium.  (Not to be confused with a Santorum, thank you.) I'll take Harvey AND my absentee ballot with me. 

No comments: