A recent Gallop Poll has found that eight in 10 Americans are stressed out. With Christmas behind us and New Year’s resolutions to be eventually discounted just around the corner, it’s time to take a breath, say a Hail Mary or two, and count our blessings.
And the best way to do this is to turn the TV off.
Television and movies are all about stress. Reality shows have made people wealthy beyond their wildest imaginations by putting competing pathologies in a house for an extended amount of time or on a remote island in the middle of the ocean just so we, the audience can watch what happens next.
You can’t blame all the stress on pop culture. Yes, the 24-hour news cycle doesn’t help, but if there weren’t so much bad news in the form of wars, famine, general inhumanity and a guy in North Korea who is spending entirely too much time on rocketry and nuclear fusion, there would be more cat videos and human-interest stories about string collections. As far as stress inducing, I don’t think we can compete with America in the 1860s or America (and the whole world for that matter), in the 1930s and 1940s.
In its infancy and throughout its adolescence, television was a uniquely unifying force in America and one pretty much devoid of conflict. There were variety shows and westerns and cop shows. That was about it. And although the westerns and cop shows always revolved around conflict, everything worked itself out for the good in four acts.
And not only was there no 24-hour news cycle, there was no 24-hour television cycle as broadcast “days” were ceremoniously ended with the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Some broadcasts even ended with a prayer. I told you, this was quite a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away. When I was young I went through a bout of insomnia and going to sleep in front of the television was kind of comforting. If I dozed off and then woke to either the National Anthem being played or just a test signal and a low frequency sound wave, it made me feel a little depressed. The world was asleep and I was awake.
Now the world never sleeps and television has a voracious appetite for product. Good, bad or indifferent, most of it bad and indifferent. It doesn’t seem to matter as the beast must be fed. I can’t help but think this phenomenon is related to elevated stress levels as found in the Gallop Poll.
It might be a case of “less is more.” Growing up in L.A. during the era of over the air broadcast television, we had access to only 7 television options: the three networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and, because Los Angeles even then was a major media center, four independent television stations. We thought we were rich beyond compare, at least when it came to television. We had relatives in other parts of the country where they didn’t even have all three networks, let alone so many independent stations to see old movies and old TV reruns.
The technology was slower which also helped slow down the pace of bad news and gave us all time to breathe a little. There is a reason local television news is on at 11 p.m. That is because during the day in another time, crews were out covering stories with film cameras. That film had to be developed and then edited, so the catch phrase “film at eleven” let people know that if they wanted to see what was being reported on the afternoon news, they were going to have to wait.
Now everything comes through our televisions and our computers and even our watches in real time and we don’t have a moment to catch our breath. So as the year ends, and as the uncertainty of 2018 (as uncertain as any other year when you think about it) looms, let’s consider unplugging just for a while. Let someone else stress over who will “survive” and who will not, and give peace a chance by not watching political talk shows. And we can trust that whatever happens, God in Heaven is still in charge.
And don’t worry, all the troubles in the world will be there when you plug back in.