One of the great lies of our time is that the modern media is a purveyor of valuable information. In truth, it is solely a purveyor of interesting information — and nothing is so instinctively interesting to man as bad news. Our instinct to pause and take note of death, rape, starvation, storms and all other flavors of evil served mankind quite well for thousands of years, when everything we could see was what we could see directly around us with our own eyes. Any evil that close would certainly bear watching.
However, the sure benefit of our interest in strange and terrible events ended when it became possible for “merchants of interesting information” to go right ‘round the globe searching out train wrecks, child sex slaves, air crashes, murders, wars, famines, terror attacks, floods, storms, hostage standoffs, environmental disasters, lost whales, burned kittens and dead children. Now, like man’s appetite for fat, salt and sugar — once rarities in our environment deserving of focus when found — man’s appetite for interesting information has become a source of self-destructive pathology. Our tendency to overload on bad news is a mental disorder of affluence, in the same way that obesity is a physical disorder of affluence.
And I believe it is a deeply harmful pathology. It cannot be good for us to have a constant stream of pain and disaster flowing into our heads. It must affect who we are and what we think. It resets our sense of the acceptable. It anesthetizes our urge to necessary outrage. It amplifies the glamour of evil. And it just bums folks out in general. As a very wise man has observed before, the news has become nothing so much as a pornography of the freakish — a glamorized, exaggerated, and neatly packaged daily freak show designed to titillate one of our more inherent and reliable (from a marketing standpoint) inner urges.
And just as a fat man is wise to reject the excess of food that poisons his body, the information age bad news junkie is wise to reject the excess of reported evil that poisons his mind. The problem is that we are bathed in bad news in a way that cannot even be compared to the way we’re surrounded by bad food. It is screamed at us from the radios, televisions, news bulletins, internet homepages, ambient conversations and other inputs that are universal features of our modern environment. The news pushers are everywhere and you cannot choose to not listen or look at their temptations as easily as you can choose not to eat the food you see. Once you’ve seen the news, you’ve consumed it.
The only other way to restore balance to the burdened modern mind would be to increase the amount of good news we consume. But finding good news in most media outlets is about as easy as finding healthy food at the “Lard World” exhibit at a county fair. The merchants of interesting information know what really sells just like the guy that invented the deep fried Snickers bar knows what sort of food folks instinctively seek. So what is one to do to balance out the evil that is sold to us wholesale everyday?
The answer is to become familiar with The Mac Johnson "Nearest Reportable Evil" Principle: Since the news must be bad to sell, all newscasts, whether local or national, will go as far as it takes to find bad news to sell to you. Strangely, this means you can derive the quality of life in your area on any given day by simply noting the distance to the evil being reported on TV. Think about it: everything between you and that bad news must have been great that day, or else it would have been the news!
If your local news is reporting on a murder in your neighborhood, it’s a bad day. But if the news is about a mom driving her kids into a pond in another time zone, then this means your town probably had higher than average scores on a national math test that day, as well as low pollen count — no news there! And if the local news is reporting dead children and terrible floods in Bhutan, then you can be assured that in your area on that day, the temperature was perfect with low humidity and a group of nursing home residents banded together to make ice cream for the local elementary school to pay them back for cleaning up the pigeon poop around their favorite park benches. Everything between you and Bhutan was perfectly peachy that day.
There’s a world of good news out there just waiting to be inferred, and with a little practice you’ll get the hang of using Mac’s Nearest Reportable Evil Principle to brighten up your day. Keep it simple and just imagine how good things must be locally if your bad news pushers had to go that far away to find evil. Wildfires in another region? Wow! The chestnut blight must be on the decline! Sexual slavery in Russia? Surely many people fell in love in Pomona that day! And genocide in Darfur? Why, somewhere a puppy has curled up with a baby Koala Bear and gone to sleep under a crib full of happy, healthy triplets!
So the next time the news gets you down, just remember: if the news is about dead kids in Bhutan, it must be a good day near you! Unless you live in Bhutan, of course, in which case you should probably hope the nearest reportable evil is in Kansas. Or maybe the media is less obnoxious in Bhutan?