It is so strange how the world goes on even when we remove ourselves from it. On the drive home from Camp Lake Louise Saturday, we stopped at a Burger King to grab a bite, use the restrooms, and let the dog stretch her legs a bit. And now even Burger King has flat screen TVs hanging all over the place like a sports bar. As I was filling some little paper cups with ketchup I caught my first bit of news in a week. Something about police and bomb squads and an apartment in Colorado and the new Batman movie. Details would filter in during the next few days, but all I had at that moment was one little snippet of a much larger story. An excerpt from a tragedy.
Really any news story we see is the same way, like reading one paragraph in the middle of a novel. We’ll probably get a character name or two, a sense of the conflict perhaps, maybe some dialogue we can quote. But the events leading up to that paragraph are not known to us. We have to go back to get them, while at the same time, the story keeps stretching out in front of that one paragraph we’ve read.
News is reading backward and forward at the same time. It’s never starting at the beginning, because even though each story has a beginning, it’s not important to us until something happens that gets our attention. News starts in the middle, then fills us in as details are discovered, even as it keeps us abreast of the developing story. News is a Quentin Tarantino movie, but with less art and considerably less swearing.
In our media soaked world, we get near-constant updates about an almost infinite number of stories, as though we were standing in a great library and picking up books at random, reading a couple paragraphs, then putting them down again and picking up another, and so on and so on, never actually finishing any of them. (Because really, don’t you always find yourself wondering what ever happened to that so and so who did such and such and the news media is already on to the next thing and never revisits it?) And this is how we experience the larger world. In a scattered, random, and incomplete way.
Is this why human beings love to hear, read, and watch entire fictional stories in the form of spoken storytelling, novels, and movies? Is this why we read fiction? Is this why we shell out the kind of money we do at movie theaters for two hours (and usually less) of beginning to end storytelling that has cause, effect, conflict, and conclusion in their proper place?
When you read a good novel or short story, when you see a good movie, do you ever have that feeling at the end when you close the back cover or stand up from your seat and you have to reorient yourself to the real world? You get that satisfying feeling of closure (or sometimes that excited anticipation of a possible sequel), that bittersweet ache of separating of yourself from a story that completely engrossed you. You never, ever get that from the news. And yet, most of the stories that filter into your life come in those little, dissatisfying pieces.
That dissatisfaction, along with the sad reality that most news is bad news and most of it is outside my control or often even my realm of influence, is why I go through very purposeful seasons of news avoidance. I ignore, for a time, that kind of piecemeal, negative storytelling in favor of experiencing life and fiction as a whole.