Is it time to admit that most popular “music,” most TV shows, and most movies are laced with toxicity? Twenty years ago I was a news junkie, but I had to give it up because the “news” had become shamelessly bad entertainment: hysterical, irrational, fabricated propaganda. A few months ago I gave into temptation; I followed a link on a friend's text, a five-minute newscast about “spiking coronavirus infections.” It provided me the thrill of a good horror movie, but within five minutes it had destabilized my mind. Fun, but toxic. Emotionally thrilling, but unhinged. Certainly not based on empirical science. I asked a nurse friend who works in the Covid unit a SF General for more factual report. "We have two covid patients in ICU and a whole lot of empty beds," she said.
I can only think that we slurp up thrilling newscasts because we like to be afraid. It’s what sells horror movies, but “fact” in the news media today is indistinguishable from fiction. Post-modernism holds that there is no such thing as objective truth. “What we call ‘truth’ is merely a construct of the powerful,” claim the post-modern university professors. The products of these universities now control virtually all our information. “We are the powerful,” they tell us. “We will tell you what is ‘true,’ and you will watch our product because you like to be afraid.”
During a recent conversation about the pandemic I noticed the telltale fear cross a friend’s face. “Aha,” I exclaimed, “you’ve been watching the news again!” Her face relaxed into a sheepish grin and she admitted “I just watch ten minutes a day....” Ten minutes is enough, because they are very good at what they do.
Another friend told me that she realized that she doesn't want to live in fear, so she doesn't. She stopped watching CNN. She stopped reading the New York Times. She reads rational news sources now. Big Media shamelessly censors information, so why would I give them any of my brain? Why would I watch what I know is calculated to control me through fear? Because I think I can handle it? Because I can’t think that reputable American companies have become so malevolent? There are reliable news sources, but they are not “sexy.” They are hard to find. The cool kids don’t watch them, and they are no use at cool kids’ cocktail parties.
If I’ve forsworn sexy media and cool kids’ cocktail parties, where do I go for community? I think Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” has it exactly right. I we don’t build small supportive communities in post-Christian America, we will lose our freedom and dignity. I thank God for my parish, a city block in San Francisco in which goodness, truth, and beauty flourish. The church, the chapel, the school, the rectory, and the gardens afford beautiful places to pray, to study, to work, to rejoice with those we love, and to help each other carry the burdens of the day. The pandemic’s forced isolation has, oddly, strengthened this community. It has become a sacred refuge, a safe place to be with God and with each other, a true gift of God.