Kage Baker hated the news.
By which, she meant the institutionalized, formulaic, on-every-day-at-6PM news that came between afternoon cartoons and prime time television. Also, the current events in the daily newspaper – or twice dailies, when we were kids and Los Angeles had morning and evening newspapers owned by people who actually lived in Los Angeles. Kage hated Breaking News, and screaming headlines, and Special Reports in any format – what she hated was the soap operatic hysteria that is presented by the time-honoured traditions of The Press.
Mind you, she believed in the importance of information, and of being informed. She just couldn’t abide what is very rightly sneered at as The Mainstream Media; though the sneerers are too often short-sighted morons who simply cannot stand being contradicted, it’s true that a lot of that Media is indeed off-target, dishonest and prejudiced. The News is NOT information, not anymore. The News is a thing entirely separate, defined by nothing but itself, answerable to no truth or common sense; a vulgar, salacious, melodramatic form of lowest common denominator entertainment.
She got her current events information from a few bastions of respectability: the New York Times. The London Times. The BBC. John Stewart and Steven Colbert, whom she recognized as being classic satirists in the honourable tradition of the Irish brehon; bards who could destroy kings with deadly wit and mockery. In between comedic fits, though, both Stewart and Colbert manage to deliver more nuggets of actual news than any of the network programs.
She’d watch news for something real, and important: war breaking out. A natural disaster in progress. A baby down a well. She had a weak spot for car chases, mostly due to their black humour qualities. But ordinary broadcasts weren’t worth her time – not enough actual information-to-nonsense in the ratio. It was just all too depressing for Kage.
I learned not to read articles out to her from the newspaper – unless they were Company-oriented, or decent human interest stories. She was always interested in things like the world’s Largest Ball of Twine, and its specially-built display gazebo in Cawker City, Kansas.
Recipes were acceptable. So were funny photos. But she never wanted to hear about historical buildings unless the story was about their preservation – the destruction of old buildings affected Kage like the deaths of children. So, ice hotels and corn palaces and hobbit playhouses, yes – urban renewal, no.
The Internet was a treasure trove for Kage, of course. Not only for its almost infinite dimensions, but because of the selectivity she could exercise over what she saw. If Kage wanted to, she could avoid photos or articles older than – 0h, 1940. Or 1918, when the great Ted Sturgeon was born. Or 1870, when silly cat photos were invented. She happily spent entire days in previous centuries, when everyone she loved was still alive and walking, in a world that had never burned a library or a saint …
Facebook, though, was not a benign miracle to Kage. For me, it has been a frequent pain in the ass – it’s the ultimate Agora, replete with idiots on soapboxes – but it’s also where I can get news of friends with whom I no longer share corporeal space. The problem for Kage, and what finally drove her to forbid me to pass on gossip, was that so much of the news was mortal. We’d reached the age where friends were more apt to die than buy a new house, and she couldn’t stand my recitation of the butcher’s bill. Not that it comforts me, but I find it better to know – Kage preferred to live in faith that they still breathed. If she suspected someone might have kicked the ol’ jam jar, she asked me: and then wrote them into a story.
I still pursue the news. Not avidly, but I have my sources that I check daily. It’s mostly for scientific and literary news, but I do still read current events – 12 years of training by grimly determined nuns is not easily shaken off. But … sometimes it gets to be too much. It’s the accumulation of emaciated dogs and malignant politicians, I think; I can watch the footage of tsunamis because, although it’s horrifying, it is also singular and important. I can’t save but a few hungry animals or bleeding children, and if I set out to eliminate politicos, I’ll end up shot dead and/or in prison. Like any moral person, I do what I can but it’s never freaking enough, and sometimes the pain is just too much.
That’s when I knit, or re-read a favourite book, or bury myself in a treatise on the evolution of hummingbirds (they do that super-fast, too. Now you know.). When the world is too much with me. When everything that is happening, sucks. I don’t have an Editor Deluxe to keep the world at bay, like Kage did; but she left me the writing.
That’s the best distraction of all, really. Making your own news. And making it better.