Election 2016: Has the Coverage Made You Schizophrenic Yet?

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Stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

Firstly, schizophrenia is no joke. Any unthinking talk of a person being “crazy” borders on hate speech, and a better informed appreciation of the hell-realms housed within the heads of those afflicted might get us measuring our words more deliberately. This article will invoke the term metaphorically, and indeed irresponsibly—but not disrespectfully. We will not poke fun at those affected by schizophrenia. But pitifully, coverage of the 2016 election cycle—with headlines ping-ponging in a feedback loop between political reportage and celebrity gossip like the Hydra barfing into all nine of its own mouths—has broken itself, and in turn, has finally left us broken. We can say with due gravity that there’s no more appropriate a diagnosis for us—our national psyche’s been shattered.

We know schizophrenia from the inside now; we’ve not merely seen it, heard it, or read it, but through the media’s constant polyphonic ubiquity, we’ve let it get hold of our minds. It corrupts our thoughts and changes who we are. With our judgements not so clouded as they are simply absent, drunk drivers have a better shot at getting home safely than we do of making smart choices about who will lead us next. Consider: what is your opinion of Bernie Sanders? Surely you’ve got one. Now, was that opinion shaped by time spent personally with the man, or by your impartial investigation of his life, his work, his voting record? Or far more plausibly: are the thoughts you consider yours a hobbled-together pastiche of what you’d overheard some nicely-coifed 2-dimensional head say?

Of course such legwork on the part of us voters would be impractical at best. Which is why a responsible Fourth Estate is so critical—or rather, why reckless corporate journalism has left us so screwed. Many who remember the Vietnam War still recall fondly their Uncle Walter—that is, longtime CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite. They’d called him the “most trusted man in America,” and for the guy with the stones to criticize an unwinnable war via his network pulpit, such an appraisal is not so unjustified. His modern corollary, if we reach a bit, might be Jon Stewart. Jon, of course, is essentially a comedian, and this has granted him the luxury of speaking his own mind (Dan Rather enjoyed lesser privileges). To his credit, Stewart’s just as much a part of the solution as he is the problem. As per the latter, he knows it, having noted that there’s no more going on now than there was in Cronkite’s time. The critical difference being: Walter Cronkite was allotted one hour per evening to deliver what he felt was crucial, back when your four options for television viewing were ABC, CBS, NBC, or just turning the damned thing off. We’ve now pressed well past the proliferations of CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, bleating at us inescapably every second of every day. As they say: because the internet.

The brilliant George Saunders lamented the problem of this in his 2007 essay collection The Braindead Megaphone. A brief paraphrasing of it goes as such: you’re at a party, comfortable, exchanging with the folks there whatever’s on your minds, born of your real experiences and contemplations of them. A fellow with a megaphone waltzes in, and given the cartoonish volume of his amplified voice, you cannot possibly ignore him. And exactly what he says is ancillary to the fact that if he does not constantly commandeer your attention, he’s going to lose his job. He’s a mere entertainer at most, but needs your ear so badly that he’ll style himself as a reporter of truth. Inventing things to keep you terrified and dependent does just the trick, he knows, as does blowing through a thousand words to effectively say nothing. That he’s utterly devoid of substance is no matter; whatever he says, if it’s loud enough, repeated enough, will worm its way first into your conversation, and from there, your head. And from that infected head will spring actions you can’t honestly call your own.

That’s Saunders’ assessment of it, anyway. The endless expansion of digital media has, in a few short years since his essay’s publication, compounded the issue significantly—cripplingly so. It’s not just the one fellow now with the megaphone, but hordes of them—Hannitys, Huffingtons, tastemakers like Jay-Z, this very article. And they don’t just shout at some party you’re free to skip out on—they release a little “ding” from your iPhone as you sleep so you’ll never miss another vacant tirade. They won’t give you a moment’s peace in line at the bank or in a doctor’s waiting room. And with the prevalence of Retweets and Facebook shares, every one of your social contacts has become a willing foot soldier for someone else’s cackling bullhorn.

Yes, it was the blurring of citizen media, reality television, and actual journalism—as well as our amnesia in regards to whatever the hell those words were even supposed to mean—that have crippled us, left us supine and bleeding on the battlefield. And now the death blow: one potential President of Our United States is a shameless Celebritainment fixture, a masterful attention whore, and above all, a beloved internet troll.

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That’s it—we’ve snapped. How in God’s name are we expected now to know the difference between the inconsequential and the dire? I never much liked that Dick Cheney, but when he said “You’re fired” to Rosie O’Donnell’s pig, man, that was hilarious. I lol’d in my pants. And I don’t mean to question Judge Judy, but sometimes I wonder if killing all the Mexicans on Planet Nine might be a bad idea. I don’t care what anyone says, Bill Cosby was the greatest Muslim president this country ever had. What number do I text to bomb Russia? I’ll leave my endorsement in your Dropbox, Senator bin Laden.

Reread the above, and chuckle at its lunacy. Or not. Honestly, is it any more nonsensical than what we really see fit to communicate daily? To parrot and propagate junk like nothing more than bots shuffling memes around blindly?

We’re hearing voices. Mad, shrill, shrieking voices imploring us to do dangerous things. There’s little we can do to shut them up. So someone please be a dear and explain to Syria, or Libya, or Finland or Wales, or whoever it is whose sands we vow to set aflame next: “Poor, poor America. It’s a shame what she’s become… she used to be so strong. But please, try to forgive what she’s done. She wasn’t in her right mind.”

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