I'm over here in Glenside fighting to stay alive. I feel myself sinking, so this note I quickly scrawl in hopes of rescue before they finally pull me under for the last time. They keep telling me, by sheer pages of copy, that the well-informed person knows Rosie O'Donnell's partner is pregnant. I can resist that kind of thing nine times a day, but I'm afraid that on the 10th time I might say to myself, "Imagine that, Rosie O'Donnell's partner is pregnant."
Before mid-September the infotainers had me believing, in spite of my better angels, that Gary Condit and Survivor constituted the news. But when Muhammad's wrath broke loose it became the Taliban 24/7, and I looked around in vain and said, "Hey, where's my fix of Gary Condit?" That's when I knew: "The jig is up. You guys have just been jerking me around, treading water till some real news came along. What else have you been telling me is important when it's not? What else have you been not telling me that is important?"
I picture smoke-filled news rooms where faceless men are even now deciding: We're gonna run with Elizabeth Smart a few more weeks because it's (a) compelling, and (b) cheap to produce. (There must be some other relative out there we haven't interviewed. The grim alternative is expensive investigative reporting of religious persecution in Nigeria.) I had a flashback to 1978 and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's prophecies about media trends in the West: Who needs overt Eastern-style censorship when "fashionable trends of thought" and "idols of the prevailing fad" can accomplish the same thing, "giving birth to strong mass prejudices and blindness" that "functions as a sort of a petrified armor around people's minds"?
At this point come in the violins to sing of the clunky but effective "democracy of market forces." But when the powers that be yanked the only full-time classical music station in this sixth-largest American metropolis, it wasn't losing money. WFLN was in the black; it just wasn't black enough for some folks. Why settle for $5 million a year when you can make $10 million?
Who are these guys anyway, and what do they want? They are the big winners of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was ostensibly all about competition, but in reality was the Trojan horse of cultural consolidation: AOL Time Warner, Viacom, Bertelsmann, AT&T, Disney, General Electric, Sony, News Corporation, and Vivendi are their names; getting into your kids' wallets is their game-to the tune of $100 billion a year. Their business is to know your teens better than you ever did, and they do it well. I wouldn't fuss if this were merely about the style of my kids' shoes, but these people are telling me how to think and what to think about. How nefarious is that!
Who out there has an interest in sedating me? What was that Jesus said about not getting caught slumbering (Mark 13:36)? What about that plume of magic green dust from the evil queen in The Silver Chair that nearly brought Jill, Scrubb, and Puddleglum under her spell and "made it hard to think"? If not for the quick rally of the marshwiggle, all memory of Narnia would have been lost in deadly drowsiness.
What had been Aslan's antidote again? "First, remember, remember, remember the Signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night. And whatever strange things happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the Signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly.... Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind."
This is my plan, too: to read the Bible once a day, to reread Solzhenitsyn once a month, and never to read a word in print without asking myself a few bracing questions, like "What is the source?" and "Who says this is news?" And on the day you hear me say, "Well, these infotainers aren't perfect, of course, but on balance they do a fair job of presenting what's important in the world," that's the day you'll know they finally got to me.