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There is no escaping this election, this destroyer of sleep, this horrific national nightmare. But when it comes to following every eye-popping, soul-crushing part of the “news” that has surrounded it — the unchecked facts, the ignored issues, the parts of the whole that once again announced the death of televised journalism — one person tried to avoid hearing about it, looking at it or seeing its frayed and fried reactions on social media.
That person is me.
It would be impossible to conclude this experiment with 100 percent success. See the “there is no escaping this election” part. But I did everything in my power to make it happen. I never willingly watched the news — a habit I’ve kept up since “media critic” was also part of my job (way back before Peak TV) and I realized the pointlessness of watching people on television doing their jobs either badly or repetitively night after night, year after year. I blocked or muted people on social media who talked about the election or the candidates incessantly. This was super easy to do on Facebook, where I’m essentially a ghost and much harder to do on Twitter, where I used to live; on the other hand it greatly increased my use of Instagram, where lovely pictures of things not related to the election brought visual joy, some peace for my soul and tranquility for my anxious mind.
I walked out of bars and restaurants where the news was on. I cut off conversations when people would talk about politics or, barring the ability to do that, walked quickly away from the discussion at the party and sought a source for more wine.
And probably most disturbing to people who can’t understand this approach, I only read the news from trusted sources (no, not you, Twitter) when the “news” from this election breached my defenses and created inside my brain a need to see if the insanity I just heard about was actually true or could actually happen or was, as we say, even a thing.
Often times it wasn’t a thing. Almost always it was horrible and defeating, a reminder — you’ll remember this feeling here on the eve of the election — that this was the most heinous and disturbing election of my lifetime.
It was, at times, impossible to avoid cable news. I give you this true example: Sitting in a middle seat on a cross-country flight when people to either side are watching it. This happened in both directions. Even on shorter flights where I could put on my headphones and find some solace in music, there was always someone in front of me watching the news and I could see, between the seats, the chyrons of Fox News or CNN. How tight must one person squeeze down on their eyelids?
Yes, I did have access to some “real” news. I did read about it. And, because it’s part of my job, I had to watch a lot of late-night talk show hosts riffing on the daily disappointments of politics in 2016. The silver lining there: At some point, having watched John Oliver, Samantha Bee, The Daily Show, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and a smattering of others (who often did their jobs with marvelous humor and searing indictment), there wasn’t a need to watch every night anymore because you can only write the “how are the late-night hosts handling the election” column so many times.
Why the avoidance? Easy. (Perhaps not as easy as just admitting “I hate politics,” which would also be true.) No, it was easy on two separate levels. First, let’s not pretend this was a difficult choice here. It’s not like both parties put up candidates where you could pick either one, thus becoming that ridiculously media-created signifier of liars or incurable ignorance — “the undecided voter.”
In a balanced election year, people vote party line. Even in an unbalanced election year, people vote party line. Only in 2016, this aberration from hell, do we have a scenario where Republicans might not vote for their party’s nominee because, well, he’s Donald Trump. We might have a scenario where they simply don’t vote for Trump and put their emphasis on down ballot issues.
Because I don’t believe in fairy tales, I doubt this has been true much (or at all) in the past, but it might happen this year.
But I’m a Democrat. And Hillary Clinton was always going to get my vote. And I didn’t need to hear what an ignorant, racist, sexist, homophobic, self-delusional and hateful liar had to say.
How is any of this difficult to fathom? Why would I subject myself to “news” when the decision was automatic and easy? For the entirety of the election cycle, I didn’t have time for the rest of it because I’m not a masochist and had better things to do with that time and was smart enough to know that soaking in hateful, awful things makes your soul and psyche hurt.
The second part of avoidance was skipping television news, which was also easy because with very rare exceptions (an outlet here, a commentator there) televised journalism is broken and has been for some time now. Despite pretenses that few even believe anymore, it’s also partisan and fractional. And while others might, I take no joy in watching partisan coverage, veiled or otherwise. And those that claim to cover both sides (cough, CNN, cough) are really just entities constructed to project a circus onto television screens because it’ll be profitable (since you can’t stop watching even when your agitated molecules beg you to disengage).
I’m a fierce defender of print/online journalism, but even there you have to choose the source wisely. On television, you’re not offered enough choice, particularly on the cable side, to find much value. It could also be that Trump made objectivity, the essence of journalism, something that confounded those trying to practice it in a limited time frame (half-hour broadcast) because the audacity of his rhetoric demanded something more powerful than polite, often late, fact-checking.
But even that is more of a philosophical discussion for another time. In this election, what was the point in even watching? How much more clearly did the differences need to be made? How much more information did you need?
I didn’t flee from the blatantly obvious bifurcation of the candidates — or this country — if that’s what you’re thinking. That I was being non-political.
This decision couldn’t be more political. I embrace this election because it’s so helpful in bringing out from the shadows the real selves of others. And I choose the word “others” on purpose. This election has radicalized the concept of “others” for me. In previous elections, if you voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain or George W. Bush or Bob Dole or George H.W. Bush, you were just a Republican. In this election, if you support Donald Trump, you are “the others.” I have zero interest in knowing, interacting with, tolerating or otherwise sharing my time or bits of my life with anyone who supports Trump. I don’t say that defiantly or righteously, just as fact. Don’t follow me on social media. Don’t talk to me at parties, at school functions, as a neighbor or even as a friend. Your decision says all I need to know about you. You can’t unspin it or rationalize it to me. That’s the best benefit of this election — now I know you. Now you’re in the light.
Everything else about this election — for instance, watching it unfold on television for months on end — was an unnecessary, pointless time-suck and I understood that from go.
But I’ll watch election-night coverage. Because one way or another, that’s the end.
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