More than once, I have been accused of watching too much television news on the wrong networks, namely what my generation knew as the mainstream ones: CBS, NBC, ABC, and later CNN. Presumably, I would have more sensible views if I watched Fox.

More than once, I have been accused of watching too much television news on the wrong networks, namely what my generation knew as the mainstream ones: CBS, NBC, ABC, and later CNN.  Presumably, I would have more sensible views if I watched Fox.

The irony is that I don’t watch much television news, except for occasions when I catch the local news.  The weather, of course.  For weather events, the television is on loud enough so I can hear it in another room.

Come to think of it, it’s the crisis situations that elevated television news in the first place.  I agree with some historians that the shock of JFK’s assassination, the scramble of transition, the assassination of Lee H. Oswald, the questions surrounding both deaths unfolded so quickly in one weekend that only television news could deliver the stories and pictures fast enough.  The rest of the Sixties enhanced the nightly news—more assassinations, Vietnam, protests, summer riots in the cities.  Significantly, newspapers started acquiring television stations.

So, yes, like many in my generation, I was raised watching violence and the effects of violence—the anger, dismay, gunfire, bodies, flames—, followed by attempts of newscasters to make some sense of what was happening in America on a given day.  Eric Severard stands out in my memory, for his calmness and rationality. Then “Sixty Minutes” came along to provide more analysis.

But at some point, television started “pumping up the volume,” creating an air of crisis to draw viewers and increase ratings (and ad revenues).   Hovering around stand-offs, watching a Ford Bronco thread its way through traffic, asking “How did you feel” to people still in emotional shock.  And now we have the ideal Television President, tweeting accusations in the wee hours, speaking off the cuff, hiring and firing and hiring—creating an air of crisis that puts him at the center of so many stories.  It’s as if he were secretly hired by the networks to create news spikes and provide fodder for the endless parade of talking heads that analyze.  

As with Oklahoma weather broadcasts, one is tempted to leave the television on, loud enough so one can hear it in another room.

And that’s why I don’t.  I prefer to read the news and views.  I need time to consider, to stop between sentences and catch my thoughts, without missing something.

I’ve returned to my family’s tradition: two daily and one weekly newspaper; one news magazine, one nature magazine, and one arts-and-culture magazine.  I read them almost cover to cover. 

Of course, my friends laugh at me when I mention a news story, an item from Dear Abby and a “Blondie” comic strip all in the same breath.  Wisely, I refrain from bringing in the interesting classified ad I saw.

So reading doesn’t necessarily rescue you from trivial pursuits.  I read online as well, which seems to lead to many such pursuits—“Get thee behind me, Facebook!”

But a habit of reading also means one can transition to books that are lying around. 

And gain knowledge and how other people think.

Want to read a novel that carefully details the life of a cowboy in the transition from trail herds to ranches to corporate ranches in the late 19th Century?  Read Monte Walsh, by Jack Shaefer, who also wrote Shane. 

Want to know about a part of Australia never advertised?  Read Tim Winton’s work.  In Eyrie, you learn about “…the booming state of Western Australia.  Which was, you could say, like Texas.  Only it was big.  Not to mention thin-skinned.”

Certainly from newspapers and news magazines, you are confronted by things happening, just as on television.  But if you read past the first few paragraphs, you might also learn what led to the events.  Books reinforce that expectation: things happen, but there is usually a backstory, motivations, situations that cause events.  And there are possible outcomes—you think ahead.

I’m not sure you get that element in the nightly news, where one event after another is thrust to your attention.   It’s the same in video games and action movies.  As Henry Ford is supposed to have said about history, it’s just “one damn thing after another.”  Enough of that “fast food” serving of events and you are benumbed; you don’t even ask how something came about, why it had to happen that way, and what the consequences might be.  Maybe you are ready to wear the tee shirt I recently saw: “Breaking News…I Don’t Care.”

Enough of that and you might even drop out of civic participation, thinking that you and others can make no difference.  It will just happen.  And you will try not to care.

Reading for causes and consequences—a plot that makes sense—has its downside, especially if you enjoy the digital effects and big scenes of action movies.

“Avengers: Infinity War” was better constructed than many of the Marvel films; you at least understood the sides and what they were attempting to do.  But still, for those of us who care about plot, there were troubling questions:

• Just because one planet had an overpopulation problem, does that mean that all planets have the same problem?  What motivates Thanos to care about all of them?  

• Characters freely zip around in space and have no problems in breathing on different planets.   So why not set up colonies on the less inhabited planets?

• Finally, why in a battle would you set up a force field that prevents your massed forces from overwhelming the opposition, even to the point of killing a portion of your army?

The movie was great in showing one big event after another, with some characters actually had more than one dimension.  Captivated by the spectacle, I watched the credits to see how many had contributed to it.  They must have unrolled for ten minutes or more.  I was surprised to see most of the audience watching the credits as well.  Real fans, I thought.

Then, suddenly, after interminable credits (with music), a scene!  Traffic, new characters, more fatalities—another event!  Probably most of the audience knew that.

One feels a bit manipulated.  Swimming against a current bearing one darn thing after another.

Reading can free your mind from such bondage.