Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bashers, Whiners, Subscription-Cancel-Threateners: An Overview of the Editorial Section

Reading the editorial section of our newspaper, "The Roanoke Times," and on Sundays the larger "Horizon" section, is an action fraught with peril and despair. It isn't so much the difference of opinions, or the supposed "liberal" bent of the paper's editors (which, to someone who's experienced life and literature in NYC, isn't all that "liberal"), but the bizarre way mountains are made out of molehills (and, the reverse, molehills are made out of mountains). There are several modes that these things follow, and i will attempt, in the following, a discussion of a few of these modes (and why they i find them irritating).

1) The "I'm Gonna Cancel My Subscription" Mode: This is typically expressed by an individual who has been "offended" by something in the newspaper. It could be anything . . . i've seen this expressed over general content, suspected or real bias. specific editorial columns, lack of focus on local issues, and even comic strips (one was over the comic strip "Boondocks," which the newspaper eventually struck . . . apparently, more than one reader was "offended" by a couple of Black kids in a comic strip dealing with socially relevant issues). First of all, if the readers "cancel their subscriptions," they've pretty much cut themselves off from the only large newspaper that covers Southwestern Virginia. Perhaps they're better served by the numerous smaller newspapers in the area which tend to cover mostly local events, and whose attitude could best be described as "HOORAY FOR OUR_______ (insert town, county, neighborhood)." Naturally, the strictly local focus and attitude certainly limits the number of potentially "offensive" subjects. The next thing to consider is whether or not the Roanoke Times is going to be really concerned over one individual threatening to cancel their subscriptions (apparently, there was a great enough volume of "offended" people to warrant pulling "Boondocks"). I mean, COME ON. Get a grip. If you want to protest something in the paper, don't resort to such childish tactics, acting like a kid who owns the Monopoly board threatening to take the game home if everybody refuses to play by his rules. All you're really doing is revealing your own childishness and taking up space that could be relegated to people actually attempting to DEAL with the issues at hand (i suppose the paper feels some obligation to reprint SOME of these letters). Grow up, people.

2) The ______-Bashing Mode: There's an overabundance of individuals who write in this mode (you could say that i'm writing in this mode now, which is why i'm not going to send it to the editors of the newspapers), and you all know the drill. The targets are numerous: conservatives, liberals (or "lib'rals"), Muslims, Christians, secular people, or other large groups that are easily lumped into one category that can be vilified by focusing on the negative aspects of a few representatives of the group. Uh-huh, that's what it is. Actually, i'm not "bashing," because in singling out a few modes, i'm actually indicating that there are other letters to the editor and editorials who use other modes, such as reasoning, statistics, appealing to common decency or compassion, etc. At any rate, i've read enough of these to know that most of them are written out of vengeance, or out of ignorance. Sometimes both. Now, to be fair, there are certainly members of all these groups, and others, who have traits that are unattractive, criminal, "offensive," repulsive, or frustrating. No sub-category of humanity is entirely free of these elements . . . they are part and parcel of the human condition. It is a mistake, however, to take a few examples from a group (particularly those "examples" which justify a person's pre-existing bias) and use their negative qualities to condemn the whole. One might just as well, on the basis of encountering a few apples with bad spots, declare that all apples were bad. (Even an apple with bad spots can be improved by cutting the bad spots out, but that's a topic for another rant). When you write a letter for the purpose of "bashing" one group or the other, you not only paint yourself as a prejudiced individual, you paint a target on yourself for somebody else's "bashing." If the intent of your letter is to point out a flaw (and a way it can be corrected), well and good. If your only focus is "those _______s are BAD, BAD people," you deserve to have a target painted on yourself, and have no right to complain when you become the focal point of somebody else's "bashing" letter.

3) The "Department of Whining" Mode: These letters may resemble either (or both) of the previously named modes, but their identifying quality is tonal. The complaints (and they are always complaints) have an unmistakable effect in that, if one imagines them read aloud, they would sound much like a spoiled child whining when something they feel they deserve is denied them. A lot of these letters are complaints about the lack of focus on some local event, or the conclusions made in such a report. Granted, the larger the newspaper, the less coverage is given to specific local events. I was once appalled when i lived in the Bronx by the fact that a young man was gunned down at the end of the block where i lived (the fact that i heard this go down may have added to my emotional response), and nothing was said in the paper in the following days (i referred to several newspapers, but saw no mention of it, not even in the "Police Blotter" section). I would argue that the death of a teenager should certainly take precedence over the latest Hollywood scandal . . . but i didn't express my distress in a letter to any of the newspapers, especially after some of my more streetwise friends pointed out that kids being shot was just another fact of life in the city). This event resulted in several poems, and i could advise those who write the "whining" letters to take up poetry as a way to express their frustrations . . . but such an exhortation would undoubtedly fall on deaf ears, since society at large tends to ignore poetry, and those who write these letters undoubtedly would quail at the thought of being ignored. Their issues are IMPORTANT, they would tell me. Why isn't more attention being paid to their pet subjects? A more enlightened approach might be to simply write a letter to the editor ABOUT the subject, without any of the "i-don't-know-why-you-didn't-report-more-on-this" blather that just takes up extra space. Or start your own newspaper.

These are 3 of the modes that seem to irritate me the most, perhaps because it takes the least amount of focused thought or imagination to write them. When i write, i like to focus all my intellect and imagination in what i'm writing . . . to invest less than that is to insult my readers. One could say i'm investing TOO much time an energy in a blog that's only read by a few, but a few is enough. ONE is enough. If something i wrote was going to be read by the readership of the Roanoke Times at large, i would certainly invest the whole of my thought and imagination in writing it . . . and not worry one bit about the whiners, bashers, or people who cancelled their subscriptions over what i wrote.

No comments: