Turning 66 next week I have to admit I am more and more vigilant calculating the loss of nouns, proper names, pointers to original sources. I measure my internal database simplify daily without my consent. I had thought it would be a simplification of drawing informed conclusions (wisdom) but then I grew up. It is not consolidation and distillation. It is recognizing that multiple information streams, background media, torrential facts, wide angle lenses have to be honed; honed in direct ratio to the importance of the flagged destination.
What a week. Ferguson took me over. I had four+ media streams going 15 hours a day. To have that many opinions pouring through began as interesting but what came into focus was that none of the sources were telling the whole story. Preferring Amy Goodman did not erase the need for mainstream news if I wanted to see what mainstream people were accepting as truth. Knowing what happened in real time through activists broadcasting on amateur streams was red hot but lost the wide angle shot of the White House, Lt. Russell Honore, sources of humvees and the rich context of Dred Scott being buried just off Florissant Road. My drive became a personal challenge to know what is fully happening but as Bilbo Baggins told us, one thought pushes out another.
I just wanted to hang on as if it would lead to righting the wrong. It felt like if I took it all in, I could earn witnessing righting the wrong. A terrible hope, an activist's hope, a Divine Discontent.
I had a little talk with myself and decided to take a few hours off and watch a movie I had waited a long time to see, Captivated, The Trials of Pamela Smart. It was sitting on my TIVO. And I would be able to see footage of one of my most revered friends, Dr. Eleanor Pam, whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. It turned out to be 90 minutes demonstrating the major importance of getting the whole story. It is urgent, it is ethical, it is required of mindful people who seek justice.
The principle character in the movie is television itself. It is shown in all types and places from prison to kitchens, black & white, with dials and rabbit ears. It is both a player and a filter which begs the question what is the role of the viewer. Moreover, is there a responsibility to the viewer? One man who did not think so was Robert Spencer, a slick shyster reporter of the Smart case who should have been working for Sterling Cooper.
What has television done to us? I watched Anita Hill and OJ. I knew who was victim and killer. But what happened to me from the couch to the fridge. Susan Sontag would ask what genuine human pain can squeeze through that lens into a human heart. Four boys, celebrity seeking girl wearing a wire, a fist full of men scrambling to make a living on the stage of legal proceedings; all at what cost to a woman in prison for the rest of her life. It may sound biblical, mythical, Shakespearean but there is a live human being lost in the glamor machine of Nicole Kidman and Helen Hunt. Even the female novelist whose book was to be the first movie, “ripped from the headlines,” stated no regard for the truth. Joyce Maynard, what happened to you? And what did you do to truth seekers? What are you doing to right this wrong and get Pamela Smart out of prison? Juicy, salacious, perfect for Lifetime Television and poison for truth seekers.
Real people handed their costumes, given their roles, placed in the key light, tasked with selling something every 12 minutes while the audience dashes to the bathroom or grabs a beer. Humanity as sport. Angry young Black people caught on Florissant between two tanks. Pamela Smart in prison without parole while the two who killed Greg Smart will be out in 2015. What can I do to not only stay afloat in this torrential downpour of information but to be vigilant with my mind and protect my heart.
As Murrow warns,
This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it's nothing but wires and lights in a box. There is a great and perhaps decisive battle to be fought against ignorance, intolerance and indifference. This weapon of television could be useful. Stonewall Jackson, who knew something about the use of weapons, is reported to have said, "When war comes, you must draw the sword and throw away the scabbard." The trouble with television is that it is rusting in the scabbard during a battle for survival.