Picking a Side

The other night it dawned on me that I haven’t read a news story in a little over a month. For a while I had the excuse that I was in transit and lacked a steady Internet connection. Now a week and a half has gone by and it’s clear that my habit of checking news sites and blogs has fallen off. Disappointed in myself, I opened my laptop and perused stories at CBC.ca, fantasizing that I could form an opinion about each and every one. The comment sections, after all, boast extensive populations of users with broad and loaded brushes at the ready.

I have an inner little monster to contend with. When I browse the stories and read through the comments, sprinkling thumbs-up and thumbs-down ratings willy-nilly, there’s a sense of futility that penetrates to the core. People take to forums and spend hours writing sizable paragraphs, expressing their opinions on news articles, disagreeing with each other, and insulting each other, only occasionally taking a step back and offering something truly evaluative and noteworthy. The little monster taps at my cranium. He wants to be let out so that he can go to town on these know-nothing know-it-alls.

Sometimes I’ll let him stab fervently at the keyboard. On nine out of ten occasions, I’ll get to the reins in time and pull back. What would be the point, after all, of throwing more junk opinion onto the heap? Ultimately, I know that anything I could possibly add would be filled with the same misdirected venom and gaps in logic that most others spew into the CBC forums, so why bother?

But those entries. So much time spent on so many lines of text. So much effort being made to dissect points, cut them to shreds, and build again. And it never ceases; conclusions are never made, suffering under the restraints of blatant partisanship and an unwillingness to achieve common ground. I’m right and you’re wrong. You’re white, I’m black. Meanwhile, the original news story hangs off-screen somewhere, gazing down like Hermes on what his message hath wrought, communicating cold indifference. The story these days ends not with the final punctuation, but with the reaction that follows.

What will happen to these reactions? In what annals of modern journalism will zinda01’s comment on an Ottawa terrorism plot be forever captured, and what will future generations make of it? Will it sink full scale into the void after swirling under the mouse clicks of the 457 individuals who found his or her reaction unsatisfactory? Clearly zinda01 gives a damn, or enough of a damn to register an account with the CBC, log in, and spend the effort it takes to type defensive rhetoric into a post box before hitting submit and moving on to the next item. But what’s the point in expressing a belief if the only purpose it serves is to cause unresolvable dissent and disappear?

Such have been my questions concerning comment sections for a while, and I think I’m off base in asking them. There has been a lot of talk about the extent of freedoms in the news lately, with quite a bit of focus placed on the Islamic community centre being constructed near Ground Zero and Dr. Laura’s radio “N-word” tirade. The concept of freedom of speech and religion is always predominant in media coverage because it deftly avoids consensus and champions the spirit of disagreement (making for comment sections packed to the brim).

People have taken the trouble to make signs and yell about causes for centuries. I’ve never counted myself among them. I attended my first-ever protest earlier this year, where I held no sign and engaged in chants only conversationally at my loudest. I have a cooler head than the guy with the bullhorn, but I gave a damn about that cause and wanted to show it by having myself counted visibly among a group of people who felt the same way. The prorogation of Parliament had a direct effect on my job, and I felt betrayed by members of Parliament who were shirking their duties in the House of Commons to play politics.

My respect for politicians is ever-dwindling; as much I recognize the dynamics of operating in their capacity, but theirs is a position in which men and women are, by nature, forced to lie. When I read a news story about political manoeuvring, a switch inside me turns off, and it’s no longer flipped by the disinterest generated by irresponsibility. It’s flipped by knowing that the politicians embroiled in the mess are full of shit.

But that’s a position of convenient cancellation. The impact unhealthy political decisions can have on the general public ranges from the mildly insulting to the downright deplorable. It’s important that these decisions are questioned. I applaud and admire a guy like Matthew Good, who keeps an obsessive tally of questionable sociopolitical activity around the globe and applies his own viewpoint. It’s not in me to take on his brand of active interest, but he clearly gives a damn. And those people in the forums, underneath the vitriol anonymity offers, clearly give a damn as well.

When I first started this blog, I had it in mind to look at a news story a day and deliver an opinion on it. I’ve found that I’m never able to do enough research to form a valid opinion – a take on things that may be worthwhile in exploring an event the media deems worthy of covering – and would therefore rather say nothing at all. Reading a story and responding immediately produces only the gut reaction. What I need is a diet of information, a daily intake that will progressively aid me in losing the weight of ignorance.

Wanting to give a damn is a condition of getting older. It’s no longer satisfying enough – or moral enough, perhaps – to pretend that what’s going on in the world isn’t important. We all have to pick a side, eventually. I give a damn about film. I know where I stand with it, so it takes up a lot of the words I’m willing to let loose. Picking a side takes time and effort. I’m trying to get there.

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About Joel Crary

Joel Crary is a 30'ish 21st century writer living in Vancouver, British Columbia. He enjoys films, mostly. View all posts by Joel Crary

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