Wednesday, December 13, 2006

High Anxiety

What, me worry? ~ Alfred E. Neuman

CNN, hyping an article in another Time-Warner outlet (sorry, the link is gone), Time Magazine, advised that Americans worry too much and about all the wrong things. Some of their examples:
  • We are scared to death about avian flu, which has killed exactly no one in the United States, while neglecting to get shots against the regular forms of flu, which do in people every year.
  • We won't buy spinach because it may be contaminated by E. coli, but we'll stuff our faces with greasy burgers and artery-clogging lardshakes.
  • We fear catastrophes but avoid doing anything in advance that could mitigate the effects of such disasters.
We may not be number one in a lot of things any more, but I am reasonably sure that America leads the world in neurotic worrying. Of course, it's articles like the one at CNN that make us this way. The media has learned that if you want to have readers or viewers, throw a scare headline out there.

“Next on Newscenter! Strawberry shortcake: Dessert or terrorist weapon?”

"When we come back, the latest in our series on dangers facing our children. Tonight: Jawbreakers."

“Don't miss the next report in our continuing series, '1001 things in your home that will kill you!' “ (Actually, I think they've done this one.)

And, of course, the ever-popular, “Today's thing that causes cancer!”

The only thing that gets more attention is a series on sex, usually disguised as either social commentary, important health information, or criticism of all the sex on TV (with lots of teaser scenes from shows on that news program's very network). But, the sex stories also cause worry, hinting that our daughters are going to become prostitutes, implying that we're all going to get AIDS, and pretty much calling anyone who watches a top-rated TV show a pervert.

It's not that we shouldn't worry about things. We just don't prioritize well. The ordinary person can do little about global warming, but he or she can do something about hunger in the community. The average Joe can't do much about international terrorism, but Joe can go to the polls and vote against those who are wasting our tax dollars uselessly in the name of “homeland security” while attacking our rights to life, liberty, and property.

We should be concerned with the well-being of our families, but we should do the right sorts of things to minimize our risks and then move on with enjoying our lives. And therein lies the problem, I think. The average repressed American feels guilty about enjoying life. I mean, people are working long hours, often both partners in a household, so they can enjoy all the material pleasures that can entail. Then they feel so guilty about taking a vacation that they find ways to stay in touch with their problems via cell phone and/or the Internet. It's natural, therefore, as part of our national guilt trip, that we should take on all the worries that the media dish out.

Well, maybe people should consider some of these things instead.
  • In spite of the best efforts of the economic geniuses in Washington, we still enjoy the highest standard of living in the world. We also have so many resources, we can hold out a helping hand to those in need.
  • Terrorism is a decided problem, but there is an infinitesimal chance of some ragged weirdo building a nuclear bomb (dirty or otherwise), mass-producing sarin, or conducting biological warfare.
  • Yes, there's a lot of sex and violence on TV and scattered around the Internet, but there are also thousands of alternatives that can educate, entertain, and, yes, even relax us.
  • You really don't have to stay in constant touch with the world when you're taking time off. Honest. The world will get along without you for a while.
The trouble is that, even though things are rarely as dire as they seem, Americans must worry. Therefore, I would like to suggest some worries that are more low stress. If you must worry, worry about these things.

  • Will the Cubs ever win a World Series?
  • Just how many times can one stand hearing “White Christmas” over the store Muzak system?
  • How will the expansion of the universe affect my shoe size?
  • Sure, e-mail spam is bad, but will velveeta come back?
  • Why can't I let the water out of a leaking boat by opening another hole for the water to go out of?
  • How badly will Ohio State beat Florida in the BCS championship game?
I mean, how low stress you can you get?

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