Captive torture at the airport gate

Good God, I was stuck at an airport gate for two hours today and realized just how intense the pain inflicted by 24-hour cable news can get. I was escorting my niece as an “unaccompanied minor” for her trip back home, which means you are to follow strict instructions for checking her in, getting past security, and staying with said minor until her plane has literally left the gate.

I quickly realized that I have a firm routine for normal incarceration at the airport: sit at the gate, tune out the surrounding noise, play the iPod (nee Walkman, may you rest in tape-whizzing peace), and pull out a book, while occasionally gazing at interesting folk in the people-watching free-for-all.

But today, I felt compelled to “entertain” my niece and engage her in conversation, which meant subjecting ourselves to two hours of CNBC — or was it CNN? — blasting audio over our heads and stale visuals into our eyes. I’ve seen hilarious (read: sad, sad statements about us) montages on Jon Stewart showing just how ridiculous, sheep-following-sheep, trash-following-trash the 24-hour cable news networks are — especially during the day, when they’re waiting around for someone to shoot someone, die from something, have sex with someone, or be kidnapped/murdered — but seeing it for myself really drove the point home.

In today’s episode of Geraldo Springer as News, we suffered through an eternal loop of “updates” about a workplace shooting in Troy, Michigan. Now, I’m sure this is pertinent news to Michiganites, but I really have no business knowing nor caring about a shooting there and the fact that the “SWAT Team Still Inside.” But that’s what they narrated to us every five minutes, with the same pointless live aerial shot of the office building where the shooting took place. The secondary story, which occasionally broke up the monotony of the “LIVE!” “WORKPLACE SHOOTING”? Oh, something about Iran bragging about enriching uranium. Not like that’s significant or anything, when you’ve got a shooter on the loose — with video! — somewhere in America. Meanwhile, I’m feeling bad for exposing my niece to this crap, yet there’s no place in the gate area to escape it: Yup, sorry kiddo, this is how adults behave, it really doesn’t ever start to make more sense.

On second thought, the last time I was subject to extensive cable TV news was in a hotel lobby in Toronto a few years ago, when the endless loop was about a pretty blonde American girl who had been killed or abducted or reported missing in Aruba or the Virgin Islands or some place small-yet-exotic and teeming with pretty Western (read: whites only) tourists. I vaguely recall that story also living for several weeks, making the covers of the newsweeklies, and generally causing me to pray to John Paul II at night for her safe return. But was I really supposed to care? I mean, more than I care about any of the other thousands murdered in this hemisphere each day?

Apparently the ratings for these 24-hour cable news outlets have grown in the last decade while the traditional (read: for old people) network newscasts have lost audience and audience share. This cannot reflect well of our electorate. Who is sitting around watching these programs in the middle of the day, anyway? Just people in airports and hotels? Or people who have already seen the Springer, Geraldo, or Current Affair rerun that’s running on the local UHF station? Are they the same people who vote regularly but in spite of their economic interests? Yikes.

“Children wake up, hold your mistake up
Before they turn the summer into dust.
If the children don’t grow up,
Our bodies get bigger but our hearts get torn up
We’re just a million little gods causin’ rainstorms
Turnin’ every good thing to ruuuuust. I guess we’ll just have to adjust…”
–“Wake Up,” Arcade Fire

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