“If only truth and good news were the same!” – Aeschylus, “The Oresteia”
Over the last year, I have treated my news updates as necessary evils. They are necessary because I have to be well-informed about current events, and they are evils because I am constantly disappointed.
My news consumption schedule has changed too. I used to be able to listen to all the podcasts and read the newspapers and magazines and still be able to go throughout my day. Now I read/listen to the news and immediately have to find something that isn’t essentially political to mellow me out. With every news update, my little paranoid suspicions about people’s complicity with fascism and authoritarianism grow a little bit stronger.
As my readers know, I have mild escapist tendencies. I mean, I’m the columnist whose debut column this year was about how I avoided the news for a month. Instead of writing about an internship experience that I HAVE TO TELL ALL MY FELLOW CLASSMATES ABOUT OR THEY WON’T THINK I AM IMPORTANT, or whatever the latest news was at the time, I wrote about my sabbatical from the news.
I considered writing a form of that article again, but decided against it because that would be too much avoidance behavior. When I signed up to write a column on politics I thought there would be once in awhile at least one happy political news update. But much to my dismay, it seems that there hasn’t even been an inkling of good news recently.
There has been one question that has been floating around the world over the last few years: Is there such a thing as good news? Furthermore, was there ever such a thing as good news?
One could argue that certain recent political news about tax cuts is good news for rich people. This argument, however, shows the flaws with good news: Good is a relative term.
One could also argue that the latest news about Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey and many others is “good news.” But I disagree. I believe it is good that they are being called out and punished, but that doesn’t necessarily make it good news. Good news is news that highlights human accomplishments, not news that exposes their faults and misdeeds.
If you have a good memory, then you may notice there is something similar about this article and the one I wrote at the beginning of this year. Both articles start with a quote from Aeschylus’ trilogy “The Oresteia.” Both quotes are from the beginning of the first play in the trilogy, “Agamemnon.” I chose these epitaphs not just because I like “The Oresteia” a lot (and also really like Eugene O’Neill’s remake “Mourning Becomes Electra”), but rather because they both speak volumes about how we perceive news.
Both quotes refer to different scenes in which characters are asking about whether Agamemnon and his crew have returned home from sea. The first quote, “I am eager to hear your news, whether what you have heard is good or not … but we won’t object if you stay silent,” gives us a look into our almost self-detrimental gathering of the news, and the potential to hide from it if we choose. We want to hear news regardless of whether it is good or bad, but we also are fine with indulging in a little respite from it once in awhile.
The second quote, “If only truth and good news were the same,” tells the sad reality about good news: Good news isn’t necessarily true or objective news.
But you must be thinking, “Come on silly op-ed columnist. You really can’t be this cynical? Right?” Lucky abstract person I have created to help my argument, you are right.
Although I have a sticker of Schopenhauer on the inside of the computer on which I write these articles, I am not as cynical about the existence of good news. I believe good news exists, but I also believe we need to divorce ourselves from this notion that subjective good news is necessarily a bad thing. I was excited to find out earlier this week that print book sales were up!
A final notion we need to address is the fatalistic and pessimistic view of both good and bad news. News doesn’t just happen whether we like it or not. News can be created. Every single person has the ability to create good news. I wish sometimes I was a talented “hard news” journalist but, much to the dismay of people who disagree with my opinions, I am not. I write about my interests and opinions about the world. I believe we need to continue to cover the “bad news” but also highlight the good news. The world isn’t descending into darkness but it does need a few new bright lights.