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And Now for the Good News

February 2018 Editor's Note



It never ends, does it, the stream of maddening and saddening information that we consume on a daily basis? Whether or not we're aligned with the dominant party in power in the country, whether or not we have strong political convictions, whether or not we're finely attuned to the massive economic inequities and wholesale ecological degradation of market capitalism—the news is kind of a drag. The day-in, day-out slog of bearing mute witness to human cruelty, folly, and hubris in its disturbing variety can be downright demoralizing. (And detrimental to our health, according to some psychologists. A study in 2002 found that viewing the coverage of 9/11 on TV was enough to trigger symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in some people. Severity of symptoms was directly related to the amount of time subjects spent watching television.)

This can be traced back to the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, beginning with the launch of CNN in 1980. The speed by which bad new travels since then has only quickened. (But the content hasn't changed. CNN reported on a random shooting aboard a train in Connecticut on its first newscast. I turned on the TV this morning to see reports of a school shooting in Kentucky, the 11th school shooting so far this year. A morbid curiosity: Has the pace of school shootings sped up to fill all the hours of coverage? How much does the white-hot spotlight invite copycat crimes?)

One reaction to the oversaturation of news was the rise of John Stewart and the generation of news-comedians that followed him. Nighttime talk show hosts like Johnny Carson had always gently lampooned those in power. Typical Carson joke about Ronald Reagan's inner circle: "There is a power struggle going on between President Reagan's advisers. Moe and Curly are out. Larry is still in." But Stewart was different. He was a comedian, sure, and "The Daily Show" was branded as "humorous takes on top news stories" and contained whimsical interludes from correspondents like John Oliver and Samantha Bee. But he was not a court jester in the mode of Leno or Carson, who made fun of the powerful while never questioning their motives or their right to power. Stewart proclaimed that his show was comedy, but he skewered the powerful while we laughed along and ended up being a generation's Walter Cronkite.

Stewart was the little bit of sugar to help the news go down, but it didn't make the news go away. We went to bed smug in the afterglow of truth having been spoken to power and woke up with an uncoated news hangover once again (which led many of us to get our news solely from "The Daily Show"). Now he's three years gone, and no one among his heirs has been able to fully claim his mantle. And perhaps that's for the good. Let's allow news-comedy to slide into comfortable obscurity. Given the propitious environment social media has created for fake news, regular ol' news-news is welcome for a while.

But don't let the bad news get you down. Or do, but then shift your focus to some good tidings for a news cycle or three—the natural and unnatural disasters will still be there for you when you return. This might lead some to call you a Pollyanna, but they probably don't know the real story of Pollyanna.

All but forgotten to us today, Eleanor H. Porter was one of the best-selling American authors of early 20th century. Pollyanna was her biggest commercial success. Published in 1913, her kids' novel tells the story of Pollyanna Whittier, an orphan who is sent to live with her spinster aunt Polly after the death of her parents, both missionaries. Despite rough treatment from her aunt, who didn't want to take in the girl but felt duty-bound to do so, Pollyanna maintains an irrepressible optimism. Her sunny disposition stems from something Pollyanna calls the "Glad Game," taught to her by her father. It seems that Pollyanna's father asked for supplies for his missionary efforts, including a doll for Pollyanna—for Christmas! The supplies contained no doll—just a pair of crutches. Her father then explained to the disappointed Pollyanna that the game (of life, one infers) involved always finding something to be glad about—the crutches should be a source of joy as Pollyanna has two good legs. (I dare you to try this at home with your own kids.) Long story longer, Pollyanna's irrepressible optimism melts the frozen heart of every crotchety old codger in town, lastly, but most powerfully, her aunt Polly. Then there's a tragic twist (cue the crutches from Act One), but it all works out in the end.

The same may not be said for us, but here's a couple of tidbits of good news from the current issue just the same. Say what you like about the first year of the Trump presidency—please folks, this is a family publication—it has inspired millions of Americans to renew their engagement in civic affairs. Hillary Harvey reports on how opposition to the current administration has taken powerful forms in the Hudson Valley in "The Resistance" (page 18). One way women and queer-identifying people have reacted to the contemporary moment is to mobilize runs for political office like never before, from local town councils on up. One person who'll be running in 2018 is Chelsea Manning, who's looking to unseat the incumbent Democratic senator in the June primary (While You Were Sleeping, page 16). (If you're a filmmaker or videographer interested in helping progressive women run for office, I encourage you to check out, the website of a grassroots network producing campaign videos for women, cofounded by former Chronogram staffer Megan Park.)

And here's the best news of all: Someday none of this will matter—all our striving, all our accomplishments, all our doubts, all our fears. We end as dust. I find that comforting. At least I won't have to deal with the news anymore.

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