All this down-time at work is great for personal productivity: knitting, catching up on bills, blogging. The quiet and low-pressure days allow my mind to expand as though in an empty room, to wander and drift, catching the peaks and eddys of the cultural effluvia around me. It’s this expansion that allows me to bring together a series of moments and observations into some ad hoc philosophising:
A few days ago a co-worker and I were in the kitchen together – I was washing a bright green granny smith apple, he was rinsing a bucket of raspberries purchased at the local farmer’s market. We both simultaneously remembered the recent NPR story about rinsing produce with a water-and-vinegar solution and I gushed about how much I love NPR. Yes, he agreed, but I sometimes wish they didn’t focus so much on the war because then I tune it out.
I completely understand this feeling. Recently it seems that everything that gets reported in the media seems somehow fictional, as though seen through the gently colored gels and mylars of Hollywood lighting. Since watching the Twin Towers fall in footage that could’ve been plucked from a visual-effects demo reel, much of current events media coverage seems so remote or bizarre that it could only be fiction. A glance at the CNN headlines today reveals protesting monks, a high-schooler taking hostages at school, and a woman who gave birth in her car. TV and films spend so much time on Law-and-Order-esque stories “ripped from the headlines,” and news outlets spend so much time finding “news” stories that will “entertain” that the actual events of the day can easily blur out into a barrage inputs that blend into the visually identical, but fictional, images we’re exposed to every day.
The extension of this blurring of reality extends to our wishful thinking. There’s a film coming out today called THE KINGDOM – I haven’t seen it, but it purports to send American investigators to Saudi Arabia to investigate a bombing. The very Politically Correct and intentionally diverse team (Jennifer Garner and Jamie Foxx alongside Chris Cooper and Jason Bateman) shows up in the Middle East where they kick ass and take names, risking their own lives to defeat the “bad guys.” If only life were so simple. If only all of us girl-next-door, plain-Jane-cutie brunettes could have the tough-yet-tender Jennifer Garner play us in our life stories. It’s hard not want to yield, in all things, to a vision of life as a shiny, neatly-packaged media mouthful, with a sweet happy ending and a chewy moral-lesson center – a happy couple with a white picket fence, a stroller and a puppy defended by a handsome young man happy to lay down his life to defend them – a touchingly tragic but bloodless death. But this prefabricated vision is above all, imaginary – I’m not Jennifer Garner, with perfect hair and judo technique, nor are all my life’s emotions and ideas black and white, or even technicolor.
And now I come to the point: gratitude. Because in the past few days, thinking of this vision of Jennifer in fatigues and a ponytail plastered on billboards all over Los Angeles, something’s clicked for me. A few months ago, Bill Maher invited an NPR reporter, Jamie Tarabay, to join the panel on his show Real Time. Her voice was familiar to me from countless morning commutes, but somehow seeing her on television changed my perspective. Forget that she’s far too beautiful for radio – here was an articulate woman around my own age who’s actually chosen as her life’s career to report from a war zone. Suddenly, when I hear dispatches from the “front” I picture not a sexy-but-grizzled photojournalist or an ageing news anchor trying to boost ratings, but a woman who could be my friend or my sister or even me. She’s not Jennifer Garner, she’s better – she’s the real thing. Because those reports from Baghdad are real, are actually happening, and it’s not just that she’s placed herself on the ground to observe and report but that in a very tangible and immediate way she brings me there with her. Her reporting makes it impossible for me to tune out, in the same way that I couldn’t check out halfway through a juicy phone call with a girlfriend. I think she’s unspeakably brave, incredibly smart, and I appreciate beyond measure that she’s bringing her reality into my brain every day.