I watch the news mainly to feel better about myself. No matter how dorky I might be on any given day (and my dork is legendary), there is always someone trying to rob a bank with a blow dryer, or driving their car into a swimming pool on the evening news.
How can you not cheer up about your own shortcomings with that going on in the world?
The problem with being a news junkie is that just when I’m feeling superior to fully 50 percent of the human population, patting myself on the back for a job well done in not walking into a fountain — or ocean — while texting, I can fall victim to sensational too.
News coverage can create patterns where none exist. Take, for example, the summer of the shark. In 2001 the media went wild reporting (and re-reporting) shark attacks on a variety of victims as if the number had somehow increased (it hadn’t).
There were actually about the same number of shark attacks in 1995 and the year 2000, but summer 2001 was a slow, post-election news cycle and the media needed something to do. Cue the sharks.
Now, I’m not saying I’d want to be even the rare victim of a shark attack. When it happens to you, its news. That said, I also don’t want to start living in a world where the media carefully collects every shark attack the world over and breathlessly report on it until they have us all convinced we are at risk even if the largest body of water we ever enter is our own bathtub.
Sharks aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom experiencing Lindsay Lohan levels of bad press. The media also tends to report every story of a wayward crocodile or alligator ending up in carport, drainage ditch or water hazard.
Piece together the generally rare instances of alligators on the prowl, and we (O.K., I) become convinced that man-eaters lie in wait in every kiddie pool and puddle in the sunshine state. When I was there I looked upon even an unattended glass of water with distrust.
Fortunately we don’t have sharks or alligators in the Midwest. I felt safe and somewhat smug. Then a man was bitten by a rattlesnake in a Wal-Mart Garden Center and the media ran with it like the snake had wrestled him to the ground at gun point. Finally! Something we could really get our teeth into, fearwise.
Eager to assess my risk of being attacked by a snake at my local discount store (venomous or not, I’m against it), I tuned in for more coverage of this freakish and seemingly rare incident, where it came to light that snake bites in Wal-Marts are not isolated incidents! There have reportedly been at least five snakes bites in garden centers in the past six years.
One lawyer claims there are at least a dozen incidents going back 20 years. This just goes to prove that snakes have been planning this coup for decades. Clearly the sharks were just a decoy.
Now, I know that common sense would dictate that I’m probably not in dire danger of being attacked by a venomous snake at the local discount store. Ohio snakes, for the most part, tend to lie about harmlessly waiting to be chopped up in hay balers and lawn mower blades (sadly).
I realize on some level that the Great Wal-Mart Snake Bite Epidemic probably holds about as much water as the Summer of the Shark. Nonetheless, it’s good that televised news cycles run in a 24-hour cycle so they can keep me abreast of this burgeoning threat.
On the plus side Wal-Mart sells snake bite kits too. They, like the media, have got this covered.