Six years after moving here we've discovered an unexpected benefit to living in San Miguel, besides its near-perfect climate, colonial ambience and lower living costs: Insulation from the hailstorm of news--including "news", commentaries, extrapolations, speculation, pundit-fications, fear-mongering and sheer media noise--to which Americans back home are subjected every day.
During the first several months in Mexico we felt a vague craving for newspapers and current events, a bit like withdrawal symptoms. That was supplanted by boredom with the shallow and repetitive news cycles in U.S. television news stations and most magazines.
Most recently the debt-ceiling debacle in Washington, a beat-it-to-death media riot spiced with countless and ominous what-ifs, has been pushing Stew and I toward anomie, an alienation from the dysfunctional American political process. If you live in the U.S. this latest spectacle may seem urgent and worth following; it's certainly inescapable, unless you live in a cave in Wyoming.
When you witness it from a foreign country though, even one as close as Mexico, it resembles a Third World soap opera--crude, ridiculous and incomprehensible. This disconnect is an odd and unpleasant sensation for Stew and I, who've followed and voted in elections punctually even in Chicago where the dead have been known to vote and zombies can win as long as they are Democrats.
News from the U.S. doesn't come to you naturally when you live abroad. It takes some work to keep in informed. It doesn't blast your eyes and ears constantly from newspapers, magazines, radio, television, iPhones, Kindles, and even billboards exhorting you to enjoy Coca-Cola while one of those twinkling-lights crawling message boards underneath warns you the world is on the verge of turning into total shit.
Here we have to make an effort. You log onto the Internet and check the New York Times, Huffington Post or Daily Beast, but that doesn't always work: Our wireless broadband Internet is so erratic sometimes we can't connect for days at a time. We subscribe to Newsweek, Time and the New Yorker but thanks to our equally erratic mail delivery system, we get them one or two weeks late, or two or three issues at once. As for satellite TV, well, ours comes from Canada, whose current events and politics seem quaintly soporific compared to the endless American political circus.
Nonetheless, Stew and I used to make the effort, duly informed citizens we try to be. Then boredom set in: Obama's election two and a half years ago was an undeniably exciting event. For months the screensaver on our computer was the photo of him and his family speaking to a huge crowd of delirious supporters in Chicago's Grant Park the night of his victory. Six months later I replaced it with a portrait of Lucy, one of our dogs.
What happened is that the expected exchange of ideas, and the forging of new ones by the two parties turned into an Animal House-like food fight, with some of our political leaders looking as inspiring as Bluto Blutarsky, and political dialogue reminiscent of his famous maxim: "My advice to you is to start drinking heavily."
Food fights are fun to watch but even they get tedious after a while; the one in Washington goes on interminably. TV news analysts, who could sort out facts and ideas for their viewers, have instead joined in, on opposing teams.
On MSNBC, Chris Matthews sounds like his underwear is on fire; the shrillness just wears you out after ten minutes. Perhaps as a foil, Lawrence O'Donnell follows with his show "The Last Word" in which he drones on with lectures that sound like Lutheran sermons. Next on the schedule is Rachel Maddow, a brilliant political analyst who unfortunately comes off as she were trying out as a comedian or a satirist, which she is definitely not.
So tedious has become the ranting on MSNBC that on a few occassions Stew and I have resorted to the Doomsday Option: Turning to Fox News. After Obama's speech we tuned in to Hannity who asked his three guests to grade the speech by the president and House Speaker John Boehner's Republican response. Two of the guests gave Obama an "F" and Boehner an "A+": How's that for nuanced political analysis? A third guest was supposed to present the liberal point of view but kept getting shouted down and ultimately mostly covered his face with his hands. The cumulative effect was about as enlightening as watching a panel of three seals at Sea World blowing their horns on command.
A few days before I had stumbled on Fox's Bill O'Reilly arguing that calling the Norwegian terrorist a Christian was yet another example of anti-Christian bias by the media. O'Reilly said that "no one believing in Jesus commits mass murder." Huh? Did O'Reilly miss, for example, the wars in Northern Ireland where Christians of different denominations bombed and slaughtered each other for decades? Or the Spanish colonization of America?
MSNBC's rants at least keep in touch with facts and reality; Fox News doesn't seem to suffer such constraints.
The most recent symptom of our growing anomie came Friday when we tried to watch "Real Time" by Bill Maher on HBO, usually one of our favorite shows primarily because Maher can be very funny. His panel included Eliot Spitzer, Republican Margaret Hoover and the leader of the Tea Party, an odd-looking duck with a buzz cut and sideburns that hadn't been seen on TV since the days of "American Bandstand." A discussion of the federal deficit immediately turned into an incomprehensible shouting match.
Five minutes into it, it was click and off.
Time to read a book.