During the past few days I attended a sister’s wedding, played card games with extended family, watched more television that I typically consume in a month, drove nearly 2,000 miles and plowed through at least 10 books, including a six title series featuring shape shifters. What I didn’t do was keep up with politics — I didn’t even try, and I’m not the only one.
And, I’ll admit one more thing: It was glorious to be blissfully ignorant, if only temporarily.
A former co-worker, one who miraculously escaped the ink barrel by his own volition, once told me that when people are in the thick of it, meaning working hard to put out quality news, there is a perception that everyone is watching. That perception, he said, is self-imposed and largely false.
It’s something I experienced a few years ago when I opted for a job in corporate America. I still maintained a basic connection to politics, but only because I sought it out. If I hadn’t, there would have been few organic opportunities to learn what the federal government was up to, much less legislators or local leaders.
Most people — everyday Americans, if you will — don’t follow politics until and unless something specifically impacts them or a loved one. They may catch a news blurb in their local paper, on the radio or television, but most information is accidental and without additional context. I know this to be true even in our beloved first-in-the nation Hawkeye State.
But, while visiting with family, I experienced the flip side of the coin when I was planted on a sofa for a viewing of some championship edition of America’s Got Talent. Throughout the show, various family members provided back stories on the returning contestants. This one was previously a football player, injured and now unable to play. Another was back by some viewer or judge request — I never quite understood that part — after losing to another person, also brought back for the show.
On and on it went, and while I, who had never watched the show, found it all amusing, I can’t say it inspired me to become a faithful viewer, even if doing so would mean another touch point between myself and my extended family. I had no real knowledge of the show’s characters, so no vested interest in the drama or the outcome.
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It’s similar to how certain members of my family feel about politics, currently not too different from the snippets I’ve seen of “Real Housewives.” Where I see public servants, responsible for policies that guide our lives, they see characters and hold no vested interest. It’s all tweets, insults and drama without context — so incredibly removed from their actual lives of raising children, going to work or school, buying groceries and paying the mortgage.
It’s a comfortable, albeit in my opinion an ill-advised, state of ignorance.
As I returned to work on Monday — and crammed headlines on Sunday like a lazy school kid facing a final exam — I did so with a newfound appreciation of my role as a provider of opinion and context. Our current political and news cycles aren’t serving the public. Neither are our political parties. Blissful ignorance is no longer an option.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, firstname.lastname@example.org