Radical Insignificance

Did you know that April 11, 1954 was the most boring day in history?

It was according to a Cambridge University project. They fed 300 million historical details about people, places, and events into a computer. And the computer calculated that the only things that happened that day were an election in Belgium, the death of an old football player, and the birth of a future scientist..

So, I wonder if the evening news broadcasts were cancelled or shortened that day? Did John Daly or Douglas Edwards (the only nationally broadcast news anchors at the time) say something like, “Nothing happened anywhere in the world today. So, we’re going to knock off and go home…have a good evening?”

In fact, come to think of it, I wonder why broadcast news programs occupy a specific time window. If the purpose is simply to tell us what happened, wouldn’t it naturally need different lengths of time each day to do that? Could the fact that news programs fill a certain time length each day tell us anything about our subscription to unreality?

And, speaking of unreality, have you ever noticed the oddity of anchor-to-reporter conversations? The anchor will ask the onsite reporter a question. And, the answer always follows the same pattern, “That’s a good question, Dan. My sources tell me…” I’ve never heard a reporter say something like…”What?” “I don’t understand the question.” “Can we talk about that later?” “I don’t know, Dan; never thought about it.”

My point is that we’re gazing into a wax museum. People look real, but aren’t. Yes, I do know this is not a new insight. Many have have written about it in great depth and lucidity. But, I’m just musing on all this as I drink really good coffee so early this morning. I’m in one of my “wish I could sit with you on hay bales in an old barn and talk” moods.

I recently read a Jacques Ellul comment (which he made almost a half century ago!):

Man is living in an illusionary world, illusionary because it is made up of images transmitted by communications media. His world is no longer that of his daily experience, of his lived mediocrity of his personality or of his repeated relationships. It has become an enormous decor, put there by the thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance. They give him the feeling of living an experience, which is worth the trouble, in contrast to the rest of his experience, which is colorless and too plainly unimportant. It is an odd perversion which leads the person of this age to bestow importance and sense on that which does not concern him at all … while rejecting the importance and sense of that which is in fact his own experience 24 hours of every day.

Think about that line: “…thousands of news items which are almost completely useless for his life, but which are striking, arousing, threatening, glorifying and edifying in their radical insignificance.” It seems that we’ve exchanged our real life for the artificial one because we’re jerked (by others) into being aroused, threatened, prodded, glorified, etc.

For example, I have absolutely no opinion about — or interest in — Sarah Palin, the cost or frequency of President Obamas foreign trips, if cell phones explode or cause cancer, or anyone’s sexuality. Zero. I am not going to be “electroded” into “bestowing importance and sense on that which does not concern me at all.” Besides, I have a life: a real experience of interacting with Joanne, friends, family, God, books, music, writing, and cleaning my garage.

It seems that many have decided, as Ellul says, that personal life is just too “colorless and too plainly unimportant.” So, we’re letting (even demanding that) mass culture arouse and threaten us into “radical insignificance.” And, in the process, I think it is extracting our brain and heart and replacing them with a defibrillators. Some seem to sit in a catatonic state until the electrode throws them into animation.

What if we all decided to do something really radical? What if we stepped away from the illusory world and back into the real one? So…this coming weekend, walk in the woods, rake leaves, read a book, make cookies, make love, pray, sing, ride a hot air balloon, build a fire, fire a .45, and encourage someone.