For many years, we were told that as the benchmark year 1000 rolled around, people in Dark Ages Europe huddled together, fearfully waiting for the world to end. A few years ago, some historians started discounting this chestnut, saying it never happened. Now, any student of history will tell you that events are more or less cyclical, repeating themselves over and over again in a Santayana nightmare; given that, and looking at current events and the increasing frenzy and dread over Y2K, I see no reason to believe the revisionist historians. Just like us, our ancestors huddled in their homes, anxiously awaiting the end of everything.
How much should we be worried about the Y2K bug? At this point, it's almost anticlimactic to ponder that question. So much conflicting evidence is flying about that the term "expert" has become more suspect than ever. Much of the survivalist panic about this event seems predicated on the theory that computers will suffer an existential crisis at the stroke of midnight, exclaiming (in that flat HAL 9000 voice) "Wait, it's 1900.... I haven't been invented yet!" and withdraw into a CPU coma (or, as this is still a Bad Movie site, emitting a shower of sparks and intoning, "Error! Error!"). There are real concerns buried in the apocalyptic furor, but the signal to noise ratio is so extreme, most people toss up their hands and prepare to join in the communal rioting and looting they are sure will occur.
The blame for this heightened sense of doom I place on the head of a popular scapegoat: the media. Specifically, the news media. Once upon a time, I was going to go into the field of journalism; now, I am glad I did not. Something happened in the years since I made that decision, and that something was an essential change in the timbre of news coverage; quite simply, the major TV networks decided that their news departments, former bastions of integrity and loss leaders in the monetary return departments, would have to start acting as profit centers.
Add CNN and it's progeny into the mix, and reporters, who once had a friendly rivalry in the race to the next "scoop" suddenly became quite cutthroat in their pursuit of the facts. And I have to use the word "facts" advisedly, as most scoops these days are merely rumors from unidentified sources, rushed onto the air or into print just on the off-chance that they may be true. I recall an incident years ago when the venerable Washington Post published a scurrilous rumor from a source that later proved not to be on the up-and-up; in short, it was not true, and the reporters responsible, Woodward and Bernstein, offered to resign in the resulting flap. They didn't, but it was nice that they had the integrity to do so; these days, not only will reporters not exhibit this sort of spine, but their employers are likely to go on the record defending them, sulkily explaining that this is the way business is done.
Yep. Business. The Fourth Estate has been co-opted, bought and sold, long ago. Complex issues are reduced to tiny morsels so viewers will not change channels before the commercial airs. It could be pointed out that there have been many stories that have received more scrutiny, more air time; but this has, more often than not, been continuous coverage of ongoing tragedies, that have been covered to the exclusion of any other events.
For instance: did we really need hour upon hour of footage of rolling ocean waves as JFK Jr.'s plane was sought? Breaking in every half-hour saying nothing has been found would have been sufficient (although, once upon a time, the reportage that nothing is happening would have been rightly relegated to the regular evening or nighttime newscasts). There are other examples; most recently, in my own backyard, the Texas A&M Bonfire Collapse killed over a dozen people and injured many more... immediately, there were more TV cameras and helicopters in the air than rescue personnel, feverishly photographing as each log was painstakingly removed to prevent further collapse, as "experts" and "witnesses" droned on and on....
Again, I did not sit and watch. Checking in every half-hour was more than sufficient for me. The checking in was easy... it was the only thing on any number of channels.
There is an old, and unfortunate saying in journalism: "If it bleeds, it leads". This appears to have been mutated to "If it bleeds, it is the only thing we shall cover." My bitterness in the aftermath of the JFK Jr. Tragedy is legendary; I was astounded by people who would not bother to give their elderly parents a call, but were affected by the death of a stranger as if their own brother had perished in that plane - a man they had never known personally, moreover would never have known. It has been opined that in an upwardly and highly mobile society, celebrities are the closest thing to family many people have - the perishing of one allows us to feel the grief the entire village would have felt in the old days. They are the only commonality we have left.
That's a fairly sad state of affairs. What really set me off was the mindset of the times that almost flatly stated that the Kennedys are the only family in America that have known tragedy; the truth is, they are a high-profile family - that means everyone knows about their ill luck. In the same period, my wife's elder brother died of a heart attack at a very young age. Her father, frail and suffering more illnesses than I could catalog here, made the trip, against doctor's orders, to bury his son. It was a journey that contributed to his own drawn-out, agonizing death a month later, as the disorders he had fought bravely for so long ravaged his body so completely, even morphine was useless. I was no mood to hear how bad the Kennedys had it.
I had given up on local news broadcasts, too, as each of my local stations was employing the same "Is there a killer in your sock drawer? Find out on Channel ** News - tonight!" lead-in. I can click up The Weather Channel on my desktop, thank you.
The most astounding development to me in the last year was the emergence of Matt Drudge as a Journalism Avatar, simply on the strength of his early breaking of the Monica Lewinsky affair (hopefully the only time you ever going to see that name on this site). Sorry, Matt, but I was reading the Drudge Report on alt.conspiracy long before the Prez received his infamous hummer, and for this one instance of truth, I can recall any number of outrageous rumors that were reported in that online column that never received even the slightest corroboration.
New corollary to the old homily that man needs two things, food and shelter: they also need something to fear. And something to hate.
The last time I tried to be this serious I was holding forth on the post-Columbine frenzy (and if you need first person accounts of how ugly this has gotten, you need click no further than the Voices from the Hellmouth section of Slashdot - 'geek profiling' is a stone reality). This is starting up again thanks to several more kids taking guns to school and the recent cover story of Time magazine detailing Klebold and Harris' videotaped pre-massacre testaments; but as more and more details are revealed from the official investigations, it appears more and more that everything we know about the Massacre is wrong, and most of that was cast upon the waves by breathless broadcasters distributing suppositions and early assumption as fact.
I entertained a sense of bitter bemusement over the coverage of two more gun-related tragedies, the Day Trader shootings and the Xerox incident in Hawaii. The news media had no idea from which direction to approach these tragedies, as apparently neither of the shooters had Doom or Quake on their home computers, nor had seen Natural Born Killers more than once - the easily exploitable tenets of the Littleton Massacre were absent.
For years in the Philippines there was a singular phenomenon known as the amok - a seemingly normal person who, for reasons unknown, goes berserk and starts attacking people with a machete. With the startling prescience that defines good science fiction, John Brunner's classic novel Stand on Zanzibar posits (among many other things) the transplanting of the phenomenon into an increasingly hectic, stressful and crowded Western World. That this has become practically a weekly occurrence in real life only underlines the fact that, even without jet packs and flying cars, we are living in a science-fiction world. The Philippines have never found the answer to this problem - that we hope we can is unfounded optimism at best, extreme hubris at worst.
But gosh, this was supposed to be about Doomsday, wasn't it?
So... have I stockpiled food, water, cash ammo and breeding females? No.... no more than usual anyway. As Dennis Miller says, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. I may wind up being the guy in the coonskin cap announcing my leader as "The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah". Or the Rapture may occur and I'll find myself a spouseless, childless heathen. Hopefully, though, when the sun rises on January 1, 2000, and the world at large discovers that the Moon did not fall from the sky, things will begin to return to normal. Whatever that means.