Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Ignorance may be bliss, my friends

I was watching an episode of The Joy of Painting on TV last week - do you know the show? It seems to constantly pop up on one lifestyle channel or other and features Bob Ross showing you how to do an oil painting in half an hour. The shows are nearly always 15-20 years old and Ross himself died in 1995 but their popularity remains undimished. Part of the reason for this is Ross himself, a gentle, permanently smiling man with a voice like a soft drawer-closer gadget and an afro that Shaft would envy. Anyhow, I mention this because I was struck by something Ross said during one show; so much so that I wrote it down. It was this:

I got a letter from somebody here a while back, and they said, 'Bob, everything in your world seems to be happy.' That's for sure. That's why I paint. It's because I can create the kind of world that I want, and I can make this world as happy as I want it. Shoot, if you want bad stuff, watch the news.’

I'm researching a book at the moment that relates to art and decided to use it as a quote. But then the more I read it, the more a deeper truth started to emerge. I realised that, if I looked at my life, almost everything that makes me sad or angry or frustrated and impotent happens somewhere else. And it's nearly always something that I have absolutely no degree of control over either like war or crime or politics or showbiz. So, just as a thought experiment, I asked myself how I would feel if I only looked to my own immediate environs. No newspapers, no TV news, no reality shows or docusoaps. I suddenly found myself in a surprisingly happy place.

We've become informaniacs haven't we? That bastard box in the corner of the room has turned us into news junkies. I actually know more about what's happening to the US economy, the revolution in Libya and recent football transfers (even though I loathe football) than I do about events in the village I live in. For instance, there was a fete on Bank Holiday Monday but I didn't know; there was probably a leaflet through the door at some time but I presumably binned it while watching some programme about the effects of Facebook (which I don't do) on the Middle East (which I've never been to). It's a shame really because I went to the fate last year and it was fun if a little dull (see here). I blogged about it at the time and made the observation that it was weird walking around a supposed 'village fete' and yet I didn't know anyone there. A year later, I'm now asking myself whether I should form an exit strategy for current affairs and an entry strategy for local affairs.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, in an age before computers, 24 hour TV and mobile phones. I was in Cornwall, miles from 'the action'. We didn't even hear about events in the next town or village unless it appeared in the local paper a week later. And, I can say without any hesitation whatsoever, I had a brilliant childhood and teenage. No worries, no hassles, no bullying. And I'm convinced part of that is because everyone knew everyone else. There was a real community. That still exists in pockets all over the UK and I LOVE reading local newspaper headlines from places where bugger all ever happens locally. If you've never visited the Angry People in Local Newpapers blog, go and visit now. Now! You'll be glad you did.

So, starting today, I'm going Cold Turkey for a week. I won't read a national newspaper or watch the TV news. I will only watch TV shows that are inspiring, funny or completely factitious. I have turned off my RSS news feeds. I will not visit any newspaper sites. I will limit my involvement on Twitter to pesonal matters only and not get involved in any kind of debate that does't directly affect me where I live. I will read community leaflets pushed through the door and attend some local events. I will read and buy the local paper.

At the moment I'd rate my personal happiness and satisfaction as about 6/10. Will it rise or fall in a week?

It'll be interesting to see.


Angela said...

Totally agree. We are shown all the horror the world can create 24 hours a day. It's not natural, we're not equipped to deal with it, it can make you terrified to live, and the important news, the stuff you do need to care about, gets lost.


Sleepy said...

I've given up on the news for years and I found the same result you did. If it's vitally important my husband will tell me. It may seem heartless and cruel but i kinda like not knowing about famine, death, plague and people just being fuckholes to each other.

Debby said...

Rob Ross and his almighty brush?!!!! I was not aware that he aired there. It shocked me, a couple years ago, to see that he was still on the air.