I’ve passed through Baltimore more times than I care to count but never toured the city. I know the Baltimore portrayed by Anne Tyler, a place of comfy familiarity. She must be appalled about what’s happening in Baltimore, although it is not surprising. Racial riots and tensions are not new in America. It is reminiscent of the 1992 Rodney King riots in L.A. which followed the acquittal of police officers after a police brutality incident was caught on video tape. But that was a “one off” capture of an incident.
What is new is the widespread use of cell phone, surveillance, and dash board cameras that reveal the everyday nature of the problem. Twitter and YouTube deliver the message to a nation crazed for user-generated content. The more we see, the more inured we become to the root of the problem, racial and economic division.
Meanwhile media firms are pouring endless money into creating “shows” designed to be watched on ubiquitous mobile devices, the holy grail of streaming Internet firms such as Netflix. We’ve become a nation of somnambulists, cynical about the political process (ironically revealed by Netflix’s House of Cards – does life imitate art or vice versa?). According to a study done two years ago, “by 2015 Americans are expected to consume media for more than 1.7 trillion hours, or an average15.5 hours per person per day, again not counting workplace time.”
2015 is now. My wife recently boarded an aircraft from Atlanta and most people were watching videos on their laptops or iPods or even cell phones and although anecdotal evidence at best, many were of interactive games or slam-bang explosive Hollywood films. Imagine, most of your waking hours consuming media of this nature?
What happened to reading? Same answer as to what has happened to education. As long as we put a premium on consuming video content while minimizing education, there really is no answer to the racial and economic tensions that will play out in the future. Along with rebuilding our infrastructure, and our inner cities, education must be this nation’s highest priority to provide opportunity where people feel there is none. Better police tactics are needed, and research and education is required there as well. No wonder there is such despondency.
Easier said than done naturally, and having a dysfunctional government is not helping. As presidential electioneering gets underway the failings of the whole process will become even more apparent, thanks to Supreme Court sanctioned unlimited campaign contributions by corporations and individuals: its a few mega billionaires and corporations vs. the rest of us.
And it’s come to this in Baltimore today: the Baltimore Orioles will play the Chicago White Sox in an empty stadium -- our National Pastime with no spectators allowed because of safety concerns. Eerie symbolism of things to come? Is that how we want to live our lives?