July 16, 2013

Zimmerman and TV and Me

I had planned to write today about lessons learned in the two years dealing with lower back pain. But I've been so astounded by the Zimmerman case I have to sort out my feelings by writing about it. I wasn't astounded by the verdict. I was surprised how everyone BUT me seemed intensely involved in the story.

My first surprise came last week at my regular Parkinson's support group meeting. One of our smartest members mentioned that he had spent seven hours the day before watching the TV coverage. Over the weekend, I began to realize that lots of people were mesmerized by the proceedings. On Monday morning, I got an email from a friend at work who said everybody was talking about the verdict . . . not working.

I knew about the trial from the newspaper, but was more interested in other stories. Why had I missed the Zimmerman mania?

Then the light bulb clicked on. I hadn't watched any TV for almost two months.

Me and TV
Obviously, I'm not big TV fan. I can't stand commercials, so I don't watch evening network shows. I usually watch morning news programs while exercising and getting dressed. At night, I used to faithfully watch the PBS News Hour. Lately, I listen to the headlines at the beginning of the broadcast. If nothing really interests me, I turn off the set.

Fewer and fewer topics hold my interest any more. I have zero interest watching yet another pair of legislators, one from each party, debate the merits of legislation I know will never pass. I've heard the same pros and cons on abortion rights, gun control, deficit reduction vs economic stimulus over and over. Nothing happens. I've got better things to do with my time.

In mid May when my new TV arrived, I threw out the old set and installed the new one, with a lot of help from Nimesh. But I couldn't figure out how to get the remote to work with the TV.

The new television did not come with a user's manual. I decided: "I'll go online tomorrow and find it." Well, that "tomorrow" arrived about three weeks later. Once online, I looked up the instructions for the remote, and they seemed clear enough. I needed to print them out, but it was time for supper. So, I thought: "I'll print the page tomorrow."

That tomorrow has yet to arrive. Meanwhile, I've missed the week of nonstop Zimmerman trial TV coverage that has gripped the nation.

Why Was There So Much Hoopla over the Zimmerman Trial?
Was this trial more important than the battles in Congress and state legislatures over gun control? Not in my judgment. But covering legislative battles doesn't make for TV that's as riveting as a trial where you can reenact over and over again an act of violence . . . and stir up viewers' emotions with extremists from both sides yelling at one another.

President Obama, who seems to have given up on trying to get Congress to take a second look at the gun control legislation the Senate failed to enact in April, now characterizes Trayvon Martin's death as "a tragedy . . . not just for his family . . . but for America." Emotions are riding high on both sides.

But if you didn't watch TV and only read the news reports, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, was killed by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, who, contrary to the advice of the police, took it upon himself to stalk Martin mainly because he was a black kid walking through Zimmerman's neighborhood wearing a hoodie. "Punk," he said, adding a profanity. "They always get away," he said, adding another profanity. So far, I'd find Zimmerman guilty of racial profiling and excessive vigilantism.

But when it came to the fight between Zimmerman and Martin that preceded the shooting, the testimony and evidence were muddled enough to provide grist for reasonable doubt. I thought a manslaughter verdict might have been justified. But what do I know? I didn't sit through the trial. The judge seemed eminently fair and the six women jurors seemed sensible and unbiased.

So, why all the hoopla? My guess: it was the nonstop TV coverage (though I didn't watch it) and the public's preference for following stories involving people rather than issues. I doubt there was much discussion on the TV news during the trial that the legislatures of Indiana, Florida, Kansas, Virginia and Tennessee were enacting frightening laws liberalizing the rules on carrying guns.

The next time a black teenager gets killed by a white vigilante -- or school kids get murdered by a madman's assault weapon -- the TV news channels will get us all worked up again. But when gun legislation comes up in Congress or state legislatures, the gun rights zealots will once again take center stage while the rest of us sit at home watching American Idol or Dancing with the Stars.

I feel more angry and worked up than I have in the past two months of not watching TV. Maybe I won't bother printing those instructions for the remote.

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