September 13, 2008
Are you experiencing disturbing, election-related thoughts? When you close your eyes at night, do the colors of CNN's "magic" electoral map dance in your head like red and blue sugarplums? When you get in your car and hear the same talk-radio personalities saying the same things they said the last time you got in the car, do you wonder what day it is? Are you getting carpal tunnel syndrome from hitting "refresh" at political websites and blogs? Are you aware that most of these sites refresh automatically, yet you find yourself clicking the navigation bar because new information about Sarah Palin's other baby, the alien dinosaur, might have surfaced seconds ago and you can't wait that long to read about it? Are you at once totally sick of election news and insatiably hungry for more? As a result, are you sick of yourself?
Me too, and I don't think we're alone. In the last few weeks, I've noticed a malaise of unprecedented proportions descending on the American public. As much as we want to think and talk about subjects other than the election, we can't. As much as we know we should watch that Netflix movie we've had for months, instead of staring at cable TV, we don't do it. And even though we may hate ourselves in the morning, we can't resist the quick fix of a screaming Huffington Post headline or a Bill O'Reilly conniption fit.
You think I'm talking about campaign fatigue? Sadly, we're way beyond that. Campaign fatigue, with its implication that people have had their fill of election chatter and are turning their attention to more personally enriching matters, is so ... I don't know, 2004. Campaign fatigue was what people felt when John Kerry wouldn't shut up about "the mountains of Tora Bora." Campaign fatigue is what happened when "Swift boat" was no longer a Navy vessel but also a verb of mass destruction.
Not so this election, which has been so all-consuming, especially of late, that mere fatigue (which, according to my calculations, started appearing around the time Stevie Wonder performed "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" at Invesco Field) got quickly usurped by a more powerful blight: obsession.
With the introduction of Palin into the mix, cocktail parties didn't so much buzz as throb. Rumors ricocheted around the Internet at warp speed. TV pundits were so busy they could barely get to the bathroom. Amid the glee and the rancor, there was something exhilarating about the sound of so many people talking about just one thing.
Now the winds are shifting again. Obsession is escalating into addiction. And as often happens with addictions, the high is gone but the craving is worse. Lively political debate now seems like toxic chatter. Take it from me; I think I've poisoned myself.
A few weeks ago, I couldn't stop reading news articles and political blogs. This week, I read not only the articles and the blogs but also the endless reader comments that accompanied them, and then the comments about the comments. A few weeks ago, I listened to talk radio with detached amusement and turned it off at will. This week, I got so exorcised over a call-in show that I nearly crashed my car, but not even that got me to switch to the classical music station.
A few weeks ago, half of my conversations were about the election. This week, it was closer to 90%. I don't think anyone involved in these conversations actually wanted to be having them. But we couldn't help ourselves. We're so addicted to the rush of this election, it probably won't be long until we're attempting to melt down Wolf Blitzer and shoot him into our veins.
I'm not suggesting that election addiction be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, nor do I mean to trivialize chemical dependence by comparing it to out-of-control blog reading (though, I must confess, Internet comments go down a lot better with a couple of shots of Maker's Mark). I am, however, worried, and not necessarily about the outcome.
I'm worried because, as with any addiction, we're starting to experience negative consequences. We're easily enraged and paranoid, and so caught up in the carefully engineered paradigm of "us-versus-them" that a whole bunch of otherwise rational people actually believed that picture of Palin in a flag bikini was real. Worse yet, we're ignoring the things -- friends, family, basic hygiene -- we once held dear. And though we may tell ourselves that our mania is the best avenue to political and social change, a public that gorges on blog comments and abandons its hobbies in favor of nonstop CNN viewing will lose no matter which candidate wins.
That's why I'm going to kick the habit tomorrow. Or maybe next week.
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