It’s been a week now since I logged off Facebook and Twitter (!), and during that time I’ve also maintained as close to a complete online news blackout as possible. The reason for the latter is that, having already cast my vote by mail, and done what I was able to for candidates in races in which I was ineligible to vote, I didn’t want to be dragged unwillingly into the media frenzy of the apocalyptic final days of this latest “most important election in our lifetime.”
I find that I cannot work to make ends meet, live my one wild and precious life, attentive to relationships that are important to me, caring for friends, neighbors and family, and also pay the minute and constant attention to political shenanigans in the twilight of an Evil Empire, while maintaining my already tenuous grip on my own sanity. I think one of the reasons we are being barraged with superhero blockbusters at the moment is that it seems to take superpowers just to live an ordinary life nowadays.
This is systemic failure as standard operating procedure. It’s also political terror as a tool of control. We are rightly afraid of a totalitarian takeover and fascist future, but the truth is we are already in it. “No!” You say. Is it possible you may just be enjoying doomscrolling through your days too much to notice?
At any rate, our mediated politics and the political terror they’ve wrought, have become a perverse gazillion-dollar media bonanza. And we are stuck in this reality show, where the script is recycled every two years, and the new season kicks off the moment the last one ends. It’s an unstoppable 24/7 juggernaut. And you never know when you’ll be called to be an extra. Like everything else in our terminal culture and society, this ritual has led to orgies of violence, random but certain, that keep us all tethered to a terror narrative we feel increasingly powerless to change or opt out of.
In answer, the singular mantra of some, mostly older white influencers, from the comfort of their keyboards, is “JUST VOTE!” And while exercising our franchise is undeniably important (it’s literally the least we can do to defend Democracy), the messaging invariably ignores obstacles to even just voting, for Black people and people of color, first and foremost. I would never discourage the get-out-the-vote messaging, but underneath it is the uglier truth of voter intimidation, racial gerrymandering, and the overturning of voting rights guarantees by the Roberts Court.
That’s all part of what has become the background noise, while the races themselves are increasingly reality show contests, and played as such in the media. The campaigning never ends, and is woven tightly into the culture-war narrative that, while based on recycled false news memes (e.g., litter boxes in schools for children who identify as cats; the evergreen trans bathroom panic, and so on), tempts unhinged types to visit real political violence on the vulnerable.
It has become a ritual without pause, the induced violence and cultivated madness of crowds, and enough people are perfectly synced to the news cycle, which seems more powerful than even our circadian rhythm, that this unending cycle of madness produces a fevered frenzied violence in all of us. Election Anxiety, sometimes referred to as “election stress disorder”, is not yet in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but give it time.
Many argue that we have an obligation not to look away, and, pornographic implications notwithstanding, this belief can take on an almost mystical cast. This sense of obligation, bumping up against social media addiction (I’ve had multiple days this election season with 14+ hours of screen time — it’s a thing), has produced new and fascinating varieties of anxiety for me as I’ve gone cold turkey. (I don’t currently consider blogging here to be social, although that option is available.) On a deeper level than addiction, an existential level, I am terrified of letting go of the attention I’ve been giving the news on social media, because all my adult life I have subscribed, more or less, to the Tinkerbell Effect.
In the play version of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Tinkerbell‘s survival depends on the audience ‘performing” their belief in fairies by applauding. It is the playgoers’ belief in Tinkerbell that keeps Tink alive. In the play this leads to a happy ending. It works! We are likewise exhorted to pay attention to the news, regardless of how manipulated and manipulative it may be in the distorted final days of an election, and sometimes chastised by partisan influencers deeply invested in politics and media for their own livelihoods for not paying close enough attention, for not believing enough, for not applauding enough. “Tink will die! Just clap! Keep clapping! KEEP CLAPPING!!!”
This year, after casting my vote, my hands raw from clapping, I decided to go with the serenity prayer, popular with the recovery crowd, instead:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.