A short fictional story about a man whose news addiction ruins his family’s holidays, and though he gets better, his flames get re-fanned in an unlikely way.
Last year during Christmas is when Grandpa Bob first completely lost his shit. My Aunt Tracy gave my cousin Reyna a book about global warming, and gramps came unglued.
“You’re going to bring that liberal conspiracy trash into MY HOUSE and poison my granddaughter’s head…”
And so on he went, blabbering from the top of his lungs and convulsing in anger spasms. That went on for nearly an hour when everyone decided to leave, except my mom and uncle, who stayed to calm things down before leaving him alone with grandma.
Among them a decision was made that Grandpa Bob was watching too much news. Especially the most inflammatory channel, you know the one. His children and wife made him promise to step away from televised news, talk radio and right wing internet outlets — or else they would not bring their families back for another holiday, and he would have to stay home while grandma came and stayed with us.
Grandpa prided himself as a family man, and the ploy worked. He agreed to quit cold turkey.
Over the next few months he seemed to become a whole new person. He started reading and doing crosswords, picked up a watercolor brush for the first time in over thirty years, and even started going to the gym.
By the time Easter rolled around, he was a whole new man. He was calm, attentive and had dropped 20 pounds and picked up a bit of muscle. He gave a long speech to apologize for Christmas, and explained that he had found a new path to peace. Then he gave each and every family member a gift, which had never been part of our Easter tradition. They were small gifts, but each one of them was so personally suited that it showed he had put in a lot of work to become more considerate, thoughtful and caring.
As the months went on he became seemingly obsessed with the gym. He had lost a bunch of weight and was packing some pretty serious old man muscle. However he would sometimes return in a foul mood, and would retire to his workshop and wouldn’t say a word to grandma for hours. We kinda wrote it off as the toll all that exercise took on him, and the pain it must sometimes be accompanied by. Then Thanksgiving rolled around.
For the first several hours things were fine. He was calm and jovial, and the light, joyful mood was passed on to the rest of us. Then when it was time to eat, and Grandpa Bob bowed his head to say his annual Thanksgiving prayer, my brother stood up and left the table. He came back a few minutes later, as we were all piling food onto our plates, and sat down as though nothing had happened. Which in most of our minds, nothing had. But then gramps asked him if he was alright, and he said he was fine — and then tried to explain that as practicing druid he found the Christian religion barbaric and wouldn’t participate in telepathic attempts to appease it’s sadistic deity. That’s my brother for you.
And that is when the most apoplectic rant that has ever came out of a human being came our of my Grandpa Bob. First it started with religion and respect, but soon had moved into more politically themed spiels, and it became very clear that gramps had been watching the news again. He screamed and yelled and cursed and shook and spat and waved his fists until his body couldn’t take it any more and he dropped.
Luckily it wasn’t even a heart attack. It was just some kind of severe anxiety attack, and the hospital made it clear that if he did not get some help to deal with his issues, he would be killing himself with anger. He ended up doing the right thing, and has been working with a therapist ever since.
The funny part of the whole story is that it turned out it was the gym which provided his outlet for satiating his addiction. One day his phone went dead, and he ended up getting sucked into the news, which is always on there. After that he slowly started watching it more and more. Then, apparently, he bought a second phone so he could sneak off into his workshop or the garden and quench his thirst for outrage. Even though he had done a pretty good job keeping his use secret, he said he felt himself being pulled into a black hole, and it seemed there was nothing he could do but swim with the current that was pulling him in.
I used to think people like that were incurable assholes, but now it seems like Grandpa Bob was really a victim of the emotional cheap shots the media takes to get people hooked, especially older people. It isn’t some grand conspiracy, it is just what sells. But my advice to you is that if you or someone you love has an addiction to the news, especially political coverage and opinion, get some help. There is life on the other side, and your family deserves to spend time with the real you, not the prepackaged identities which advertisers create to keep us chasing their dragons. Don’t stand enraptured before them as they breathe the vile fire of hatred onto you to sell you floor cleaners and precooked breakfast sausages that are both made from similar ingredients.
As the wise philosopher John Frusciante once said, “Does the news you choose to meet seem to defeat you?”