Wednesday, December 10, 2008

the perfect holiday storm

In working for a news website, not only do I try to churn out my headlines with a little literary panache when I can, but I also try to understand our product. The news. What makes it what it is, when and where it is and how and why it happens.

A couple of weeks ago, I was amazed by the number of truly bizarre news stories that came up during the course of my work day. I was convinced it must have been a full moon, and after consulting an astronomical table, I realized I was wrong. The region may have been ground-zero for some other kind of major astrological event that was affecting people's behavior -- involving the alignment of planets and stars and shit like that -- but I didn't look into it because I don't dig on that stuff. And I'm lazy. I just dismissed the day as a fluke and moved on.

Since that first day of noted weirdness, though, I've noticed there have been progressively more. Sure, there's been some ebb and flow day-to-day, but undeniably these last couple of weeks, local news has been trending bizarre. And after much thought and consideration, I've concluded the holidays are to blame.

The most sane of us go a little crazy during the holidays; in turn, we should expect the most insane of us go absolutely fucking monkey nuts.

However, it's not the insane who generate the news. While the crazies may be responsible for its juiciest headlines, stupidity -- not insanity -- is the great engine that churns out the commodity we call news.

And more than any other time of the year, over the holidays, people are stupid.

The vast majority of what is packaged as news is generated by the actions of careless and/or ignorant people. If the country were stocked with responsible and educated people, there would be very little news to report.

Without people like the woman who used a cigarette lighter to help her search for a ring she dropped between her couch cushions, and then subsequently burned her house to the ground along with three other homes...without people like her, I wouldn't have a job.

So what is it about the holidays that makes people so dumb? I've identified a number of factors that come into play, creating a sort of perfect, news-generating storm.

One that should come as no surprise is the weather. At any time of year, weather strongly influences the news. Today, for example, it is cold and rainy, and the news is certain to be dominated by house fires and weather-related accidents-- the accidents caused by stupid drivers who drive in rain-turning-to-sleet as if they're behind the wheel of a video game, and the house fires caused by stupid residents who do things like toss their dirty lingerie too close to the space heater in the bedroom.

Stupidity and bad weather are always a great newsday combination, but add these to the holiday season, and it becomes a veritable headline smorgasbord.

The holiday season adds two crucial ingredients to the cauldron-- traveling and family.

Traveling on its own, added to stupidity and bad weather, it's throwing gasoline on a fire... no more need be said. However, surprisingly, it is family that I contend is the most catalytic element in the equation. Because family involves tolerating family, and its whole web of stresses and strained relations. And that-- for more than less-- means drinking. Oftentimes heavily.

So, during the holidays, the ordinarily stupid people in the world are not the only ones making the news. Otherwise responsible and intelligent people are also making stupid decisions and acting carelessly because they're momentarily struck dumb by the crucible of the holiday season. They crumble under the pressure of dealing with bad weather, dealing with hectic travel in this weather, and then having to deal with family once they get there.

May you all have a happy and healthy holiday season, and remain out of the headlines in your local newspaper.

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