18 November 2011

Just get me out of here!

The twenty-first century is not for sissies. We have to cope with the condensed disasters of the whole planet every day. Susan Erasmus wants out.


The twenty-first century is not for sissies. There probably has never been a century for sissies, but at least hundreds of years ago you only knew what happened within a ten-mile radius of where you hunted and gathered, or planted your corn.

Right, there was the occasional witch-burning, which could not have been very pleasant to witness, or experience. And then, of course, invasions by Attila and his Huns, or whatever marauding neighbouring tribe, who robbed, raped and pillaged.  

The survivors, who still could, plodded on, without any trauma counselling or antibiotics. Then things quietened down for two decades until the next disaster struck. All a sure sign of God's dissatisfaction with how you and your kin were leading your lives. Best you get your act together – and make it snappy.

But in the Age of Twitter, and the internet, disaster is no longer localised. I work in a newsroom and feel as if I am shaken to the core every day: news of murders, earthquakes, sexual abuse, genocide, service delivery protests, sweat shops and the latest gaffe of Julius Malema.

Cameras take me into the middle of violent crowd scenes, into trauma units populated by victims of bomb blasts, and into the core of family grief at funerals the world over. I witness more second-hand trauma daily than people did in a decade a thousand years ago.

I don't believe there were ever Good Old Days. Slavery, bubonic plague, poverty and famine (all still around, but less widespread) saw to that. But at least you only had to cope with the horrors immediately around you - not a condensed and photo-shopped version of the griefs and disasters of an entire planet. We become blunted to so much grief, until of course something happens to us or the people we love.

So what am I suggesting? I am not naïve enough to think that anyone can put a stop to this avalanche of depressing news. In short, it sells. It would be easier to turn Julius Malema into a card-carrying member of the Freedom Front (maybe that is one of his options now that he has had his ANC-card surgically removed). And the name of the Freedom Front does have a certain comradely revolutionary ring to it, so that's a start.

Some time out

I would just like to be granted a temporary reprieve from news of family murders, organised hits, abusive teachers and killer priests. I don't quite want to be like one of those island-dwellers that only found out about the start of WW2 five years after it ended. On second thoughts, it does have a certain attraction about it. Think of all the worrying you would have been spared. (Aaah, so that's why the post stopped coming?) 

A reprieve to me would be two weeks without newspapers, TV, the radio and the internet or a cellphone. I don't want to be near the news trenches for fourteen days. Any (landline) phone calls would have to be censored to strip them of grim news snippets. The only news I would like to hear would have to be good. And I would only make an exception for something that was directly threatening my life, like a tsunami heading in my direction.

No murders, no racial spats, no bankers' bonuses, no natural or unnatural disasters, no more disciplinary hearings (but then I repeat myself), no nothing. Silence. The twittering of real birds.

I know very well that I am doing a head-in-the-sand number and that it little matters that you're in the luxury cabin when the ship is sinking, but I say book my ticket for time travel to the Dark Ages. Just for two weeks.

I know a real escape from the modern era would mean forfeiting many things: Voltaren injections, cellphones, charters of human rights, fair trials, supermarkets with shelves of goodies, warm and dry homes, non-scratch clothing, toothbrushes, proper soap, anaesthetics.

Give me a few minutes to think about this one. On second thoughts, it suddenly doesn't look so great anymore.

Maybe the seven o'clock news has just become the hairshirt of 2011. I would endure a lot for a decent bar of soap. And a warm bed. A lot.

OK, I give up. There is no escape. I will have to brace myself.

"And here is the news brought to you by the world".

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, November 2011 - portions of this column appeared on Health24 in March 2010)





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