Since a major purpose of this trip was to learn more about parts of America I didn't feel as familiar with (e.g. small towns, border towns, and the South), I've also taken a little time to channel surf: specifically watching the cable news channels which represent the primary means by which most people get their news. Reactions:
Regardless of whether it's Fox, Headline News, or CNN, it's repetitive and obsessive: coverage of that Texas polygamy case was ENDLESS, even when there was nothing new to say.
Coverage of political candidates abandons discussion of issues any time there's something simpler and more colorful which can be discussed instead, even if it's unrelated to the candidate. This hit a new low with coverage of Obama, where the last eight news cycles have been completely dominated not even by anything HE said, but by things SOMEONE ELSE said. So, what's the future of presidential campaign coverage? Maybe Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears repeatedly saying outrageous things about the candidates' appearances or personal lives, and having the candidates' responses to THOSE comments be their news cycle?
The news reassures you that what you already believe or would be inclined to believe is correct, even if it's not. There's some fool named "Lou Dobbs" who seems to be an especially good example of this :(
I don't think I ever need to see another video clip of Hillary Clinton clapping along with her audience at the end of a rally: I'm not sure why this is the case, but this sight reminds me of the video clips of former candidate Dukakis riding around in that tank.
You don't actually learn more about the issues or causes underlying basically anything: instead, they all make life seem like some collection of events which just unexpectedly and randomly happen, with a disproportionate amount of attention paid to crime horror stories that have nothing to do with everyday life. It almost seems as if the conclusion is that maximizing fear is the best way to get viewers to stick through the commercial break, and explaining anything would be counterproductive in the sense that a predictable world is less frightening.
The commercials are revealing as well:
The overwhelming theme in commercials aimed at men is the message that you should go even further into debt. The best example right now is the creditreport.com commercial where a guy buys a (WORKING!) car that he can actually afford, instead of going into debt to buy something, but this is treated as a BAD outcome. Amazing.
The overwhelming theme in commercials aimed at women is that no matter how healthy you are or what your body looks like, you should still feel fat and wrap your life around some NEW way to lose weight which doesn't actually work. Apparently, their vision of female life is that you diet from grade school to grave, and that dieting is all you're good for, even though the standards they propose can't be met regardless of effort by so much as one person out of a thousand.
Television may be better than it was when I was growing up due to the quality of some isolated shows (i.e. selected comedy shows and documentaries are MUCH better than anything I remember seeing), but the news shows are just as bad, and in a way the commercials are even more out-of-line with your financial health and personal happiness.