Finding a break beyond commercials

You Are What You Habituate

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The moment my dad gets home from work, he sets down his apron, goes into his bedroom and watches the news. What better way to relax between six-hour shifts of waiting tables than to watch the catastrophes of today’s politics repeat themselves on the 24-hour news cycle? When my dad makes breakfast, he’s hovering over the iPad in the kitchen watching “Good Morning America.” When he cleans up the house, political commentators talk through the same speakers where ABBA should be instructing its listeners to pulsate with a tambourine. When he goes on YouTube to learn how to fix the family car, again, the engine groans through NPR. It has even gone so far that I can stand in the hallway and hear the same commercial voices and jingles echo each other with a slightly delayed pitch and imperfect synchronization because the news is always playing in at least one and sometimes two rooms in the house.

My father’s overworking of the TV and underworking of the remote control has tormented my subconscious and tested my patience for televised journalism. For me, the flashing headlines and four-faced conference calls more readily inspire parody than serious listening.

Walking into my parent’s bedroom one afternoon, I asked my dad, “Do you think there is such a thing as watching too much news?”

His argument was basically “yes,” but that he can’t trust the current administration to make decisions in the best interest of the people, so keeping news stations and similar information sources alive is necessary to keeping our power systems in check and maintaining a healthy democracy.

But is binge-watching newscasts actually a productive use of my father’s time? On the surface, the characteristics of his religious watching might lean toward obsession. It’s an activity that consumes his mental attention and energy multiple hours of the day, even when he’s not directly engaging with it. In fairness though, he diversifies his news stations and channels to do some of his own critical thinking rather than let the broadcasting serve as thought replacement. So in this regard, his time watching the news is the same as how other people might spend their spare time daydreaming, jogging, reading, napping or Facebooking.

Everyone has their own modes of forgetting themselves and not letting the sound of their own wheels drive them crazy, as Glenn Frey soothingly reminds us on “Take It Easy.” But after more attentive recollection, I realize my judgement is a mimicry of my father’s.

One day when I noticed I was becoming irritable, I went to relieve my built-up steam by going for a walk around town while reading a book along the way. When I returned home, my father said, “Scooter-Bug, you really need to find a way to manage your energy and chill out.” “This is my way of managing!” I retorted, clearly still in need of a longer walk. But to him, my form of stress management was unrelatable. Whereas he spends his downtime lying down and watching the news, I spend mine walking around aimlessly and flipping through novels. Simply put, we are different people.

It is unfair of me to tell my father what he should make his routine in-between time because he is his own person. It’s just the intersection of our persons and our different routines where I become frustrated.

As an only child, I am not so accustomed to divided parental attention and sometimes feel at competition with the station when my father doesn’t answer my questions because he is transfixed by a debate on screen. Maybe my disregarding of the news station is not coming from its endlessness or dramatization, but instead from a selfish desire for my father’s attention. When his personal routine of watching the news consumes the time that would otherwise be allotted to family conversation, I tend to disregard the news as a worthy source of information.
As my father cycles between jobs and news-watching for weeks on end, I see more of a Marxist embodiment of the proletariat than I do my happy-go-lucky father who I once shared homemade family dinners with on these same summer nights years ago. I wish for a world where my father does not have to work three jobs to secure my family’s day-to-day finances and where he doesn’t feel the obligation to watch over the world simultaneously. Until then, I will still endeavor to keep my father’s and my routines separate and let our forms of relaxation fold together into a conjoined family routine in which we learn to share the time we do have together.

Layla Chamberlin writes the Friday column on how routines create character and delineate personal politics.

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