Through the flat-screen portal

WATCHING the TV news can bring the world into your front room, in bad ways and good. Sometimes it can seem as if an endless parade of tragedy is passing before your misery-glazed eyes. Often the geography is vague to those who watch, certainly to this watcher. So you peer at your flat-screen portal to the world and witness half-understand horrors happening to other people in far-flung locations you have never visited, probably never will visit.

Sometimes you know the country in question, as with the Tunisia killings. Here was a country happily familiar to many, transformed into a place of tragedy.

And while you try to make sense of the misery, or attempt to understand another country’s politics, or grapple with other faiths, or with faith as it displays itself in the world, you sit and eat a sandwich or drink a coffee. You watch the big things spat out by the world and talk about small things.

Sometimes the TV news brings a total loon on to your screen. And, no, Man On Ledge is not about to have a go at David Cameron again. This loon had no name, or none that was given to the BBC reporter in South Carolina in the US. The report was about the state’s decision to remove the Confederate flag, following the massacre at a black church in Charleston. The alleged gunman, Dylann Roof, was shown in photographs carrying the contentious flag, and this led to calls for the flag to be removed from capitol grounds.

Among those spoken to by the reporter was a fruitcake religious woman. This is not to suggest that she belonged to a faith that venerates fruitcake. No, it is to point out that she appeared a little overheated. She was late middle-aged at a glance, or probably older. It was hard to tell because she was waving a Confederate flag and ranting at the same time. So at least she could do two things at once. It was what she said that struck home to this viewer with his cup of coffee.

“God wouldn’t want this flag to come down for nobody,” she shouted, her feet describing an angry scrawl on the ground as she swerved here and there. Now I have no hotline to God and no religion to speak of, and no wish to offend those who do believe. But I think it’s a fair guess that if such a higher being exists, God will have graver concerns passing beneath his furrowed brow.

Yet this woman clearly believed, at least from the gruesome glimpse we were treated to, that God would wish to keep flying a flag that represents the oppression of black people. If nothing else, God might surely be more concerned with the slaughter of innocent people who had gathered in a church in his name.

Elsewhere in the report, a man with a long grey beard in which a squirrel or two were probably hiding out argued with another man. You don’t really need to know the race of the other man to guess which of these two characters was outraged about the flag’s removal.

Yup, it was the hillbilly having difficulties with his diction, not the angry but sensible black man.

If a flag is a symbol of oppression to many, a cry to an old battle, then it shouldn’t be flown on official buildings that in effect belong to everybody. That seems sensible to this man without a flag to wave.

As for the news, I can’t help watching at least once a day, with further radio reminders too. Sometimes I have a thought sacrilegious to a life-long journalist: does all this news actually get us anywhere, or does it just leave us half-informed at best and suffering from a vague sense of unease? Not sure. And the only way to find out would be to stop watching, to go cold turkey on the news. And that would make me even more anxious.

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