Gary Horton | Breaking News: Everything Is Exaggerated

Gary Horton

A few weeks back our company held a corporate retreat at downtown LA Live. As part of the program, we attended the L.A. Clippers game at the nowadays dubiously named, “ Arena.” (Can’t we please still call it the Staples Center?) From the first time I heard “ Arena” I thought, “That sure doesn’t sound like it has much staying power.” 

I don’t suppose any of us have to be genius to correctly guess our beloved sports center will soon again be renamed. But that’s another story about another human foible. Today we’re delving into our human foible-propensity to fall sucker to the exaggerated. 

Back to the game: The play itself was lackluster. The Clips started off well enough, but then slid into their 50/50-ish play and ran out of gas, losing a not-so-close, not-so-interesting game. But wow, the visuals inside the arena during the game! From ear-busting announcers and music, to fireworks, to a massive jumbotron forever playing advertisements for everything from banks to fried chicken – to rows and rows of ads forever circulating around the entirety of the stands, to the outrageous mini-shows at every pause in action, to a fully inexplicable halftime show – the entire experience was total, complete, sensory overload. This place was flat-out bonkers, and I don’t think it’s healthy for people of my generation… and likely less healthy for the young. 

Let’s shift briefly over to Dink’s Deli at Granary Square, where a few of us gray hairs met for coffee today. Friend Jeff was in a bit of funk. “Everything is overblown! How can we ever know the truth about anything when all we hear and see are exaggerations, scare tactics, hair-raising headlines, and all the rest.”

Atmospheric rivers are terrorizing our state, quipped Jeff. “You know, when we were young, they just called heavy rain, ‘storms.’ Now, they’re ATMOSPHERIC RIVERS!”  

Indeed, upon returning, the newspaper on my driveway now warned, “FEAR OF A BIG MELT AFTER STORMS. California’s record snowpack could bring flooding if it warms too quickly.” 

Always a threat. Always some doom hanging over our heads. The Nuclear Clock forever hangs at 11:59, with world annihilation always just a mere second away.  

Newsmen and women have long understood the adage, “If it bleeds, it leads.” We can’t keep our eyeballs off the blood and guts and terrifying. We thrill to overturned burning cars and trucks. We long for the police tape and the blankets covering the bodies of crime scenes. Indeed, crime shows and trauma-driven hospital shows have been the mainstay of television for decades. It doesn’t much matter the lack of substance in the plot – it’s the scary gore that keeps eyeballs glued to the tube. 

Modern social media has only multiplied our addiction to the fast-paced and extreme. Interest need only be held for the short 15 seconds of a TikTok, or the speed-cruising headlines and photos in our feeds. We stop to watch whatever reaches out and grabs us. Our attention isn’t invested so much from thoughtful research on a topic of interest, but most often, whatever bleeds and leads. That which smacks us in the eyes gains our viewership and readership. Arena was pure sensory crack cocaine. CNN Headline News, with its forever “Breaking News” bar at the bottom on your screen, isn’t dissimilar with its continual whiplash announcements. Fox, MSNBC, and most the rest engage in the same sensory viewer retention/addiction tactics. Just today, “TENSIONS RUNNING HIGH: Protesters get physical outside courtroom…” about Donald Trump’s indictment. One needs a respite to the BBC or NPR to take a break from “exaggerate.” 

In today’s always-on, information/marketing gushing world, it truly is, “Caveat Emptor.” “Let the buyer beware.” Or at least, forewarned. Most everything you hear and read is biased to the sensational.  

Back when music was great in 1972, Don Henley of the Eagles wrote, “Dirty Laundry:” 

We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who / Comes on at five / She can tell you about the plane crash with a gleam / In her eye / It’s interesting when people die / Give us dirty laundry 

Can we film the operation? / Is the head dead yet? / You know, the boys in the newsroom got a / Running bet / Get the widow on the set! / We need dirty laundry 

The key? It’s addictive. We “need” dirty laundry, Henley correctly wrote. The problem is, as with most addictions, we’re left spent, depressed, down. 

All the blood, guts, hype, and… forever foreboding headlines eventually get to us. Negativity, complacency, depression – all can stem from the sense of helplessness after so much overexposure to the over-exaggerated. 

So, take it all with a grain of salt. Few things are as bad or ominous as reported. Too few good things are heard of at all. Every now and then, put it down, turn it off, flip it over, and just be. Or read a good book about something that interests you. Try some classical music. Shut down the media and call some old friends. Walk in one on our many beautiful parks. “Slow down, you’re moving too fast…” wrote another early rocker. Our world is pretty good – especially right here.

In all my 66 years I’ve heard mostly that “everything is falling apart, and the world is coming to an end.” Heck, entire religions are based on the fear mongering of the impending end of the world! And they come complete with gory artwork just to really sell the terrifying message.  

Hey, guess what? Sixty-six years on, and the world is still here. I’m still ticking. L.A. traffic still sucks, but it always sucked. The San Andreas “BIG ONE” might still go off any second. Always could. 

Keep everything in perspective, understand most everyone is selling something, and you’ll be much more healthy, wealthy, wise and relaxed.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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