Whenever I bring this up, I feel a little like an embarrassed addict confessing to their addiction for the first time at crowded AA type meeting, but here goes…I like grocery shopping. Yes, I have said it here before and I proudly admit it openly. But please don’t judge. We all have our hidden embarrassing guilty pleasures, I mean, someone is running up that stream count of Little Big and Rebecca Black.
But I figure, if you really like swimming, you should enjoy going to a pool or the beach. If you really like high-end performance cars, you should enjoy going to auto shows and racetracks. If you really like shooting guns, you should enjoy going to a shooting range or the isolated property of that one conspiracy theory believing, twitchy-eyed ammo-hoarding acquaintance everyone has that likes blowing stuff up. And if you really like eating, you should enjoy going to restaurants and the grocery store. And I do.
Like it or not, I have always taken it upon myself to try and make grocery store visits more entertaining for those with me that are little less excited about food shopping. I have been known to quietly slip away and magically reappear wearing an oversized rubber butcher’s apron and gloves. I quiz strangers about the products they are buying. I love trying to surreptitiously hide embarrassing items in my friend’s carts (suppository laxatives, XXXL sized depends, value-priced jumbo containers of KY Jelly…), I enjoy dancing in the aisles to the generic inoffensive music (an act that directly triggered a relationship breakup) and make a game of finding the grossest item on the shelves (canned pork brains in milk gravy usually wins). I will admit that after the first few years of marriage I had to stop doing most of these things with my wife… she is very tolerant, but I did not want to shop alone forever.
Back in the days before everyone, except the old, annoyed and overwhelmed, used the self-check-out machines, the busy cashier manned aisles were lined with multiple supermarket tabloid papers that competed to top each other for the most outrageous eye-catching headline. Frequently, while standing amid the tightly packed rows of people, I emphatically read aloud a few of the wackiest headlines and stories in a booming serious newscaster’s voice. “Chimp’s head put on human body”, “Titanic survivors found onboard”, “Fat cat owns 23 old ladies”, “Batboy leads cops on interstate car chase”… Oh man, I loved the Bat Boy stories. For over a year it seemed every time I unloaded my cart, there was a new outrageous Bat Boy tabloid tale.
When I was young, I mercilessly made fun of the idea of anyone throwing away money on those ridiculous semi-fictional papers. I still clearly remember one night shopping for last-minute items with an old girlfriend on the way to her mother’s house for dinner. After loudly announcing the headlines of a few far-fetched stories, I went on a rant about ‘what kind of dimwitted moron would give credence to this stuff’, only to later learn her mom compulsively bought them.
I once asked her mother if she believed the stories in those papers and she gave a long pause before cryptically replying, “not completely”. Another time she gave me that same vague non-committal answer when I inquired if she thought professional wrestling was real. We had a lot of time to talk about that one; I was a good boyfriend to her daughter, and since no one else would go, I accompanied her to an evening of really cheesy low-end professional wrestling at a nearby small-town civic center. The burly brawler’s staggering punches missed by obvious inches, they bounced off the ring floor like kids playing on a harmless trampoline, and their extreme pain and stamina over-reactions were farcical, yet the crowd loved it and cheered on their heros like it was a true battle of good versus evil.
Years ago, it was easy to spot which outlets were “news entertainment’ and which reported carefully researched authenticated facts. Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather did not do stories about Elvis sightings, bigfoot, or space aliens among us, although I would have loved to have seen that. Nowhere was this separation more obvious than on New York City newsstands, where every day the manipulating sensationalist headlines of The Post sat inches away from the detailed thought-provoking Times. Bias or slant were one thing, fiction based on reality was another and that’s where lately things seem to have gotten even more scary, because the news entertainment subjects have gotten more serious.
Today the lines separating the two are as murky as a Mississippi fed bayou swamp. Anyone with a computer can post an unresearched unsubstantiated harebrained opinion that, if read by enough people, will eventually get passed off as fact by social media or content hungry quasi-legitimate news sources. As my old girlfriend’s mother did, it’s easy to get seduced and hooked on that crap because its far more stimulating than researching real news. It’s like a child picking between a cupcake or a brussel sprout; they will always take the immediately satisfying treat over the more bitter nutritional substance.
It’s easy to fall into that trap. If everything you have read says the boy with the bat head is real, and all your social media linked sources have claimed Bat Boy is real, and everyone in your social circles talked about Bat Boy being real, you will likely grow to believe Bat Boy is factual. But just because most everybody attending that cheesy see-saw wresting match I went to believed it was all real, did not change the fact that it is was pre-scripted, choreographed, and mostly faked to prevent injury. Yes, somewhat strong men did actually jump and smack and hit each other, but there was far more pretend acting than that modicum of real brawling. The goal of that night’s overweight clumsy small-time wrestlers was the same as those that propagate news entertainment. They both stir up the crowd and make a good show in an effort to get you to believe something and keep you coming back for more.
The concept is not new, just the methods of disguising it are. Back in the old National Inquirer /World News heyday era, it was easy to spot a fringe loony when he was standing on a street corner soapbox spewing radical nonsense into a megaphone, versus today when it is slickly dressed up as a legitimate news sources custom linked to your individual social media. The sad outcome of all this, is that people are more interested in clashing than compromising. Personally, I like to see all viewpoints, so I click onto Breitbart and Mother Jones to confuse the algorithms behind my newsfeed.
I understand why people want to believe the outrageous and scandalous; these are scary days. But are they really any scarier than past eras or does it just feel that way because today’s issues are the ones we personally have to deal with? I’m sure the folks living through the fear and turmoil of the cold war, Viet Nam, civil rights movement, and Watergate thought their era was the scariest. And the folks trying to live their lives during the depression, fascism, and World Wars thought their era was the scariest. And so on, and so on through the ages.
I guess this week I kinda accidently turned into that street corner soapbox loony with a megaphone screaming my simplistic ‘problem with the world speech’ into my tiny corner of the internet. I originally intended on writing about the best way to remind yourself how differently each individual sees things, was to read the wacked out stuff your neighbors post on the NEXTDOOR app/website. But that will have to wait for another day, I have to head out to the market… want to join me (smirk smirk smirk)?