I first began watching CNN in an obsessive manner in the early 1990s, when two separate wars raged in the former Yugoslavia with a third still to come. I would force myself to watch every minute of available video footage of the conflict, which became progressively more gruesome as the years wore on – all rotting corpses and dead children and wailing, devastated women who eerily resembled members of my family or myself. I could never quite tear myself away from the television screen but sometimes I would put my arms around my knees and cry, regardless of which side the bodies belonged to or what historical justification their murderers presented. This happened less often over time, and by the end of it I almost didn’t cry at all.
In the weeks and then months following September 11, 2001, I developed the unfortunate habit of keeping CNN on in the background at nearly all times of the day and night. I wouldn’t actually watch it most of the time, choosing instead to adopt a more strategic approach: I’d turn the TV on and go about my day, and as I passed from the kitchen to my office, or from bedroom to bathroom, I’d glance at the screen in case something terrible had happened. If regularly scheduled programs like Crossfire or People in the News were on, or if the station was running a commercial, then everything was quite probably okay and I’d continue with whatever I was doing. If, however, I saw the red “Breaking News” graphic in the corner of the screen, then there was a very real chance that everything was not okay and this therefore required immediate investigation. I kept this up for almost a year; then, like the rest of the world, I moved on.
After the break-up, in the first numb weeks of 2003, the Ex generously arranged to stay at his boss’s place while I looked for another apartment. Alone in the shell of our home, I studiously avoided sleeping in our former bedroom; instead, I’d bring blanket and pillow to the shitty grey sofa we had bought at the Salvation Army and which our cats had instantly torn to shreds, and would endeavour to find sleep in front of the TV. Movies and television serials were too engrossing to rely on for this purpose, so I would set the volume to low and drift off to the quiet drone of CNN. At some point, I came to associate late-night reruns of Moneyline with Lou Dobbs or Newsnight with Aaron Brown with a strange kind of solace: the talking head as constant, murmuring companion. That the head was talking in urgent tones about another war in Iraq or nuclear tests in North Korea or terrorist attacks in Chechnya didn’t particularly matter; by the time the opening motif for Daybreak had sounded, I was fast asleep.
Lately, with coverage of the American election in full, repetitive swing, I have on certain days neglected to turn the television on at all. I’m not missing anything, am I?