No News is Good News

On April 18, 1930, at 8:45 pm British citizens who gathered around their radios to listen to the BBC news segment heard the following: “Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.” That announcement was followed by fifteen minutes of piano music and, I’m guessing, a fair bit of stunned silence in living rooms throughout the country.

Can you even imagine a news outlet making such a statement today? And if they did, can you imagine how we, the consumers, would react? I suspect the very absence of news would be viewed as a story in itself. Other media outlets would likely report that the BBC was losing its edge and failing in its duty to bring the news to the citizens of the world. Pundits might jump in with their own form of criticism, loudly arguing with one another about the new role of the media in propagating the nonstories of the day and longing for the good old days of the 24-hour news cycle.

on air
The news never stops. Even when it does. photo credit: San Diego City College 2018-0510-SDCCRTVFx010 via photopin (license)

Because we definitely live in a world driven by news. Whether it’s good, bad, fake, or irrelevant, it’s around us all the time, demanding our attention and affecting our mental health.

I’ve written about this before, about the need to occasionally take a little break, something I think all of us should consider occasionally doing. But I recently had a pretty lengthy experience doing just that.

I am not a strict adherent to the tradition of fasting from something during Lent. Still, this year, it occurred to me that I might have something in my life that I would genuinely benefit from giving up.

I chose, for forty days, to give up the news. I didn’t give up the news entirely of course. I’m on the internet a lot and I saw plenty of headlines. Also, scrolling through social media I occasionally spotted a story that had people riled up. But I tried very hard not to engage much with the stories I saw. I even entirely gave up my primary source of news, which for quite a few years has been talk radio.

news mic
Most of the time I really would rather listen to piano music. If only it didn’t make me sleepy behind the wheel. photo credit: San Diego City College 2018-0510-SDCCRTVFx008 via photopin (license)

For about two weeks, it was hard. Like really hard. I had this constant, nagging feeling that I was missing out on important discussions about important events that would dramatically shape the future of the world and how human beings relate to one another.

Then I realized, I wasn’t. Because any of the big stories, like the shootings in New Zealand, the fire at Notre Dame, or the bombings in Sri Lanka, managed to get through. And thankfully some other stuff didn’t. For example, for 40+ days, I had no idea what snarky tweets President Trump had sent out into the world, or what new candidate had thrown his or her hat into the Democratic presidential primary race, or what any of the Kardashians were getting up to.

And that felt kind of amazing.

For that forty days plus Sundays, my mind became a little less cluttered, my stress level became a little lower, and my perspective became a little bit healthier. It was like a great big mental cleanse. I thought I’d probably more or less stick with it by intentionally limiting my exposure to constant news.

kardashian
Some news I can definitely live without. photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer Kim Kardashian via photopin (license)

Then today I had to make a long, early morning drive. Because music tends to make me sleepy behind the wheel I turned on talk radio. I found out that former Vice President Joe Biden is now the twentieth person officially running for the Democratic presidential nomination and that President Trump has already tweeted snark about it.

Neither of these two pieces of information was much of surprise. It kind of seemed like there really was no news to report, at least not at that time of today. Or perhaps the news outlets I tuned in to just weren’t reporting on the most surprising or fascinating stories. I mean, I still don’t know what the Kardashians have been up to lately.

 

Who says spaghetti doesn’t grow on trees?

1957 was a banner year for Switzerland’s spaghetti farmers. A mild winter paired with a dramatic decrease in the population of the dreaded spaghetti weevil led to the record harvest that has to this day never been equaled.  Small family farms went into overdrive plucking spaghetti strands from the trees that had been carefully cultivated to produce spaghetti of precisely the same length. The harvest was followed, as always, by a feast featuring the traditional dish, which, of course, is spaghetti, harvested and sun-dried fresh that morning.

This was the report presented by BBC news program Panorama on April 1, 1957. Panorama had long been a source of reliable serious news. After the story aired, viewers flooded the network with calls, a few of which were disgruntled viewers, but most of which were people genuinely interested in the story. Some even asked how they might grow their own spaghetti trees.

To be fair to the public duped by such a ridiculous prank, spaghetti was not yet a widely known dish in England. It was available only in a canned form and, really, canned vegetables (which have been nearly as processed as spaghetti’s original grain anyway) can kind of resemble pasta in texture. And Panorama went all out. I have to admit, it is a pretty convincing segment.

I have to wonder, though, why a serious news program would sacrifice its integrity to pull a silly prank on its trusting audience? The answer to that question is irritatingly unclear. I mean, yes, the BBC was participating in the long held tradition of April Fools’ Day when we are all supposed to get a little silly and try to make fools of one another. But why do we do it?

There are a couple of theories. The most common one batted about has to do with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar which placed the start of the New Year on January 1 instead of the vernal equinox, which happens just a little before April 1. Only fools continued to celebrate the old holiday instead of the new and so they became the victims of ridicule. One trouble with this theory is that England didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752 and by then, April Fools’ Day had already long been a thing.

In 1983, Joseph Boskin, a Boston University history professor, presented perhaps a more plausible theory. According to the professor, a court jester by the name of Kugal claimed that he could run the Roman Empire better than Emperor Constantine. Amused by the claim (because if history has taught us anything it’s that Roman emperors liked having their authority challenged), Constantine gave up his throne for a day to Kugal whose first order of business was to declare a day of foolishness. The problem with this theory, of course, is that Boskin made the whole thing up as an elaborate April Fools’ prank.

And that, I think, is why we will never know the real history behind this very silly day that turns the most serious of people into

This image shows a Paradise fish (Macropodus o...
April Fish!

slightly mean-spirited jokesters. It is a day that has French children pinning paper fish to their teachers’ backs, pointing and erupting in giggles as they announce: “Poisson d’Avril!” (roughly translated as, “French children are not particularly known to be clever pranksters!”).

It is a day that encourages an otherwise loving sister to empty a Cadbury Cream Egg of its fondant center and reseal it with chopped onions packed inside so that she can coax her trusting brother into taking a bite (Alas, I can’t claim this one as my own as it was my sister who pulled off this feat. I did laugh, though.)

Maybe we just do it because the sun is finally shining a little more brightly, the flowers are starting to bloom, and the fading memory of the harsh trudge through winter makes us a little giddy. Whatever the reason for it, today is the day for harvesting spaghetti, assuming you remembered to plant your tree. According to the BBC all you have to do is “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce, and hope for the best.”

Nothing says Spring like a plate of home grown spaghetti.
Nothing says Spring like a plate of home grown spaghetti.