Recreational Irritation

Here’s my Monday Question: why do people read or watch things that clearly upset them?

I do not watch Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I do not listen to Rush Limbaugh. Why? Because I do not think they have anything useful or educated to contribute to the political conversation or my day. As such, I find it extremely irritating to be in their company, especially when there’s yelling.

Likewise, I do not go out to dinner with people I know to be rude, offensive or just plain boring.

Let’s add a clear exception here for education and directed moral action, shall we? No one enjoys reading about historical atrocities or the current genocides in Africa, for instance, but it’s best we know about them. Likewise, there’s a time and place for opposition research, like, say, if I thought I could get Beck off the air by landing a job at Fox News in the mailroom, working my way up to becoming his producer and manipulating his deranged ranting with subliminal messaging and voice dubbing to make him sound like a combination of Big Bird and Hitler. (Come to think of it, he’s pretty close to that combo now and no one’s pulling his show, so I might have to come up with an alternate plan.)

Aside from those two cases though, why would I recreationally engage with content that makes me irritable? I have so many things I really, actively want to do on any given day, what possible reason could I have for adding optional, annoying things to that list? Like reading someone’s blog, for instance, if I don’t think they’re funny, like their writing or find them interesting, entertaining or inspiring? Why would I do that? Call me crazy, but that just seems silly to me.

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday about my writing and I mentioned some negative feedback I’d gotten on a couple of occasions. I’m fine with that input, (as long as it’s respectfully expressed, which, of course, it isn’t always, but that’s another subject). I am writing in a public forum. I don’t think I write about particularly incendiary issues but some of the subjects I write about are open for disagreement and some portion of my readers are, as a result, bound to disagree with me at some point or another. No problem. What I don’t get is why anyone would continue to routinely subject themselves to reading things that regularly upset them. It is so optional. Why would they do that to themselves?

I’m not talking about constructive conversations full of even tempers, reasonable suggestions and lots of facts. I’m talking about, ‘You’re a jerk!’ upset. I’m not sure what the possible positive outcome is there for anyone involved. There are a stunning ton of these people out there posting poorly spelled, angry responses on op-ed pages and filling the airwaves with distinctly unconstructive criticism, so there must be a reason for it or some satisfaction to be had from it. I just don’t understand what that is.

(Not that I’m myself fielding the real crazies here. I’m not big enough for that. But it’s the same, “I don’t like you,” phenomenon, only milder.)

Maybe this is akin to taking pleasure in watching horror films (which I also don’t understand): some people inexplicably enjoy being irritated and upset. I just don’t get that – life is short, no? – but each to their own, I guess.

So here, for distressed readers who routinely read or listen to media they find stressful but insist on following anyway, are a few suggestions for other things that might engage your attention and fill your time in equally or more upsetting ways:

  1. Bill O’Reilly. Dumptrucks of bilge every single day. Bonanza. You’ll love it.
  2. The rest of the internet. I hear it can be very, very upsetting in places.
  3. My Christmas shopping. It has a lot of annoying bits, including driving to crowded places, parking in crowded places, shopping in crowded places for an indefinite number of undefined items for a wide range of recipients, and carrying those items around in insufficiently reinforced shopping bags through crowded places. Bliss.
  4. 2012. It’s a very bad, very loud movie about multiple apocalyptic events, so you’ll have a headache and be depressed. Two-for-one holiday fun!
  5. Dropping moderately heavy objects on your feet. This doesn’t sound fun or productive to me, but who I am to say? Give it a go!

So there you are. I hope that helps. And a lovely, sunny day to all of you, especially the ones who are starting it off all avoidably worked up.

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