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Headlines, horror, vexation and sorrow in a perplexing world

Larry French • Jun 3, 2018 at 8:15 AM

“Once upon a time it was held to be a coarse and shocking circumstance that some of the characters in these pages are chosen from the most criminal and degraded of London’s population.” — Preface to Charles Dickens’ 1867 edition of “Oliver Twist”

Much like the first sentence from Charles Dickens’ Preface to his 1867 edition of “Oliver Twist,” newspaper headlines today seem to draw on “the most criminal and degraded” of the world’s population, thereby leaving nothing to the imagination.

Every morning — for as long as I care to remember — Anne Murray’s No. 1 country hit (1983), “A Little Good News” has echoed through my mind; especially after grabbing my copy of the Johnson City Press from its protective tube, walking back to the house and hearing these familiar words:

“There’s a local paper rolled up in a rubber band. One more sad story’s one more than I can stand. ... We sure could use a little good news today.”

Throughout the past several weeks, headlines from around the world gave readers a glaring example of our troubled times:

• The Guardian headline read: “Paris knifeman shot dead after killing one and injuring four.”

• The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette headline read: “Out of jail 8 days, Arkansas man held in death.”

• The Johnson City Press headline read: “Man, woman charged with abusing 18-month old baby.”

• The Chicago Tribune headline read: “3 killed, 7 wounded in shootings Friday night and Saturday morning.”

• The Seattle Times headline read: “Failure to supervise parolee led to Renton woman’s slaying, her father alleges.”

• The Wall Street Journal headline read: “Scores Killed as Palestinians Protest U.S. Embassy Opening in Jerusalem.”

• The Charlotte-Observer headline read: “Dad arrested after 'mass casualty' crash into restaurant kills daughter.”

And, even though headlines are designed and written to draw readers in, they also tend to create horror, vexation and sorrow as we seek to make sense of our evil and perplexing world.

Thus the looming question: Is there any good news to report?

This, of course, depends on one’s definition of good news.

But what if we discover there is no such thing as good news?

What if we find there are no societal cures for hatred, prejudice, violence, murder and abuse?

What then?

Are we to assume mankind is inherently violent and newspaper headlines simply exemplify the current thread of today’s culture?

While local drug stores have an overabundance of remedies, and aisles loaded with anti-type ointments, creams, powders and vitamins from amino acids to zinc, including guarantees that could have been written by a politician running for office, there are no cures for hatred, prejudice, violence, murder or abuse.

We’re all aware certain drugs require prescriptions and have useful purposes, but in too many instances, prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines have created habits leading to addiction. These addictions have unfortunately transformed innocent people into violent and abusive individuals and confounded the problems twofold.

What’s particularly sad is while we can cure physical pain with drugs, we’re unable to come up with cures for those pains suffered by the victims of hatred, prejudice, violence, murder and abuse.

Hatred can only be classified as hatred, murder is indescribable and violence breeds abuse.

Unfortunately, abuse comes in all forms ranging from child to spousal, verbal to mental and from elder to physical, to sexual. There are no justifiable reasons for abuse, and yet newspaper headlines are riddled with them.

Prejudice, however, is in a separate category and quite possibly the most dangerous of all.

People are not born prejudiced. They’re taught. They learn it from other bigoted individuals.

Perhaps then, there is no such thing as good news.

Or perhaps, we don’t know how to cure those societal diseases, because unlike cancer and Alzheimer’s that doesn’t pick and choose its victims, hatred, prejudice, violence, murder and abuse do.

So, the next time you visit your local drug store, instead of worrying about which tanning lotion or shampoo to buy, concern yourself with the real issues facing society today.

We’ve eradicated smallpox, but haven’t even come close to finding a cure for hatred, prejudice, violence, murder and abuse.

To do so might possibly lead to the following headline:

"Not much to print today, can't find nothin' bad to say,”

because . . .

“Nobody robbed a liquor store on the lower part of town

Nobody OD'ed, nobody burned a single buildin' down

Nobody fired a shot in anger, nobody had to die in vain

We sure could use a little good news today.”

Larry French lives in Butler. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and teaches composition and literature at East Tennessee State University. You may reach him at [email protected]

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed by all Community Voices columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the Johnson City Press.

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