Controtastrophegate Crisispocalypse

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Where were you when you heard that they might run out of Velveeta before the Super Bowl?

Maybe you were rushing the kids off to school, mindful of your long list of chores for that day, such as maintaining your social media persona. Perhaps you were on the phone with a friend or relative, chatting about matters of personal importance, such as the horrible thing one celebrity did to another celebrity. Indeed, you may have been at work, helping build America with the monotonous repetitive task that you learned in college. (Mine is typing).

No matter where you were, the outcome was the same. A popular kind of cheese (it’s not cheese) is running out (not really; it’s a supply issue that will be promptly corrected) and this could rock your world (it won’t).

Perhaps it’s just the soul-saddening malaise that comes after the holidays. Winter in northern Minnesota now settles in for the long hard drive through January, February, March, “March II: the Revenge,” April, Another March, Late April, Fake May and Real May. After December’s roman candle of consumerism and sensationalism, our modern media machinery needs us engaged, clicking, talking and being outraged … always outraged, so we make the bad choices necessary to sustain a modern democracy.

So this week, popular shows like “Good Morning, America” fed us “Cheesepocalypse” (i.e., the Velveeta story), all on the heels of outrage over Dennis Rodman, shady diet medicines, and the antics of reality show participants. And while we might expect as much from the sleek, commercial news-tainment industry, the phenomenon is hardly contained to the national media.

It got a little cold last week; perhaps you recall. Maybe you don’t remember why, but the kids were home from school — randomly, during the week, right after Winter Break was supposedly over. You certainly remember that. Our old dog is still in a state of shock. The issue, of course, was cold weather and high winds.

Now I’ll not venture into the potter’s field of pontificating on whether the weather was *really* cold, *cold enough for ‘ya*, or *as cold* as I remember in my youth, when I was an 1890s Winnipeg chimney sweep with no boots. We all know gas station conversationalists can’t stop talking about that. But this last cold snap was the first time where I felt that even the local media coverage of the cold weather stepped over a line into garish self-parody.

Never mind your age, if you’ve lived in Minnesota for five years or more, you’ve experienced very cold, windy winter conditions several times already. And while this year’s cold might have started a little earlier, and gone on just slightly longer than usual, it was utterly typical of the very cold weather we usually get.

But this year it had a name: Polar Vortex. And rather than containing itself in the upper Great Lakes states, the cold weather dipped down into the country’s midsection and East Coast.

The cold weather was just a taste of a “real” problem. But the news biz needs far less to set phasers on Crazy. Our media is structured like a warehouse full of mouse traps. One golf ball is enough to set about a tremendously disproportionate reaction. Oddly enough, Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman II,” a film of mixed reviews, got the social satire just right. When the news is on once a day wise editors have to decide what are the most important stories. When the news is on all the time, desperate editors have to make unimportant stories seem like a crisis. And that’s what we’ve got today.

None of this is to say we don’t have important controversies and actual crises in this country. People are homeless. The working class is under stress, despite the appearance of economic recovery. The new health care system needs to be improved. Congress remains overwhelmingly dysfunctional and it’s hard to imagine one or even two elections making that better.

But at least we can put on warm layers of clothing to keep out the cold. At least we have our families and work to give our best efforts. And mother of all things holy, we can use real cheese in our recipes if they run out of Velveeta at the store.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


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