Part One - Bad News (England 1993)
18+ The evening news was depressing—all bad as usual—and the weekend weather looked just as gloomy. I got up from the sofa and went to the kitchen. "Do you want another wine?" I called back to my wife. No response. I'd swear she's going deaf, but she hears everything I mutter under my breath.
"Do you want another glass of wine, dear?" I repeated, more loudly.
"No thanks and I'm not deaf," she called back tartly.
Oh great, the prospect of rain tomorrow and an argument tonight. Another good start to the weekend. I grabbed myself a beer from the fridge.
I should have known better—my wife's not a drinker. It's not like that song, red, red wine for her. She's happy with one dry white wine. While it's handy not worrying about who's driving home after a rare night out, sometimes I wish she'd let herself go. I suggested it once, and she said, "You may want to ruin your liver, but I don't. Just make sure your life insurance is paid up." My wife can be very affectionate.
Back in the living room, I surfed the TV channels. It was a typical Friday, with nothing but game shows, sitcoms and old movies to fill in time before a late-night sport special. I settled on the last half of a Rambo and tried to engage my wife in conversation.
"The news was bad tonight, wasn't it?" I offered as an opening gambit.
"Was it?" she asked, eyes glued to her latest paperback.
"Well, it seemed worse than usual," I replied, as Rambo stalked the enemy. "The things they show on TV these days, it shouldn't be allowed. I'm glad the kids are playing upstairs."
"They're probably killing zombies on their game consoles, dear."
My wife has a droll sense of humour that some, including me, find hard to fathom. I sipped my beer and waited for Rambo to wipe out an enemy tank with a rocket launcher, before trying a different tack.
"That newsreader, what's his name? He had the right idea. They should have more good news on the TV. Focus on the positive, instead of always showing bad news."
"Would it make a difference?" my wife asked, turning a page in her book.
Her response left me perplexed—though less so than the enemy commander who'd watched Rambo despatch the tank. "What do you mean?"
"Showing only good news on the TV, would it make the bad news stop happening?"
"No," I admitted, "but at least we wouldn't have it shoved in our faces all the time." I took a self-righteous swig of beer and smiled, pleased with my no-nonsense retort.
My wife raised her eyes from the book and gave me her withering I-married-a-moron look. It's a stare so icy, it'd freeze the sweat on Rambo's biceps.
"Weren't you touched by anything you saw on the news tonight?" she enquired. Her even tone warned me I was entering dangerous territory.
I stopped smiling and fortified myself with a sip of beer. "Well, no. It was full of bad people who got what they deserved and their victims. Yes, I felt sorry for the victims, but I didn't feel anything for the perpetrators, except disgust."
I raised my beer in a mock toast and had a celebratory swig. Rambo would have been proud of me—I had gained the strategic advantage of the moral high ground over my wife.
"So you don't feel any compassion towards the other side, the perpetrators in the news items?" she asked, still fixing me with her look. Her tone and look shook my confidence. I squirmed on the sofa, sipped my beer and prayed Rambo would smash his way out of the TV set and come to my rescue.
"Has it ever occurred to you that they might also be victims?" she asked, now waving her book at me. "I'm not saying we shouldn't have compassion for the victims of their actions. Of course, we should. But we should also look behind the news. What causes people to betray and abuse others? Surely you don't believe it's an innate human trait, do you?"
"Um, ah—" I now regretted starting this conversation. Compared to my wife in her one of her moods, a night alone with Rambo would have been safer.
"It may be some of us are born more bad-natured than others," she continued, leaning forward to press her point. "Just as some are born with a predisposition to be academics, musicians or athletes. But in the main, those we see in the news are not evil. They're ordinary people, like you and me, driven to commit acts which under normal circumstances they wouldn't dream of doing."
There was an explosion on the TV. I glanced over and saw Rambo charge through a wall of fire. Unfortunately, he didn't break through the TV screen—I quickly returned my attention to my wife.
"But, I agree," she said, sitting back with a sigh and setting her book aside, "there is a problem with the news."
What!? My wife agreed with me? I almost smiled again, but if I've learned anything from twenty years of marriage, it's caution.
"Not that it focuses on bad news," she continued, "but that it only shows one side. We need to see both sides. We need to learn what drives people to commit these acts. How else can we help them, and others, and stop the bad news from happening?"
My wife gets very passionate about issues. And this wasn't the first time I'd blundered into a minefield of one of her passions. I assumed the last question was rhetorical but thought I'd better respond, just in case. A media soundbite sprung to mind.
"That's all well and good," I said, pausing to sip my beer as Rambo dodged enemy machine-gun fire. "But when it comes to criminals, I think we should understand less and punish more."
My wife fixed me with her withering look again.
"God, you're pathetic," she hissed, grabbing her book and storming from the living room. As I said, my wife can be very affectionate, but obviously, not tonight.
I fetched another beer from the kitchen and returned in time to watch Rambo emerge wounded but victorious from the final battle. His stoic bravery moved me, and I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear when they played that song at the end of the movie, He ain't heavy, he's my brother.