The Babysitter: the personified amalgamation of various mediums we interact with on a daily basis. The Babysitter tells us what to think, what to watch, what to feel, and what’s an appropriate way to go about our lives. It keeps us in check, defining norms and filters through which we dare not stray from. More simply stated, The Babysitter defines our perception of the world for us, all through our TVs, computers, phones, and devices.
When I was a teen, one of the movies I was fascinated with was the 1996 dark comedy The Cable Guy. The film’s about a guy (Matthew Broderick) who bribes a cable installer (Jim Carrey) to juice him up with free cable. This act is something of a death sentence, as from that point on, “the cable guy” won’t leave Matthew Broderick alone, constantly pestering Broderick to hang out and be friends. Even worse, this cable guy is awkward, irritating, and emotionally unhinged.
What drew me to The Cable Guy, more than anything else, was the film’s ending, in which Jim Carrey has a final showdown with Matthew Broderick atop a satellite dish. In the movie’s last few moments, Carrey confesses why he’s an emotional wreck. He spent his entire childhood in front of the television, learning about the world from sitcom families, broadcast news, commercials, and anything else that glossed across the tube. Real human interaction wasn’t a part of his youth, but carefully cultivated programming was a constant. In essence, The Cable Guy played with the nightmarish fear of what “too much TV” could do to the human mind and brought this fear to dramatic heights.
And I identified with it. I saw so much of Jim Carrey’s anguish in myself — the awkwardness, the obsessiveness with movies and video games. I wasn’t very social as a child, so in turn, I had turned toward cinema as a connection to the outside world. It was warm, charming, and comforting. Nourishing, even.
The problem with relying on media as a source of information, behavior, and culture, however, is that it’s inherently distorted and one-sided. We are at the mercy of the screen, basking in the glow of The Babysitter. And when we start to believe in it, that’s when we find trouble.
Though we call it news, most of our information has been carefully cultivated and skewed to push us into one belief system or another. We see it in the polarized articles our family and friends share every day. We see it in the manufactured videos with quick cuts and spooky music meant to inform us on how we should feel. What we’re supposed to believe is most important are the news items that receive the most attention and information, barked at us constantly, over and over again, through a multitude of second and third-party channels.
Is it real? Is it of utmost importance? Maybe. Maybe not.
As much as we feel like we have a choice to engage or not engage in all of this content, we really don’t have a choice. The largest media outlets provide the initial push, and many of those around us, those we call “friends” on our social media channels, fall in line. Those altered perceptions of reality, then, will smack us in the face, whether we engage or not.
The fear. The anger. The unfiltered terror. If one word sums up the 2016 presidential election in a nutshell, for example, it’s “terror.” Fear of the other largely fuels voters’ decisions this election, enough to where they compromise their own desires in a candidate and vote for the one they believe won’t bring about the end of the country. What’s interesting is that this doom and gloom is echoed on both sides, evenly distributed among those fixated on the offerings served to us by The Babysitter.
Last presidential election, a similar weight seized hold over much of the populace. At least, that’s what we were led to believe. The election results, on the other hand, told a much different narrative. It may have felt like a narrow victory through The Babysitter’s eyes, but that didn’t mean it was. Obama’s 332 electoral votes trumped Romney’s 206. By that point, however, the damage was done.
Our relationships with our friends and family were strained. Our bodies were weak with the sickness that accompanies stress and fear. Our minds were plagued with nightmarish visions of a world lost to “the other side.” We were consumed by rage.
But we prevailed. We went to work on Wednesday, ate our lunches, went home, turned on the tube, and fell asleep in our couches, safe and comfortable with the world once again. Even the intense political discussions at the water cooler ceased. Whichever side had won, The Babysitter let us know it was okay to feel calm once more. The war, for better or worse, would be over for the next few years.
In those final moments of The Cable Guy, after Jim Carrey’s finished his sad tale of a youth spent in front of the television, he looks into Matthew Broderick’s eyes and says, “There are a lot of little cable boys and girls out there who still have a chance. Don’t you understand, Steven? Somebody has to kill the babysitter.”
Carrey falls from the satellite tower and lands onto the dish, interrupting the cable feed and disconnecting 90’s America from its favorite medium. The movie’s message is meant for a dated audience, but the idea still holds true. We need to unplug. We need to step back. We need to “kill” The Babysitter.
We all have crazy relatives whose opinions are wildly different from our own. They may be amoral, bigoted, or even downright cruel. Most of our lives, we often interact with these relatives without ever knowing about these opinions, either. They’re latent thoughts, tucked away, and only revealed when The Babysitter evokes that emotion from deep down within us. And then we draw swords.
But why? Because we’re drawing a line in the sand against people we hardly know or only see but a few times a year? Or is it because we’re being manipulated?
The Internet can be a wonderful place and tool for learning, growth, expression, and entertainment. One of the best feats it’s accomplished has been connecting people all over the world with others who share similar ideas or beliefs, thus making them feel less alone. Still, it’s a double-edged sword, one that we have to better learn to wield.
When fear burrows deep within us, when we’re stressed and frustrated with the monsters we perceive around us, we need to unplug The Babysitter. It’s not healthy, and as a society, we can do better.