At Large : Remember Emma Inch?
Mostly, we Vineyarders have an awfully good opinion of ourselves. We are complacent about our place, our attitudes, our accomplishments, and our future. We are generally dissatisfied with the others, that is, the others who visit; the others who build the big houses, own the fancy property, and pay the fancy tax bills; the others who would rule us from afar; the others who get off the boat, delighted with what they find, and onto the Martha's Vineyard Commission, to regulate the delights available to their successors; the others who are among us but, inexplicably, see things differently; and the others whose ways of doing things are not our ways.
To preserve all that we have to be complacent about and all that there is about ourselves that is so gratifying, we hedge our bets with rules intended to correct, improve, and if necessary impoverish the others who would change the course about which we have become so self-satisfied. In addition, we imagine ourselves as more uniform in our views, attitudes, opinions, and tastes than we are. And, to the extent that there are differences among us, we prefer they remain veiled.
Writing regularly on the Editorial and OpEd pages, as I have done for the better part of 40 Island years, there is the tendency to become entranced with the obvious wisdom and cleverness of each weekly installment. The foolish writer ought to know better, but it's hard. There is no prophylactic for the complacency virus.
Fortunately, newspapering is multi-dimensional. Fundamentally, it's observe, show, and tell, on the one hand. But, there is also a conversational component, and in that way, it's a two-way street. And, in that way, stern correction and illumination are ready to hand for the journalist.
In community newspapering, there are the facts, the photographs, the lists, the dates and times and deaths and births, and the gossip and advertisements and news and opinions and editorials. It's a lot. But, all this is our side of the weekly klatch. Then there are the letters and now the comments, which are the other side, the readers' side. They act as the anti-viral medicine for the complacency disease we have contracted.
Some of these communications are funny, some are warmhearted, reminiscing about a loved one who's died. Some are caustic. Some profane. (You don't get to see those.) Some letter writers and comment posters bray irritatingly and predictably over just a few subjects. Others spread themselves like cluster bombs over anything that moves on the political landscapes. Some are composed by deranged haters, many of whom have The Times itself in their sights. Recently, comment posters have taken the newspaper to task for publishing information about a choice selection of Island miscreants, drug dealers, troubled young people, thoughtless animal owners, as well as warring police officials and their politician bosses. Other reader/communicators have their say privately, asking in a personal email if some information in a published news report of misbehavior could please be removed. Oh, and why must we publish the court news every week? Have guilt and shame lost their salutary value as correctives in human community relations? - I ask you.