I’ve been slogging my way through the 700-some page book “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism.”
It’s really interesting but it’s also slow going for me.
There’s a lot of great stuff about the muckrakers, the journalists exemplified by S.S. McClure and the magazine bearing his name.
I just read through a section where McClure hits some turmoil with his business and has a nervous breakdown. I’m not sharing to make light of him, or of workplace stress. Just that it’s an interesting way to deal with the situation — and to compare to the disruption that media companies are facing now.
The failed deal crushed McClure, precipitating a nervous breakdown in April 1900 that propelled him to Europe to undergo the celebrated “rest-cure” devised by an American physician, S. Weir Mitchell. Prescribed for a range of nervous disorders, the rest cure required that patients remain isolated for weeks or even months at a time, forbidden to read or write, rigidly adhering to a milk-only diet. Underlying this regimen was the assumption that “raw milk is a food the body easily turns into good blood,” which would restore positive energy when pumped through the body.
This extreme treatment was among the proliferating regimens developed in response to the stunning increase in nervous disorders diagnosed around the turn of the century. Commentators and clinicians cited a number of factors related to the stresses of modern civilization: the increased speed of communication facilitated by the telegraph and railroad; the “unmelodious clamor” of city life replacing the “rhythmical” sounds of nature; and the rise of the tabloid press that exploded “local horrors” into national news. These nervous diseases became an epidemic among “the ultracompetitive businessman and the socially active woman.”
The stressed out citizens of 1900 have my sympathy, but I wonder how they would have reacted to a rapidly-changing digital age, where information is available at your fingertips at all times, where some startup might be rising to gobble your business model away, where breaking news is measured in minutes rather than days and where push notifications are being lobbed like cannonballs.
Suddenly, I’m thirsty for milk.