Movie theaters used to run serials, a chapter a week. Typically, the heroine would be imperiled at the end of an episode, perhaps hanging by her fingernails at the edge of a precipice.
You knew the hero would rescue her in the next episode, but there was always an element of doubt, so you just had to be at the theater next week. This, of course, required buying a ticket, which was the point of it all.
The serials contributed a word to our vocabulary – cliffhanger – and Congress and the president are giving it considerable use this year.
The first cliffhanger was the fiscal cliff, but somehow disaster was averted. Then we had the sequester, where automatic spending cuts were supposed to result in chaos. And maybe they will, depending on how you’re impacted.
At the moment we’re not faced with a total shutdown of government, but maybe that will be the next cliffhanger.
Most people aren’t panicking. Maybe all those cliffhangers are making us numb.