Despair – A deviation into mainstream
OK. Let’s agree in advance that this is going to be a non-linear dissertation on our world-view as it is influenced by mainstream media. If you persist to the end, please add your comment, even if only to assist me in coalescing this ramble into a coherent thought.
If mainstream media is a reflection of the society that generates it, what does that say about my/your/our particular society?
From the perspective of a disinterested observer, even a cursory deviation into mainstream puts paid to any thought that we are an enlightened or even an advanced society. There are pockets of study and thinking and hope but they are marginalised side-thoughts of the mainstream mass. Almost an anachronism, and treated as such.
what society would we each have, were mainstream media to suddenly and completely, cease to exist?
Read this paragraph then close your eyes, and spend a moment to ponder your own current worldview. Think through an average day, sans any media content. You can keep technology but no social-media, no “news”, radio, television, newspaper. Now ponder a year of your life under those conditions. What holes agape in your altered world-view? What impact on your relationships and your interactions with others?
A counter thought would be to suggest that mainstream media is an integral part of society, so enmeshed in our reality that pondering the ‘modern’ world without it is an action of glib revisionism. Under that logic, mainstream media is modern society. Mayhaps, and yet this sidesteps the issue at hand. To conceptualise the impact of mainstream media within a society, it is reasonable to assess what society looks like when that slice is removed. IF we are not overly impressed by the remaining cake then we are not impressed at the state of our human evolution.
And here we have the nub of this post. If our modern construct is to be considered the pinnacle of all that has gone before, are we impressed by what we see?
In the immortal words of the fellow at the back of the crowd, “I’m not”.
It’s not as though transcontinental video calls are not impressive because they quite definitely are. It’s not under-appreciation of GPS, trans-ocean cables and Google, which allow those who were once uninformed to access vast repositories of data and knowledge. These and many other technologically magical powers have transformed communications and possibilities… but has access to this technology materially improved the societies that possess them? More importantly, is access to these technologies the most appropriate benchmarks with which to measure the evolution of our society?
Again, we need to consider what changes to existence have occurred as a result of these and other components of society. If we return to the issue of mainstream media then we can acknowledge that there are new ways of receiving and filtering the vast array of available data, information and entertainment but again, to what end benefit?
What is the benefit of mainstream media?
So my thinking leads me back to the existence of the individual. What impact does mainstream media have on the individual? It can be dangerous to spend too long analysing just what that may be, as it is highly likely to lead to despair. In my subjective eyes, the bulk of mainstream media is neither valuable nor useful.
If we concede the benefit of the doubt, then there is an entertainment component that we could argue for. We could consider the entertainment component ‘art’, and fall back on Warhol‘s circular proposition that art at its best is pointless. Therefore, the entertainment aspect of mainstream media is aptly fulfilled. If we hold that the bulk of mainstream media is entertainment then my proposition on the value of mainstream media is invalid, and my despair is merely misplaced gloom.
There is a sports component of mainstream media that has clear purpose and value. There are individual benefits from being part of something larger, and societal benefits from competition and the promotion of good health. However, sports today is not too far removed from the factional sports of bygone eras, and calling it progressive or an advance of society is a bit of a stretch. Fans screaming for their team while wearing the colours of the Lakers, Liverpool, Real Madrid or the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t differ materially from Alexandria’s Red, white Green and Blue chariot teams or the Blues and Greens of Byzantium. Modern sport riots may fall short of the benchmark set by the Nika riots but all-in-all, team sport has not really evolved to any great degree.
How about documentaries? They are possibly the one shining star continuing the work of the enlightenment. However, they would not really be considered mainstream. Even if we again adopt the benefit-of-the-doubt, to what extent can we say the the existence or absence of documentaries constitutes an advance of society?
There is a ‘news‘ component that we could argue for on the assumption that we are better off knowing this material, and that it is both valuable and useful. This proposition is harder to justify, no matter which sound bite we apply, for what is it that constitutes news, and in what way does it benefit us?
When news is not news, what is it?
Deviating into the present for just a moment (after all, how else could you?), we can look at very specific examples to illustrate how a cursory look at mainstream media can lead to feelings of despair. This is a long example but is indicative of the lapse of “news” into little more than rapid re-transmission of data packets.
Look at any news report currently and you will see articles covering this or that event related to the slowly unravelling debt crisis playing itself out in European politics. We are informed of the level of debt of this country or that, the latest changes in political positions and the reactions of non-European Union countries through their various spokespeople. And yet arguably the greatest ‘news’ in amongst all of this is completely omitted from discussion.
There are many overviews available. A quick Google search under “European Crisis” will uncover a large number of articles – 23,700 currently. And yet out of all these articles, you will only find 256 under “European loss of soveriegnty”. ‘So what’ you may say. ‘So a lot’, would i reply.
Not so long ago, the Greek Prime Minister was called upon to impose more of what has become a never ending series of quaintly labelled ‘austerity measures’. These cuts to services and benefits are on top of earlier attempts to balance the books of the government and would be implemented on a country already staggering under a large drop in output. These austerity measures will guarantee that the country remains in recession, and have a high probability of leaving Greece in an untenable position for many years to come. Given that he was about to sign the country into perpetual bondage under an EU (read : German) yoke, the Greek Prime Minister raised the idea of putting that to a vote of the people. Within a week or so, he was out – replaced by a more compliant Prime Minister. Whether it was a political stunt or an attempt to actually get input from the constituency is not really relevant.
The Italian Prime Minister was also forced to step down, and Italy is now governed by a group of technocrats and a banker. Not one of these people have been voted into power.
We are observers of momentous events here. Not the day-to-day comings and goings of individuals but what can only be called “backdoor takeovers” of entire countries. This is not a good outcome, and brings about the potential for extreme reactions.
Many would argue that the Greeks and the Italians deserve it, somehow. Quite so, quite so. Under this argument, ineffective or corrupt governments and bureaucracies and profligate expenditure combine to make everything acceptable. If these countries cannot run their economies properly then someone should force them to do so. Again, you can justify this attitude incredibly fluently but it does not make it right.
The Greek and Italian people are having their sovereignty taken away from them for the sake of money. They should be allowed a say in that.
Of course, the full picture is even worse. The European Union is a grouping of a large number of countries, with clear benefits to trade and movement of people throughout the continent. Those of these countries that participate in the common currency, the Euro, are tied in a much more intricate manner and it is here that the biggest problems lay.
Money is not democratic. Capitalism and democracy march to a completely different tune.
The financial world does not care who runs Italy or Greece or Spain or Ireland, so long as they do so within specific financial benchmarks.
If news is the reporting of that which is important then mainstream news right now is failing miserably. If it is simply the transmission of individual events then it is doing fine. Your call.
Building your own reality
What actions do you take to build your own reality? How dedicated are you to making your world what you want it to be? Have you considered how your world will be if you actually achieve exactly what you want? These are some of the questions that come to mind while trawling mainstream ‘news’. ‘News’ that is delivered in a context completely lacking self-awareness, while the choice of content and the content itself, can quickly lead to despair.
News, like history, can only ever be the detritus left over after sifting the entirety of possibilities with your filter of choice. And i am making the assumption that you have elected to make a choice in which version of news you allow yourself to be exposed to, rather than blithely laying your current and future thought processes on the lap of mainstream and its Media Moguls. How do you source your news? How do you assess the validity of the interpretations of fact that you find? How do you know where your interpretation fits into alternative versions, and can you create your own Rashomon style analysis of events? [http://www.amazon.com/Rashomon-Seventeen-Stories-Penguin-Classics/dp/0143039849]. Can you look back at an event for a moment and consider it from all points of view or are you - like the Samurai, the robber and the wife - limited by your personal outlook?
Is it possible to think independently?
The “strings from the sky” are not usually visible. By definition a hegemonic process can be neither seen nor perceived. If it were to be identifiable then you would be free to choose, and that is the whole point of hegemony – you don’t see it and you aren’t free to choose. And not all manipulators are operated via strings from the sky. Our perceptions of the world, our personal filters, attitudes, reactions and expectations are not optional. They are built in. You act the way that you do because that is who you are. Most of us will react a particular way, and when confronted on our stance, will forcefully and (we think) honestly argue for the position being taken. The author Shankar Vendantam uses a term “The Hidden Brain” to describe this automatic, non-conscious process that we are so quick to consider such an integral part of ‘us’. His book is a science journalist dissertation on what guides our actions, and well worth the read.
Yet our society does not encourage self-awareness. If anything, mainstream Western society does not see self-analysis as being valuable. We may try to ‘discover ourselves’ or ‘find out who we are’ and be completely unaware that in the process we are following a well-worn pathway, often walking in the precise footsteps of the hordes of emotionally disatisfied that preceded us. What of it, you ask? Surely each person must find their own pathway? True. And yet we can do so with full knowledge of what we are doing and with a more open mind on just why we are doing this.
How many times have you wondered whether a person talking to you is actually ‘listening to what they are saying’? Anger, frustration, excitement or urgency can lead us all to say things that are directly sourced from the internal ‘us’. This can be dangerous, as we are rarely in control of that particular animal.
Even when the words are carefully considered, they will always be melded and formed by our internal ‘subconscious selves’, and yet we are not taught to be aware of this.
As usual, the great English Bard has pondered the issue and offers us this little tidbit of advice…
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
William Shakespeare – As You Like It [http://www.artofeurope.com/shakespeare/sha9.htm]
What if we close our eyes for a while and ponder our world – not us, just our world. The local environment, our home, our family, our friends. Think about the workplace, the books we read and the media we interact with. Consider all of that as a play, and try to allocate roles and scenes from plots and stories that you know. Is ‘this person’ the typical joker, ‘that person’ the self-engrossed narcisist? Where do you fit in? How do you think people would perceive you from their view of the world? Where you think you are saying ‘red’, is it likely that people are hearing ‘green’? Are you the romantic sop, the nerdy bore or the flighty socialite? No-one likes being labelled but trying to identify a character that we resemble can be a humbling experience – and our world would benefit from a lot more humility.
Building a personal interpretation of the world you inhabit
Australians live in one of the wealthiest nations on earth, yet collectively dismiss such this label to better focus on a raft of perceived problems [http://www.clivehamilton.net.au/cms/index.php?page=affluenza]. Commentators decrie the decline of the ‘US empire’ yet seem to ignore its continued role as the sole global superpower. Suicide rates are horrific and most murder victims are related to their killers, yet our societal worry is focussed on external threats and ‘stranger danger’. Global terrorism is waved in the faces of global travellers daily, yet the actual incidences of air travel terrorism are so few that they are mathematically immaterial. As usual, the plethora of societies and environments that is the United States of America can provide us with a laboratory in which we find most of these conundrums.
Can you truly build your own reality without inadvertently creating your own blinkered bubble or a version so distorted that it is devoid of anything close to an objective reality? If we all try to do this, aren’t more people going to end up like Norwegian murderer Anders Breivik or US murderers Jared Lee Loughner, Timothy McVeigh and Ted Kaczynski? In building our own reality, don’t we just narrow our field of view to the point where we lose the ability to make objective assessments?
Maybe it is time to reconsider the ancient concept of “know thyself”…?
Given that we know so little about internal selves, isn’t it time that we pay more attention to what we let into our world,and the data sets that we allow access to shape our world-view?
There are a few people who ponder this issue – and some of these people go so far as to make the study of “self” a lifetime project. Not their own ‘self’ but the components which we humans use to assemble into our own ‘self’. In many cases, the studies help to highlight areas in which we pointedly fail to know ourselves. Discussion, understanding and building a teaching of these processes into education would go a long way to helping individuals gain some perception of the strings from the sky and the societal strings that bind each of us.
Here’s a snip from an old movie “Network”. It’s rather apt, and has not aged a day over all these years. The words are so good, i’ve included the text below.
Howard Beale: I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot – I don’t want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a HUMAN BEING, God damn it! My life has VALUE!’ So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!’ I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!… You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”
Quote sourced from : http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074958/quotes