Saturday, December 15, 2012

"...and I'm gonna get the guns."

Facebook was on fire yesterday with sympathy and support for the families who have been affected by this horrible tragedy in Connecticut.  And unfortunately, influenced by the news channels, a lot of the comments I saw were about guns and gun control and the right to bear arms.
Here are two of the typical ideas I saw, paraphrased:

"If we had better gun laws, this wouldn't keep happening!"

"If all teachers were armed, this wouldn't keep happening!"

People keep saying this tragedy brings the gun issue into focus and that in it's aftermath, it is NOW the time to DO something.  That's silly, of course.  This isn't an easy problem to solve.  Guns have been part of the American culture since their invention.  We used them to kill off the Native Americans we found here.  We used them to fight off our enemies and even each other when we disagreed.  At various points in our history, we needed our guns to survive and to keep our families safe.  Many still believe that they do.  Historically speaking, in our country, it's hard to argue with them.
The problem is that right now, those who oppose guns are feeling self-righteous.  The problem is that right now those who advocate their right to own guns feel cornered and vilified.

And the big problem is that politicians are involved which means instead of dealing on this issue from common ground, we deal with it from polarized strongholds.

The thing is:  I honestly don't think that the majority of gun-owners would have a problem with legislation that made sense as long it also re-certified their rights, both currently and moving forward.  I don't think that gun-owners want those with mental disabilities owning guns.  I don't think gun advocates, outside of a the extremists, feel that there's a need for semi-automatic or automatic weapons being legal.
We have to start with this understanding.  Guns aren't going to disappear.  It's great that so many countries don't have guns and that they have such a small amount of violence.  Our own country is still too new and guns are too much of a part of our identity for that to happen here.

What we need to do is very simple.  Anti-gun people need to step back from the ridiculous idea that getting all guns off the streets is possible.  They need to concede and recognize the right of our citizens to have guns.  Then gun-owners, who don't feel threatened anymore and don't feel like giving and inch will take a mile from them, can concede to some reform that makes sense and makes things better.

There are very few issues that are cut and dried.  The idea that the only win is a total win is one that infects our country and our political system like cancer.  There is common ground among the people.  It's the politicians and activists who are so divided.  They are the ones who want a complete win and want to destroy the opposition.  For the sake of our country though, we need to take this issue away from them.  We can't vilify people for wanting to own guns and wanting to retain their rights to do so.  Just because we don't agree with them doesn't make them wrong.  More importantly, it doesn't make us right.
There is common ground out there.  Fear keeps the two sides from finding it though.  Fear of each other and fear of the consequences of compromising even a little bit.

This morning, ever parent in the country has reason, once again, to consider where they stand on the issue of guns and gun control.  People who normally never even think about the issue, are suddenly in the middle of it.  And that is where I advise them to stay.  In the middle.  This isn't an issue of right and wrong.  It's not an issue that needs to be resolved by going left or right.  It's an issue that needs to be resolved by those in the middle.  It's one where common ground exists but is simply ignored.

No one.  NO ONE wants to see images of 5 year old kids running out of a school that's just been shot up by some lunatic.  And we can't just eliminate the possibility of it ever happening.  We can't.  We're far too ingrained in our personal beliefs on the issue.  But we can come together with the intention of uniting on the middle ground that does exist and making real, actual and immediate change that would make things better now.  We can make it harder for things like this to happen even if we can't stop them altogether.

You can call this idea wishy-washy if you want.  You can say that the fight has to go on until one side or the other wins and if you think the possibility  exists that one side can convince the other that they are right quickly enough to help save the next bunch of kids at the next school, which could easily be the one your own children attend, then I suppose you just carry on and continue the stalemate.  If, however, you understand that there will always be danger to kids--in one form or another--you may want to consider the fact that making your kids as safe as you can make them is the best you can do.  And to allow anything less is a failure.

The gun issue is currently populated by those on one side of the issue or the other.  It needs to be populated by us all.  We need to find common ground and common sense.  We don't live in a world that offers absolute safety to anyone.  We could live in a safer world though.  That goal is out there.  It's attainable.  If we can get the polarized nuts from each side out of it, if we can get the politicians who are swayed by their lobbyists and special interest money instead of their constituents out of it.  If all the parents who cared about their kids and wanted to make them safer came together with the goal of not even trying to decide the gun issue, but instead using common sense to bring about real change, possible change that makes kids more safe, then we could actually make them safer--not safe, never safe, not in this world--but safer.

Safer.  More safe.  Wouldn't that be better?  Or, should we all meet back here in a few months to cry over dead children again?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Illusion of "The Media"

A dear friend recently wrote an article in which it was concluded that the media objectifies and holds certain portions of society back.  The article was written from a feminist slant, but it just as easily could have been written from the perspective of the rich, the poor, minorities, the majority or any segment of society you’d care to name.  In fact, after I’d read that first article I read another, this one from a woman who is deeply conservative/Republican sees a climate of fear and despair everywhere she goes because of the recent travesty of the re-election of our President.  Our opinions are colored by our perspective; our perspective is colored by our experience and our experience is colored by how we define ourselves.  In other words, it’s very difficult to separate ourselves and our experiences and the way we perceive them from the way others may.

I should also confess that I’m currently re-reading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and my own perspective is currently clouded with humanist thoughts and ideas.  It is through that lens that I am currently seeing the world around me.  I say that because it would be extremely arrogant (okay, that wouldn’t be entirely out of character, would it?) to sit here and say that other’s opinions are clouded while my own is clear and true.  We all think our opinions are clear and true.  We’re all right about that.  We’re also all wrong about it.

And perhaps that’s what’s so troubling to me.  We live in such a world of absolutes.  Our opinions are so black and white.  Those are such scary colors. 

One thing we can all seem to agree upon though is the ironclad fact that the media is at least partly to blame, which leads me to the real question and topic I want to talk about today.  Is there still such a thing as the media?  No.  That’s a poor question.  Of course the media exists because the media is simply this and nothing more, it’s a means of communication and we live in a world that it inundated with more means of communication than can possibly be good for us.

However, for the sake of our argument, let’s look at “the media.”  And by “the media,” of course, we mean the mainstream channels of communication we have available to us such as newspapers, magazines and news programming.  We still pretend that such things exist in the form that we came to understand them in the past.  But the idea that they do exist in that previous form that encompassed journalistic integrity is absurd, is it not?

The newspaper business is a dying one.  In the age of the internet, we want our news now, not a day later.  The reporting of facts in newsprint is laughable.  By the time our morning paper arrives, we very likely know the facts it contains.  So, papers started reporting fewer facts and focused more on commentary about those facts.  It’s a natural progression.  Unfortunately, when you enter the area of commentary and steer away from a straight out reporting of the facts, you get into the area of perception of those facts and the opinions they spawn.  And so we read opinions in newspapers that we associate with being fact delivery systems and walk away misperceiving what we’ve read. 

Television news is even worse.  With the advent of the 24 hours news cycle came the burden of filling it.  And with newspapers and television news both it becomes necessary to sell the advertising to support it making “the media” a business.  A business has a bottom line.  A business has a responsibility to make a profit and then to maximize that profit.  The fact that there are so many news outlets available, each trying to make a profit has forced those news outlets to cater to specifically targeted demographics.  They tailor their news to fit that demographic.  They tell them the things they want to hear. 

If you think you have a completely unbiased, journalistically reliable source of news you are deluded.  Somewhere along the way those stopped existing.  It didn’t happen with a bang, so it’s hard to point to the exact spot where it occurred, but it’s safe to say it’s in our rear view mirror, yet our perception of “the media” and journalism remains. 

Have you ever tried watching the news on a conservative news station and then followed it up by watching the news on a liberal one?  You’d think that you were listening to news on two entirely different dimensions where good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lie were entirely reversed.  In one dimension, there is an evil, tyrannical dictator named Obama who is trying to ruin a leading country.  In the other there is a benevolent leader of the same name who is beset on all sides by evil men and women who, despite his best efforts, are trying to destroy that country. 

Ask most people and they take a side on this.  They have one viewpoint or the other.  If they say they don’t, you shouldn’t be offended.  It’s not you they are lying to, it’s themselves.  Just ask them for a political opinion and observe which newscast’s talking points they parrot.

The idea of “the media” as we once understood it is extinct.  “The media” is now nothing more or less than a loosely affiliated group of businesses whose primary aim is profit through the dissemination of opinions. 

Let that sink in for a moment.

If you own a conservative based newspaper there is no profit in reporting news with anything but a completely conservative slanted set of opinions.  If you own a liberal based news network you must always appease your advertisers who determine whether or not your business is profitable and you keep your job. 

And still, we perceive what we read and what we see as “news.”  We still perceive “the media” as having journalistic integrity.  Take a moment to laugh at the absurdity of that concept—journalistic integrity.  If you believe in it perhaps you’d like to go unicorn hunting with me sometime?

The problem comes when we start blaming “the media” for this or that.  How can you blame people for having opinions?  Opinions, it’s famously said, are like assholes.  Everyone has one and they usually stink.  In order to believe that “the media” is to blame for anything you have to first believe in the idea that “the media” exists as more than some mythical ideal.  You may as well believe in unicorns that fart glittery rainbows.  “The media” isn’t a thing.  It probably never truly was but in this day and age, it clearly only exists in our minds.  We perceive the opinions that please us as news.  Facts are jokes.  You can make facts of lies as easily as you can make piles of shit.  You can make a survey say whatever you’d like it to say.  You can make people believe whatever you want them to believe.  We live in a sales and marketing world and believe in the facts that get us to buy what they are selling if they target us properly. 

So, how can we possibly blame the unicorns for all that ails us?  I’ve done it.  It’s an easy thing to do.  We want to believe in “the media.”  We want to believe in journalistic integrity.  Wake up.  Your doctor’s primary business is making money, not making you healthy.  Your priest’s primary business is getting butts in seats and donations in the baskets, not helping you get to heaven.  And “the media” exists to sell you things, not to report the news. 

If you read a magazine with offensive articles and advertisements you can’t blame the magazine.  They simply cater to a targeted demographic that has statistically proven to buy whatever they are selling in it.  You have to blame the people who read that magazine.  People don’t read those things and look at those ads despite the fact that they exist.  They read them because they exist.

Adam Levine, the lead singer of the group Maroon 5 recently said this about the television show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, “Seriously, Honey Boo Boo is the DECAY of Western civilization.  Just because so many people watch the show doesn’t mean it’s good.  So many people witness atrocities and can’t take their eyes away from them, but that doesn’t mean they’re good...” 

“That show is literally The. Worst. Thing. That’s. Ever. Happened.  It’s complete f****g ignorance and the most despicable way to treat your kids. “F*** those people. You can put that in the magazine: F*** those idiots.  They’re just the worst.  Sorry, I’m so sensitive to that — like, I don’t know, man, it’s upsetting.  Just to clarify, I said, ‘F*** THOSE PEOPLE.’”

I’m sure many of us feel that way.  And still, every week, people tune in to watch it.  If they didn’t it wouldn’t exist.  That show depends on advertising revenue.  Without it, the show would be cancelled.  It’s profitable to televise that show, as it’s profitable to televise the show were Adam Levine sits in judgment of the talent of other people, because people want to watch and advertisers will pay to advertise on shows that people watch.

It’s not the show’s fault.  It’s not the network’s fault.  It’s not the advertiser’s fault.  It’s the fault of those who watch the show.  We reap what we sow.  That show is broadcast on The Learning Channel.  I can’t even begin to understand what it is we’re supposed to be learning?  I suppose it’s that an audience exists for this show.  It’s that television shows that feature people going on to see the results of paternity tests have an audience.

I think of the Russell Crowe line in the movie Gladiator.  “Are you not entertained?”  He says that line after killing another man in the name of entertainment for a crowd.  The contest was put on by an emperor who did it to keep the common folk happy.  It was part of a celebration of their nation’s power and prominence. 

It’s silly, I think, to blame the media for anything.  They are simply giving us what we want.  If we didn’t want to see, hear, read, watch whatever it is they are putting out, we wouldn’t and the advertising for it would dry up and then it wouldn’t exist.  We find “the media” to be so abominable not because of what it puts out.  We simply hate what it says about us.  We hate that it is nothing more than a mirror and it shows us something very ugly—something we’d rather not see and certainly don’t want to acknowledge. 

Nothing exists without our consent and nothing lasts without our approval.