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.



Albert Riehle said...

For the record, I'm aware that in the previous post to this one, I too blame "the media" for all the evils of the world. I am an ever-evolving person and I change my mind as I go along. Take comfort in the fact that these are nothing more than opinions.

Malachi said...

"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."

I disagree with the bottom line for every profession is making money. If I wanted to make money I could have been a thousand other things and not a pastor. I have doctor friends who actually want to help keep people healthy. I have people leaving my church who actually tithe (10% of a very nice income apparently) and all I told them is, "Make sure you find a church that fits because you are church people. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out here, but it's not like that everywhere". because the truth is a pastor's job IS getting them to heaven and the moment we forget that is the moment we might as well be a real estate agent or whatever.

I know there are pastors out there that are more concerned with the bottom line than heaven, but many of us are way more worried about the state of your soul than the state of a building. A church is the people, not the place where we worship.

Malachi said...

As for the actual content of your blog, I agree that 'the media' has devolved because we have let it.

We do tell the networks what we like by what we watch and they keep a close eye on that.

If people really hated reality tv, it would no longer exist. If people really wanted news instead of opinions, well.. we'd have it because we'd demand it.

Anonymous said...

Disagree on the doctor front, because there's never a shortage of sick people and no need to create a need there. (biased of course, my family's filled with doctors)

Your thoughts on the media are sorrowing because they are, alas, all too true. And well called on the last bit. I complain about the media being a business all the time, but the truth is my frustration is with the people who it panders to, myself hopefully not but probably inevitably included. -Tal