October 7th, 2010 16:32 EST
Media News Peddles Anxiety, Hate, Trivia and Divisiveness
Our media are ill-makers
You know those gift-wrapping desks that department stores set up at Christmastime? Think of them when you think you`re watching or reading the news. The popular notion of news is brightly (and tightly) wrapped anxiety.
That`s why television anchors and even reporters smile inappropriately. We smile inappropriately because we know something is going on that embarrasses us, but we`re not copping to it. Remember that the next time a TV anchor makes yet another toweringly unimportant wisecrack.
If we practiced holistic medicine on an institutional basis we would prohibit the news as we know it. It is not designed to edify, enlighten, uplift, remedy or enable; it is designed to disturb and divide us. Media executives say it isn`t their job to fix things, but it isn`t their job to break them either, or to sicken society. The media executives say it isn`t their job to be Pollyannas, but neither is it their job to slip us toxic mickeys, to tell us things day after day, hour after hour in ways that alarm and disquiet us. If generals played their troops the way the media play us we would lose wars, and that is my point.
My old age is largely preoccupied with writing poetry and fiction, going to museums, and walking. I am a walking contemplative, and one of the things I contemplate after a lifetime spent delivering the news is that I was delivering the dark quarter of it.
If we looked at news as Olympians, which is the pretentious stance of the pundits and news executives, we would surely see that the creativity of a society, its ingenuity, its research, is more important than its polarities, its ephemeral issues, its ideological differences.
We would see that a great painting or poem is more important than a mayor`s or a senator`s speech. We would see that composers, scientists, artists, writers are all more important than political liars, hatemongers and demagogues.
We would see that a new symphony is more to be celebrated than the latest pronouncement of a general that he can win a losing war with just 30,000 more young human lives. We would see that cancer research is more important than the interminable debate over immigration.
We would get our priorities straight. We would see ourselves as historians will see us. We would want to know as much about other cultures as we want to know about our own crime statistics or what another self-serving office seeker says.
The mirror the media hold up to us presents our image to ourselves as consumers, as worriers, as anger-mongers, as ranters, ravers, suspects and victims. We should stop measuring the quality of life in terms of dollars and start measuring it in terms of the relief of human suffering, the celebration of our creative impulses, and we should start thinking of ourselves as each other`s friends and servants instead of each other`s enemies and competitors. We should stop seeing life as a horse race in which somebody must win and others must lose. We should refuse to allow our culture to turn us into consumer bots.
Our media emphasize the nature of Russia`s post-Soviet society as oligarchic, but our media serve an oligarchy that is buying a national election as you read this. Why isn`t that news? The media beat around the bush about it, reporting the money spent and observing almost casually that it is impossible to find the sources of the money. Yes, impossible because it is in their vested interests not to name the sources. The sources of that bribery money are the media`s advertisers, and this is the same reason the media allowed the housing mortgage crisis to overtake us "they were in the pockets of the developers and lenders.
The problem is not the daily news report, it is rather the media obsession with contention, dissent, anger, violence. The problem is imbalance, a tilt, a slant towards whatever stirs our baser impulses and instincts "a report that is not ameliorated or balanced by the creative energy of the culture, which is equally newsworthy. Lately there have been techie columns wondering aloud why Apple gets so much attention. Isn`t it obvious that Apple`s creativity, the beauty and excitement Apple has brought to the market arouses popular interest? Isn`t it obvious there is an inchoate thirst for information about mankind`s higher aspirations and achievements? I`m not talking about good news, about feel-good reportage; I`m talking about genuine inquiry day after day on a sustained basis into our most promising instincts and talents, the ones that can distinguish us as a great people and nation.
And I`m saying that the media as currently constituted deter us from our natural greatness. They stand in the way of our progress. And in a time of economic trouble and regression this posits the media as a serious obstacle to evolution and prosperity. When have you last heard or read a report about laser research or the National Ignition Facility (https://lasers.llnl.gov/)? And yet this longstanding research holds out the capability of our society becoming the most advanced and promising in the world. When have you last heard or read an inquiry into the difficulty of young artists starting their careers? And yet you have heard and read plenty about crime and immigration, and Senator Blockhead`s allegations about Senator Foolhardy.
We are better than what purports to be our news. We are better than the media`s picture of us. We do more, we think more, we make more, and we have much higher aspirations. But the media seek the lowest common denominator and convince us that we are each other`s enemies, that somebody must be right and somebody must be wrong, that he who shouts loudest and bullies most prevails.
Our culture`s enemy is the media. But have we gotten the media we deserve? I don`t think so. I think we deserve much better. I think the media gift-wrap anxiety and dissent to make us pliable, to sell us things by making us too psychically ill to discern. The media are, after all, primarily sales vehicles.
That is why I regard pharmaceutical advertisements as a metaphor for the media`s role in our culture: Take this medicine, there is a chance it may help you, but there is a much better chance it may kill you.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com