October 16th, 2010 09:59 EST
TV News is Poisoning American Discourse and Distorting Our Pictures of Ourselves
How the media distort our culture
Our culture is presented to us day after day by the mainstream media as if its greatness resides in building houses, playing Wall Street roulette, watching the Dow, being ugly to one another, and winning and losing elections.
And all the while we farm, we invent, we make paintings, poems, symphonies, and scientific breakthroughs. We get along. We strive to behave compassionately. We hold doors for each other. We help the elderly cross streets. We take care of pets. We make friends.
But none of this makes an impression on media hell-bent on their Dorian Gray portrait of us as an angry, clamorous, warlike people who care only about money and beating each other. There are consequences to such a daily bias. We are not the people to whom the media holds up this house-of-horrors mirror. Watching and reading the daily news is like signing into bedlam. We are much better than that. Our culture is not a bedlam. We are a kind, ingenious, creative people, but you wouldn`t know it watching television.
Somehow, perhaps by taking communications into our own hands in cyberspace, we must reject this distortion of our culture. It is more important to take our self-image back from the meanly commercialized media than it is to take back government from Washington. The former is a real issue, the latter is a political ploy to distract us from corruption in our hometowns.
Even the great New York Times, that last great project of high-mindedness, ignores the striving art galleries of the East Village and Brooklyn to cater to the major enterprises that support it with advertising. This is understandable, the newspaper being a business, after all, but it is an ill-maker for our culture. What is good for business is not necessarily good for the country, just as what was good for General Motors was not always good for the rest of us. The Mafia and the Colombian drug cartel, for example, are businesses. So are the cigarette and liquor industries.
May I suggest a little experiment? Pretend all your news channels are off the air. Do this for three days. At the end of the three days ask yourself if you feel a little more peaceful, a little less anxious. If the answer is yes, then you have taken a step towards a revaluation of the role of television in our culture. My own opinion is that television news as it is presently conceived and constituted is a hot and disturbing medium that agitates society and works against reasoned discourse. Why shouldn`t political and social discourse be uplifting and rewarding? Why must it be antagonistic and disquieting?
It is no secret to anyone accustomed to walking around New York City that there is exciting art in the streets "dancers, singers, artists, poets. But what gets the attention is what generates advertising revenue "understandable but deeply sick. Nobody in New York City needs to pay more than a dollar dropped in a violin case or a hat to be entertained, but the media focus only on what rakes in the big bucks. The media are not a reflection of us, they are a reflection of themselves, as Marshall McLuhan presciently pointed out in the 1970s.
This skewed picture of our culture results in heightened anxiety and short fuses. We are simply not the culture portrayed by our communications industry. Most of us are about the work of being decent, productive and creative citizens. The media are about the work of upsetting us, controlling our world view, cheapening our accomplishments by focusing on antagonism, whipping us up and leading us on.
I am not arguing for a Pollyanna news industry. In truth, I don`t hold out much hope for the industry. But I am saying that to continue on our path towards greatness and achievement we must have and hold a better picture of ourselves. We must remember what we do each day, and it is not, as the media would have us believe, getting in each other`s faces and behaving like sulky adolescents. The media like sulky adolescents "it`s their peer group.
If we behaved as our politicians behave our society would break down overnight. We would be confronted with chaos. We would not be able to trust our neighbors. We would not be decent to each other. We would not agree to disagree. We would not greet each other civilly. We would not do the things we know we must do to live our lives peacefully.
When you think about this you begin to realize how distorted a picture of America the media give us. If we don`t recognize our daily lives of ordinary decency and striving for excellence in the media`s report, then who is it we are seeing? Caveat emptor. We are looking at a samurai video game, and it is fair to ask who designed it and who is being played.
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