Musings

Musings

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Misery Porn

Greetings all,

I hope you've had a productive week.  I've been a busy little bee as I have started back working in my ceramics studio.  It has been months since I began a body of work, but I finally got my equipment repaired and so I am back in the saddle again.

I've gathered all of you here to speak about something very important, the news,  or as I like to call it, misery porn.  Now I don't mean to insult pornography by the comparison, but it is the closest parallel to our modern idea of news.  Think about some of the surface details: flashy titles, themed musical accompaniment, and of course the money shot.  The news has a slightly different version of the money shot which generally involves lots of bloodshed (although depending on your personal porn taste that might be similar as well).  Our news continually asks the questions how bad is it and how bad will it get?

This is sadly not a recent development.  There is an old saying, "If it bleeds it leads."  What is fairly recent is the 24 hour news cycle, and the belief that we must know about every tragedy that takes place on our planet. (With detailed accounts of local crimes 4 times a day).  Cable news has drowned us in a continuous rain of misery.  Whether your poison is FOX, CNN, or MSNBC (there are more but let's just start with the big pushers) they all have one thing in common, they need your eyes on their channel and homepage.  With the desensitization of the masses (which they are in part responsible for) they have to resort to ever more sensationalized and graphic images.  They deluge us with a sea of expert talking heads all telling us the way things are going will lead to complete and total disaster.

One of the reasons that so many countries have laws about having a free press is that unfettered journalism is essential for the democratic process.  Unfettered was good when there were solid deadlines for print and scheduled broadcasts, it made sure you focused attention on something that mattered.  Now the deadline is every 10 seconds and there is no time for quality just quantity and ease of reporting.  Those of us trying to be informed responsible adults sit and watch the play by play of terrorist attacks, school shootings and police chases.  All of which we have no control over while a few channels over on CSPAN our fates are decided unobserved (well for those of us in the USA and whomever we are bombing this week).  There is a quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain that I think is very enlightening, "If you don't read the newspapers you're uniformed, if you read the newspapers you're misinformed."

 We feel we need to know what's going on in the world but we are persistently steered away from information that would empower us to make change.  We are instead bombarded with images to make us afraid of the world and anyone who is different from us.  Why is this?  Well the thing about fear is that it short circuits our ability to reason and think critically.  We make the worst decisions when we are afraid unless of course it is one of those instinctual situations where you are being chased by wild animals but for most of us that is an unlikely scenario.  When we are afraid we are easily led and don't take the time to read the fine print.  Also when we are afraid we pay attention.  We're looking for cues to see if we are in immediate danger.  We can't help it; it is one of those things that millions of years of evolution has hardwired into us.  Fear snaps us out of wandering thoughts and focuses it on the immediate perceived threat.  Now that our attention is achieved people can try and sell us something to make the fear go away.  Sometimes it's a diet pill, sometimes it is a war, and sometimes it is a political candidate.

So why am I telling you this.  Well I know people who stay plugged into the news cycle.  They seem very troubled all the time.  Occasionally I drop into the logo sphere  of world news, it is always a disheartening experience.  The news is problem centric, the problem with that is it is very short on solutions to big issues.  This generally devolves into finger pointing and scapegoating of minorities.  So ask yourself what story have you bought lately?  What did TV news tell you to feel about a nation, race, religion, generation, political party, or social class?  What's in it for them if you buy their version of truth?  What sort of world does that leave you in?  Is it a world you want to live in?  What would happen if you unplugged for a while and dealt with what was in front of you?  Would you allow yourself a respite against the troubles of the world?  What if you didn't have to carry all of them on your back?  Try it out for a week and see how it feels.

Peace and Blessings,
Thomas Mooneagle

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