I’m convinced there is no way to ease myself back into being a consumer of mass media. A general scan of several papers has left me dizzy with stories of a psychological autopsy, nuclear talks, a terminally ill teen who wants to die with dignity, drones being sued, students fearing repercussion of earlier protests, surveillance laws under scrutiny, drug-related murders, a human trafficking ring involving 500 Asian females, and high-risk, vulnerable Aboriginal teens in foster care getting killed and severely wounded after being left in hotel rooms with minimal supervision by the agencies who are charged with their care.
My response after scanning a portion of the news? Ugh. Because I look at the people in these stories and the people that will be or have been affected by these incidents and I think, We can do better. But how?
If the mass media is an accurate reflection of society, then I can say without hesitation that we are a reactionary society. We do what we can in the broken, underfunded systems that we have to work with, and when something goes terribly wrong, we look around for someone to blame. We point fingers. We single out the wrong doers or those in charge and shake our heads at them. We publicly shame them, we pressure them into fixing it alone. But these people who are in charge of broken and underfunded systems are still working with the limited resources they have. And they dare not ask for help because this would both be an admission of guilt and a sign of weakness in the eyes of a bloodthirsty public.
OMG, you can’t do your job? Well, let’s boot you out and replace you with someone brand new, someone who has little to no experience working within this very nuanced dichotomy.
I’m not saying that those in charge are without responsibility or power to make necessary changes, but these people don’t exist in a vacuum. And we have proof from past scenarios that simply replacing the current leadership doesn’t fix much if anything at all. Just look at most examples of this in business or politics. The systems are still broken. But as a society of shame and blame, we don’t leave any room for mistakes. When the stakes are high (lives, for example), the pressure is even more severe. And how the fuck can any single person under that kind of pressure make the vast changes needed in a system without the help of several people working together? When did being a leader become more about taking the fall instead of creating transformation and empowering people?
When I use the term mistakes, I am in no way referring to conscious negligence or criminal activity. And sometimes the mistake has been putting the wrong person in the position to make important decisions. I’m talking about competent people who try their best to work with what they have.
Mass media is still about policing the mistake-makers. It’s a paparazzi-paced, ambulance chase of finger pointing and AHA screaming and slapping people on the wrists or public stonings with words and pictures and carefully edited facts to sway public opinion one way or the other. And once the mistake-makers have been properly sussed out or trounced or ruined, the mass media brushes the dust off their hands and moves on to the next.
This is in response to society’s need to blame someone and ‘fix’ the situation. It’s part of what we crave. We need to feel like we’ve done something in the face of any tragedy or fuck up. Even if we personally don’t do something, we need to feel like we are moving forward instead of backward.
But being human isn’t about moving forward in the same way we measure success in a capitalist system. Human growth is not limited to or bound by market share increase quarter over quarter. Our paths to success are not linear. Human beings make mistakes. That’s actually a huge part of our growth. In art and science, it’s often the mistakes we make that lead to amazing contributions to society. But when we create an environment where making a mistake comes with irreparable costs, we create stress and fear. When I am afraid, I’m not at my best. When I make decisions from a place of fear, those solutions are limited and temporary at best.
I get the feeling that most of us are running around a large plastic pool as fast as we can to patch holes that sprout from the weakened places, the areas that have been stressed by the water inside and the kids jumping around in that pool. And when a crisis comes, we run faster, slipping on the water that spills over onto the grass, patching up the natural holes as well as the holes that are being created with knifes from the outside. In this mode, we are bound to fail. In a model of shaming and blaming, we are all bound to fail.
We point fingers because we do not want to look at ourselves. What have I not done to proactively help this situation before it became newsworthy? Most people don’t consciously think this way, most aren’t aware that is why we blame. But it is.
As much as we are all part of one system or another working against or with other systems, we are all human beings inside of these systems, with all of the basic human flaws and beauties. We’ve lost sight of this. And I don’t even think we can blame the Internet.
For much of recorded history, we have found ways to separate ourselves from others. We have stood in the stands in ancient Rome watching slaves get eaten by ferocious animals. We have chanted ‘The word is flat’ until Columbus knocked us all on our asses. We’ve stood in crowds at public hangings or hidden in our houses waiting for the sickening snapping sound, breathing sighs of relief that it wasn’t us (this time). We’ve used the telephone to have conversations where body language cues and eye contact is off the table even when the people we’re speaking with live down the street. We’ve used the cover of call-in radio shows to anonymously dedicate songs to people we secretly desire. We’ve used the anonymity of cars long before the Internet was popular to create a false sense of isolation, and on our islands moving slowly through the crowds of other islands, we think of our lives as if what we do or don’t do has no impact whatsoever on the lives of those people over there.
Intimacy and transparency and compassion are fucking scary in a society where the opposite is the norm. To be authentically who I am in public today leaves me open to the shaming and ridicule of complete strangers, because that’s the automatic response, in general, from audiences. Even as a lowly blogger, once I’ve built up any semblance of an audience, when I make a mistake or say something that appears to contradict my belief system, the comments on that entry will be flooded with wtf and who do you think you are and how dare you and I knew you were a piece of shit.
I can handle that. I’m self-aware and fully seated in a compassionate understanding of what it means to be human. I do not expect the public to give me room to make mistakes. I give myself that space. And that makes me resilient to the attacks of blame and shame which, at root, sprout from the disappointment people feel when what I have to say does not match up with what they think or feel, because it gives them reason to doubt themselves or a need to rejustify why they are right and I am wrong.
In lieu of this security, we search for sideways paths to feeling safe in this harsh society of judgment. We separate ourselves. We numb ourselves to the plight of our neighbors. We point fingers. We read the news thinking, That’s terrible but thank God it’s not me.
People may disagree with me, but even in the wake of a series of serious blows to the singular focus on mass media, I think mass media is a leader in society. There are still several people (masses, really) who rely on traditional reporting to know what’s happening in the world. And though the blows have left a huge dent in the collective esteem of this system (which caused it, in general, to act merely as a reflection of society instead of as a leader), I don’t think it’s too late to use that position to empower people, to make changes in society, and to show people how things can be done differently instead of running over the slippery grass in our fancy shoes around a kiddie pool with patches that we bought for almost nothing at the local liquidation warehouse.
It’s incredibly difficult to make changes in our lives without role models. Most of us need to see that something is possible from an outside source before we find the courage and commitment it takes to begin a new challenge. Mass media is still a role model. Reporters and editors and publishers are still role models, whether they accept this responsibility or not, whether they agree with my idea of what society needs in a role model or not.
I firmly believe that we need more role models of compassion. Who better to take the risk than people in a system facing extinction unless major changes are made? What better way to make a change than to fully step up to the title of role model? There is always, always room to change society for the better. We don’t have to wait for an apocalyptic state to gather up the necessary courage to take a risk.
There are no easy answers. I’m well aware that the media industry needs advertising revenue to support jobs. But there used to be a more balanced power between editorial and advertising. From where I stand, conglomerates call the shots on what does and does not get reported (and how stories get reported) because they can easily pull enough revenue to crush entire chains of newspapers. And as I write this, I begin to wonder if the future of semi-objective reporting on a mass media scale relies on righting that power imbalance.
Despite the fact that there are no easy answers, I still believe that as a leader of society, mass media shapes public thought and opinion. And that’s a very serious responsibility. One best left out of the hands of conglomerates who see us in terms of disposable income.
Journalism was founded on the idea that society needs checks and balances. And a bunch of ragtag characters came together to endeavor to do just that. Now it’s the mass media itself that needs to change. And a bunch of fringe characters online work individually or in small groups to police the media.
But I don’t think policing (finger pointing, blaming, etc) is the answer. I think it’s the best we can do from a perspective of fear. Coming from the entirely different perspective of compassion gives us a whole new set of tools to work with that will lead to innovative, authentic and viable solutions as to how we can add value to our roles as leaders in society, and therefore create lasting change.
Instead of writing from a place of fear, try writing from a place of compassion. That’s different. That’s inspiring. That’s a risk worth taking because it might make a real difference.
And if we’re still talking dollars and cents, if you can create a product that will make a real difference in lives, people will want to read that. Isn’t that the ultimate power balance move? To have an in-demand product?
If the mass media can’t or won’t do this, someone will eventually do this in a way that will reach the general public en masse rather than remaining content to converse solely with the growing fringe.