Saturday, November 09, 2013

Media Rant

At the turn of the 20th century, the American everyman was compelled to seek out sources of written information—books, pamphlets, magazines, newspapers—in order to satisfy his curiosity about the world.  Shortly after its birth, that century gave birth itself—to the electronic wunderkind with the globe-altering embrace.  Radio, movies, and then television gripped, contorted and contracted the world.  Within a few short decades, everyman…every-family could no longer live out an insular life within the confines of a comfortable town or neighborhood.  Global affairs played out in their living rooms.  They were alternately rapt and horrified by events taking place on the other side of the world.

Fifty years ago, when I was a kid, electronic media were becoming a fact of life.  We took radio for granted—it had been around forever—and television grew to be an integral part of our existence.  There were three networks, public television, and, if you were in a really big market, one or two independent local stations.  News was broadcast for five minutes on the hour, every hour, on the radio.  On TV, the networks broadcast national and world news at the dinner hour.  And local news had at it at the end of every “prime time” evening.  That was it. 

We had it good.  We had the perfect blend of news and time for it to sink in.  Time to make decisions about what to DO about it.  We were not bombarded with “news” 24 hours a day.  Maybe that was why it was the “golden age of journalism.”  News stories had to be concise, factual, and well-researched, because the writers would not get another crack at them for several hours. 

And we got the news that WAS news.  There was no time for the ideological pissing contests, magazine fluff pieces and celebrity stalking that passes for “news” today; that unfortunately has multiplied to such a degree that it has completely buried real news.  In fact, I don’t think you could find a shred of what we used to call “news” even if you did have the fortitude to shovel away the Everest-esque mountain of crap churned out by electronic media today.  Because they just don’t produce that kind of thing anymore.  It doesn’t entertain.  And it doesn’t sell soap.

Yes, the world “shrunk” once, back in the early decades of the twentieth century.  It reached an almost manageable size, a proportion that you could possibly wrap your head around.  You got a window into lives that were not your own, and gained some understanding that you were not the center of the universe.  You were force-fed the seeds of empathy for people less comfortable than yourself. 

Time was, you watched what there was, and sometimes it wasn’t pleasant.  But Americans are no longer compelled to witness the more unpleasant aspects of others’ real lives around the world.  If you should come across a broadcast that challenges or disturbs, you can just “click” to a reality more to your liking.   Unfortunately, the amount of information churned out by media today is so massive, so unmanageable, that it has served to actually reverse the world-shrinking trend.  Well, hasn't reversed it.  What it did, perhaps, was inject our shrunken world with so much fill that it burst--into millions and millions of smaller worlds.  

We no longer reluctantly allow world truths into our living rooms at the dinner hour.  We don’t find ourselves changed against our wills.  The sheer volume of “information” out there has allowed us to choose.  Compelled us to choose.  In the 21st century, we can simply inhabit our own personal, comfortable universes, populated with things and people who entertain us, make us feel good, underscore the opinions we already have and don’t challenge us to form new ones.  And since all this stuff is coming at us from the media that we were raised to trust (a trust based on long-extinct principles of truth and transparency in broadcasting), we feel validated and justified in these insular worlds we now inhabit.  “It was on TV (the radio, the internet) so it must be right.”      

The media takeover of America that once enlightened, enriched and empowered us, now serves to neutralize us.   Blind us.  Enable our addiction to the comforts and pleasures of inhabiting one of the richest nations on the planet.  Why should I care about changing the world?  I’ve got MY cozy little reality!

Talk about going to hell in a well-upholstered, insulated and encapsulated handbasket…

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