Thursday, January 8, 2009

Please Think for Yourself

I watched the movie Network Tuesday night. It’s a 1978 “classic” that is listed at number 64 on the AFI’s list of the top 100 movies of all time (only 8 more to go until I’ve seen all 100). As with most of the movies I watch, I turn the DVD on and sit down to spend two hours watching something I’ve never heard of before and don’t really know the plot for. Immediately, I was intrigued with this movie. The whole plot centers around the entertainment industry; how ratings work, how programming happens, and what makes or breaks a network. It’s the very thing I want to know and do with my life – but not to the level that is in the film. No, I do not want to stoop that low.

The most interesting piece for me was watching the film in light of recent media coverage. Comparing what I know from my communication classes in high school and college to the media of today to this movie, there are some striking areas that overlap and to be frank are quite disconcerting.

One of my favorite classes in high school was an introduction to radio. Our school was fortunate enough to have an FM radio station built into the school and if you took this particular class you could have a radio show after school. It’s ironic that I stumbled into this class because it was the only thing that fit into my schedule. I didn’t want to be there because I thought it was a class for slackers (which to be honest it was) and I had no interest in media – media was not for a kid who took Honors and AP classes. I was a bit snobby – I admit it now. But I ended up loving that class. Because of it I was able to have an after school radio program with my friend my junior year and it also awakened my love affair with the media that had always been there but I had never pinpointed before. I learned that media could be a legitimate academic subject and something that speaks volumes about the world and influences us in such a way that we hardly even notice.

In college I took a class about media and journalism. Not my favorite class per say, but looking back it was probably one of the most practical classes I took and one that I recall often. We read a book in the class that talked about my generation and how gen xers and the generations to follow – I actually fall somewhere between the x and y (also known as the millennial) generations – don’t read newspapers. We watch TV or go online for our information, and the information we find is not true journalism. It’s influenced and biased and more gossip and entertainment news than anything else (yesterday I saw an article on MSN about the Bush family pet dying – yes, this is the breaking journalism of 2009). When I was in this class I believed passionately that this was ok. I argued that the times were changing and we didn’t need our news to be so cut and dry and boring. I still agree with that, but I’m starting to worry about my generation and those that will follow. Are we lemmings being led by the media? Do we even have an opinion? And if we have an opinion is it really ours or just something we heard and are now regurgitating.

I myself am not exempt from this – I do not think I’m any better than you. In fact, most of this post is inspired by things I’ve seen on TV or in a movie or heard on the radio. I am admittedly a huge media junkie – but I like to think its ok since I admit it. I’m actually probably worse than many of you who are reading this simply because I know my friends and I know they are all very intelligent people. I just think it’s scary the way the world is going.

I was reflecting on the media coverage of the recent Presidential election and I am thoroughly convinced that the media elected Barack Obama. I’m not saying that the American people didn’t go out and vote for him – they definitely did. What I’m saying is that had the media stuck to the facts and not added their opinion the election process would have been completely different. The result may have been the same – but the road there would have been totally different. I’m not saying Barack Obama will be a bad president I’m just saying that I don’t think he has been examined as closely as people think he has.

Don’t believe me? A well educated friend of mine voted for Obama because she knew his name. She didn’t know anything about his policies and hadn’t heard anything one way or the other about him other than she recognized his name. This is totally the media’s influence in favor of Obama. The coverage he received was far more positive than the coverage McCain received. Just look at SNL. On my way into work one morning I was listening to the radio and someone had called in to play a game for a contest. All he had to do was name the two candidates running for president. The caller said, “Barack Obama, and the girl with the Tina Fey glasses.” How are we an educated society when this is what the average person knows? No wonder the other countries make fun of us.

I don’t really have any answers and in the grand scheme of things I don’t really know all that much period. What I do know or at least feel is that I think we all have to be careful. The media has such a huge influence in our lives that if we’re not careful it’s easy to be manipulated. Use your brain and think about what is happening. Even when you’re watching a “reality” TV show – nothing is reality TV. Everything is controlled by the producers and manipulated by them. And don’t kid yourself – The Hills and everything related to it is completely staged. Even the news is manipulated simply by what they show and don’t show. What is “news” is what gets attention and gets ratings and more often than not the news is stuff you don’t need to know because the real news is too boring.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Network. It’s long but I’ve abridged it quite a bit too (as noted by the brackets).

“[…] less than three percent of you people read books […] less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers […] the only truth you know is what you get over this tube. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the Gospel, the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers... This tube is the most awesome God-damned force in the whole godless world, and woe is us if it ever falls in to the hands of the wrong people […] So, you listen to me. Listen to me: Television is not the truth! Television is a God-damned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a traveling troupe of acrobats, storytellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion tamers, and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business! So if you want the truth... Go to God! Go to your gurus! Go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're ever going to find any real truth. […] But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker's house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win. We'll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion! So turn off your television sets. Turn them off now. Turn them off right now. Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right in the middle of the sentence I'm speaking to you now! TURN THEM OFF...” – Howard Beale Network

1 comment:

Shera said...

Woo woo! You tell us, Ann :) ...and add to all this the "reality" of digital relationships and how they are replacing real ones... I know I'll cause some frowns for saying it, and I am on there too, but Facebook is just another form of media and our own manipulation of our own truths. hmm... ;)

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