This Is Why We’re Dumb
As industrious as the United States is as a nation, we love to hit the “easy button”. The main reason we are so industrious is because most of our efforts go towards creating easy buttons. Ironically, we like it so cheap and easy that we now have China manufacturing our easy buttons. When you think about it, the easy button didn’t start with 20th century inventions like the remote control, microwave oven, cruise control and the internets. Slavery was about as big an easy button you could have. And while Americans didn’t invent it, they sure had a REALLY hard time relinquishing it. But the easy button mentality doesn’t end with consumer goods. American media consumption reflects that when topics gets are boring, too difficult to understand, or too difficult to deal with, we find an easy way out.
In the last 20 years, American news media devolved from one of the most respected sources of information on the planet to a minstrel show. Uhh… but instead of white entertainers in blackface, you have attractive entertainers of every hue in cleavage and newsface: a mummer’s farce passing off as real news. A good part of that reality has to do with Americans looking for an easy way out: We kinda care about what’s happening in Darfur, but it’s too sad and too intense and way too complicated and there’s nothing we can do about it, right? So please just tell us what happening with the Octo-mom. That’s news right there. Cuz, it’s local… She’s in California! It’s easier to vent our outrage about her sanity, her doctor’s ethics and where our tax dollars are going than to try to follow a complex issue that’s outside of our borders and doesn’t directly effect us- even if it means ignoring massive loss of human life.
To feed our appetite for what’s easy, the mainstream media hits their own easy button and gives us exactly what we want -that way they don’t need to work too hard either. And don’t think it’s a one-way relationship. By controlling what we hear and see, they get to set the national conversation. But it’s not just the news media. Film and television programming also have their hand in setting the national mood and moving people into action. Have you seen ‘Back to the Future’ since the 80’s? Today, the movie’s propaganda seems like such a ham-fisted attempt to set the nation’s perception of Libya. NBC’s ‘LA Law’ played a part in glut of new attorneys in the late 80’s and 90’s. Did you know that there’s currently a near-crisis shortage of nurses in the US that’ll only worsen as Baby Boomers retire? Don’t worry, though. There are two new nurse dramas here to save the day: Showtime’s ‘Nurse Jackie’ and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new nurse drama ‘Hawthorne’ (check your local listings). It may just be a coincidence, but lets just hope that Nursing becomes sexy and cool before those shows are taken off the air. Otherwise we’re fucked.
Imagine being at a social gathering and someone walks into the room and says “How crazy is it that there’s an industry that makes billions of dollars from killing people around the world? Talk amongst yourselves…” and walks out. That’s effectively what the mainstream media does -only they wouldn’t talk about the weapons industry because one of the biggest profiteers from the Iraq war also pays Brian Williams’s salary. So there’s also plenty of agenda setting by omission.
Speaking of omission… So where were the Brian Williamses of the world on Saturday when the people of Iran realized that something wasn’t right with the election results that sewed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the Supreme Leader of Iran’s puppet strings for another four years? Even though the President of Iran has no real power, it seems that a substantial part of the electorate had hope that a new president would be able to take a more pragmatic approach to governance and world-facing or at least reflect an evolution in the Supreme leader and his council’s governance and world facing. Riots, protests and acts of violence showed that they were more than a little displeased with the status quo of their authoritarian democracy. There’s a very real possibility that they’ve begun a new revolution in Iran. And the US news media was shamefully absent in covering it. I’m not going to beat that dead horse too badly, a lot of other bloggers who are a lot smarter than me beat me to it. But I mean, the shit was embarrassing. Before the election, Ahmadinijad may have inoculated himself from the US media’s in-depth coverage of his fuckery, by saying that the Western media’s reporting of the results may skew perceptions. So they backed off. But if that’s the case, when are they going to learn that they don’t need to take cues from anyone? They were GW Bush’s megaphone between September 11th 2001 and somewhere around the time that the Bush administration lost all credibility for their war in Iraq. Getting suckered by a foreign leader who’s widely regarded as “evil” makes our news media look even more buffoonish. The BBC didn’t fall for it. Their coverage was superb. And Twitter came through in a very big way. I honestly didn’t find Twitter very useful until I followed and got live tweets from Iranians –civilians on the ground- some risking life and liberty to send the world news of what was happening in their country.
If the folks who set our national agenda are dumb enough to fall for the Bush/ Ahmadinejad type of bullshit, time and time again, what does it say about us who listen to them? Even if it turns out that they were just lazy, hit the “easy button” and took the weekend off: “Election? What election? No one in America cares about an Iranian election?” It only shows that as a nation we really need to get our shit together, get more involved in the world and find alternatives to the agenda setting machine.
No? Ok, maybe this will make you feel better: