By Roland Watson
Once again, it is important to remember that the media are selling products. (This is more fundamental than the presented mission of providing information and entertainment.) For instance, most modern movies are "constructed," not created. The latter is the outcome of artistic originality, of the creative impulse and process. The former is a production process, requiring only the assembly of a number of stock components, such as:
- Who is the good guy and who is the bad guy?
- Who's the love interest?
- Where's the humor?
- Who gets killed, and why: what simple, easily digestible moral do they break?
- How does the film generate excitement and grab the audience's interest? (Bombs and sex!)
- How is the story spun off in an unexpected direction, to maintain this interest, i.e., if there is not enough natural tension, how do you artificially add more?
- Etc., Etc.
As a result, with most movies you know the entire story in a few minutes: what directions the plot might take, where it is likely to go, and who will win and lose. A few films, though, the good ones, keep you guessing until the end. And in a great film, such as The Usual Suspects, or Casablanca, you do not even know what has really happened, or what it all meant, until the end.
Of course, it is not all glamour and fantasy. The media also appeal to our worst curiosities and fears. They feed us freak shows, and they prey on our fears by presenting the most extreme, and therefore unlikely possibilities, as if they are not only inevitable, but also imminent. And all of this, which is really only self-serving propaganda, they call entertainment.
However, we do not want to miss the most important message of all, the reason why they sell us these things. The main point is to attract corporate advertising. All of the above actions of the media are an integral part of their overall persuasive objective, which is to convert us, to standardize us, to dumb us down, into the largest possible corporate mass market. High ratings equal high ad rates! The basic purpose of the modern media, especially the TV, is to bring about this conformity.
In practice, rather than satisfy our needs, they appeal to our motivations. And to get the greatest effect they have to concentrate on the motivations to which everyone will respond. Hence, they prey on our common fears and insecurities (fear of pain, and of loneliness and lack of social acceptance), through which they create stress and guilt, and for which their corporate sponsors provide the cure. Indeed, in their quest for the lowest common denominator, they even appeal to our autonomous bodily processes.
All film directors and advertising executives have learned that as part of our natural defense mechanisms, our eyes react, by reflex, to jerky images. This is why much modern video programming, both film and TV, and almost all advertising, shows a continuous string of short, ever-moving images. Our eyes are compelled to watch, and the same effect occurs with sound as well. By changing the background sound and music, again and again, we are compelled to listen.
This is one of the most effective techniques of modern brainwashing. It is a scientifically proven method of behavioral manipulation, and it is used against us all the time.
I have used the phrase dumbing down a number of times, which though unattractive is succinct and easily understood. But what are the specific components of this new state: in what ways are we now more dumb?
The first aspect of this is a reduced span of attention (as if it were not already short enough). We adapt to the rapidly changing imagery, and feel deprived when it is not provided. The general affect is one of acceleration. We expect and want things fast, and if we do not get them this way, we become impatient.
This specific trait also extends to other social trends. For example, the media force the government to take a short-term focus, in the same way that investment analysts force companies to concentrate on quarterly earnings. In the face of such scrutiny, neither the government, nor companies, are able to step back and take a more reasoned, and hence more likely of success, long-term view. Said another way, if we have problems the media encourage us to seek their resolution right now, although by doing this we all but guarantee that such attempts will fail.
With our reduced attention and patience, we are also losing our ability to remember. (If your memory is really short, you do not even recognize the media's repetition: that you have heard or seen the same thing before.) And through all of this we are losing our ability to discern and discriminate, in other words, to think independently. But this is exactly what the media want, and what they are doing everything in their power to help bring about.
The media do not distinguish issues and events by their relative importance, and neither, it seems, can we. Much of what the media produce is fluff, although it is usually presented to us as being extremely important. For this emphasis on the irrelevant, the media sacrifice their coverage of the real issues of life. They do not encourage us - or give us the knowledge - to understand and prioritize these issues.
All of this is furthered by our shrinking vocabulary. Rather than phrase things so that intelligent people will understand and appreciate them, the media present their subjects in ways suitable to viewers who are unable to tie their own shoelaces. Also, in the rare circumstances when they do present a complex subject, they simplify it to the point of distortion. (And, of course, few people read, which is the real route to an expansive vocabulary.)
In addition, everything we get from the media is consumable; it is here today but gone tomorrow. (What was the Best Picture Academy Award two years ago?) The premise of the media, their primary directive, is that there always has to be something new. There is little effort, few attempts, to create enduring cinema, literature and art.
Instead, the focus is on the sensational, for which we have checkbook journalism, and on bad news. Indeed, with rare exceptions any good news is withheld. For instance, whenever there is a large amount of rainfall, we are inundated with news about floods. But the rain also means that previously low reservoirs are now filling up, ensuring sufficient water for the next few harvests. Rather than give us the good news, the media focus on the cycle of the bad: from flood to drought to flood to drought.
Of course, such things as floods, fires and earthquakes do make good photos: they attract our attention. But more importantly, what such coverage demonstrates is that the media promote negativity. We are presented with so much bad news, and violence, and ugly and unethical people, that unconsciously we are shaped to believe that that's the way things really are, and the way they will always be. The media are the primary reinforcers of negative attitudes and unethical behavior, and through this they position themselves in direct opposition to the general optimism and forward progress of life.
Through all of this we now view everything - certainly all media - based only on its ability to entertain. And for those things that we do find entertaining, all is forgiven. ("There is no such thing as bad publicity.") Anything is acceptable as long as it is entertaining: unethical and corrupt government leaders, crime, even murder, and the more violent, the better!
"I feel stupid...Entertain us!"
- Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
This is what I meant earlier when I talked about de-evolution. The media are appealing to our most primitive genetically driven behavioral patterns. (They may even be activating another type of "gene regulation," turning on normally dormant genes, the behavioral genes of our predecessor species.) And through this we are being debased. What occurred to the citizens of ancient Rome, through their exposure to cruel and murderous "circuses," is now being perpetrated on us.
And it is not just fantasy violence, or death in war, to which we are exposed. Given the opportunity, the media will even sneak us a real "snuff" film or image, such as of a legislator in Pennsylvania sucking on a gun before blowing off his head ("Hey man, nice shot!," Filter), or of a man murdering his ex-wife, while she is being interviewed in a cemetery: at the gravesite of their child, of all places. It's Real TV, it's objective, and it happened, and the media made sure we were there to see it. For free.
But it is not free. Actions have consequences. If you are exposed to such things, to people being torn apart by lions, or their modern equivalents, you are debased. As a person you are lowered, you become more savage.
As another anecdote, while I was writing this, in Thailand, the TV stations there showed a failed rescue attempt of a roof jumper suicide, again and again, including the woman hitting the ground. In the weeks following this, suicide rates in the country rose dramatically, yielding, of course, many more stories to cover, including the media's own role therein. Also, it is not only your debasement that images such as these fuel. There is also the matter of your children: the media will make sure that they see it too. How do you explain a suicide to a child, who is so full of life that he or she would ordinarily never even conceive of such a thing? How do you explain that this woman was so depressed, such as from losing her job, or her boyfriend, or through the use of drugs, or clinical insanity, that she wanted to die?
Images like this should never be shown. But they are, as often as the media feel they can get away with it, or are lucky enough to get the footage. (Following this, also in Thailand, the leading national newspaper had a front-page full color photo of the bloody body of a woman who had been raped and murdered, with only a small piece of cloth covering her groin. This prompted a brief outcry. What this demonstrates is that the media, or any institution, if they can get away with something, will do it again and again.)
We saw earlier that without some external check, there is no limit to what a corporation will charge for a product. The same effect exists with the media and what they will show. Without public outrage, they will show anything. Fortunately, some people are still able to feel outrage: they have not watched enough TV and films to be debased by them. Otherwise, this trend would continue and we would inevitably get such things as pay per view executions, with sexual torture, and with children as the victims or torturers. Or, you could have a willing victim, such as a convict with no hope of parole, and a portion of the broadcast proceeds would go to his or her heirs. (And then there is the possibility of websuicide.com - which domain name has already been registered - where you could pay to watch other people kill themselves.)
You have to feel sorry for the fans of supermarket tabloids, "professional" wrestling, and "slasher flicks." They really missed their era. In another age they could have watched, or participated in, human sacrifices. (However, executions are televised in Guatemala, and there is also the option of travel to Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan, to catch a beheading in person.)
The net result of all of this is that we are dumber. We are debased, our vocabulary and education is reduced, and I wouldn't be surprised if our IQ's have fallen as well. (Watching TV has the opposite effect of listening to classical music.) Furthermore, we are regressing ethically, becoming more selfish, competitive and negative. And all of this has been "accomplished" to increase our susceptibility to outside influences, to soften us up for corporate advertising. So, to conclude my review of this dreaded social form, I'll make a few comments about this advertising.
© Roland Watson 2016