This post is inspired by Rule of Stupid’s post We are so much more wonderful than we let ourselves believe and informed by Guy Debord’s classic ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ and the rantings of controversial French philosopher Baudrillaird…I’m not half as clever as any of them, but I think my explanation of what I think is so insidious about the media in our post modern world takes a little from each of their theories…
In my response to RoS post, I propounded Baudrillaird’s notion that the media could never be a force for positive change, because by its very nature, it keeps us one step removed from reality:
― Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation
I commented that I’d often pondered what the world was like when it was smaller: smaller because pre-technology, it was harder to know what was happening outside of our own communities, and impossible to know what was happening on the other side of the world. But I also wonder how the experience of living in a world which is so relentlessly enmeshed in a game of self-perpetuating surveillance and reportage affects us and the way in which we behave, politically, socially and culturally. I’m not just talking about the dis-empowering passivity created by being able to watch the suffering of human beings on the other side of the world on our televisions; a phenomenon perfectly summed up by Susan Sontag- ‘Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers’- but rather the way in which the knowledge that we are being watched, that we are being reported on, constantly affects our responses.
It seems to me that what is wrong with our political and social infrastructures is that they no longer seek to come up with the ‘right’ solutions to our problems but rather the solutions which ‘look and sound right’: a subtle difference I know, but one which has devastating consequences because instead of ending up with hard to face truths which have the potential to lead to solutions, we end up with marketing ideas and emotional rhetoric, carefully doctored to appeal to the majority. Policy should be informed by unbiased authenticity not ill-informed spin.
I don’t watch the news anymore because it is my silent protest against relentless media interpretation and a world where almost every ‘professional’ decision, whether made by a doctor, social worker or politician, is made with one eye on the news: where, too often, the question asked on an individual and collective level by those in power is not ”What can I do to help this fellow human being/society?’ but rather ‘How will the decisions I make look from the outside?’ and crucially ‘What do I need to do to make sure that I am not held accountable for anything that goes wrong as a consequence of my decisions?’
I’m not against visibility and accountability per se in so much as it can provide protection from hubris, but I am against rule by media mob, against a world so bewilderingly huge and all seeing that it no longer allows for humanity, compassion and good intention, for the making of difficult, unpopular and yet sometimes necessary decisions.