Twenty four hours a day we are bombarded with words and images that shape the way we make sense of the world around us. Our very culture is largely a construct of powerful and too often remote newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, internet sites, advertising executives, corportate nobodies… all of whom are in competition to bring us information that they consider we want to be fed. The information is too often biased and subjectified with no consideration for reality. It is an illusion of a product or a person or an event that we are meant to consume without the opportunity to seriously question. Even phone-ins are managed to ensure that the narrative remains within a fairly narrow paradigm and usually the presenter cuts people off if their contributions stray from what is the ‘accepted voice’. We are expected to dutifully comply. If we do not then we are chastised, stigmatised and ridiculed. The mass media lets us in but only if we play the game.
The Sun’s page 3 is an abomination. Embedding journalists in with those who are responsible for defining the enemy during wartime is understandable but ultimately lazy and partial. Trusting senior police officers without triangulation is criminal (often literally). Persuading readers to conform to the editors/owners prejudices is pathetic. Our minds are a combination of the most sophisticated combination of bio chemicals and yet they can become nothing more than play doh in the wrong hands. Check out Edward Bernays if you do not believe me.
What if we do not want to play or do not like the game? Where can we go to have our voice heard? Well not the mainstream I am afraid. There are voices in the wilderness but they are gestures, not the norm. Because of this any changes towards challenging the status quo are small and take a long time. If we pack our media with public school boys and girls or those who have been brought up with a narrow view of the defintion of ‘success’ then we cannot expect a radical shake up of the conservative orthadoxy. Instead of sensible debates about the environment; gender; ethnicity; immigration; inequality; science; sexuality; the work place; education; health; food; the media; religion… etc etc we have soundbites and hypebole and too often this lack of discussion and the skills to take part lead to fear and ignorance taking prominence. Our minds become anaesthetised unless we take the lead and take the time to investigate for ourselves.
Celebrity culture is at the root of this deadening of our consciousness and our consciences. Having botox ridden rich remote people plastered all over our media does nothing for us apart from making us envious, jealous, bitchy and dumbed down. Ironically if politicians and acamemics are expected to be cool and down with the people then they are expected to know about Eastenders and Miley Cyrus. ‘Down with’ instead of ‘up with’ is the dominant language being applied. This legitimates in our minds that to be superior should be remote and that expertise and/or talent (whatever they may be) is the kudos to be achieved. If a ‘working class’ twenty something wins X factor we are told that there is hope for us all. ‘Keep repeating the lie and enough people will believe it’ is the mantra. Simon Cowell this and Cheryl Cole that has to be the most innane contribution humanity has ever had to withstand and yet because it is so prominent to not take part can be a faux pas. We can complain about Wayne Rooney’s weekly wage or Sheik whatever buying football players like children buy chocolate but there is no serious attempt by the media to challenge or analyse. Complaining becomes an end in itself and tends to make programmes more popular and as a consequence more attractive to advertisers and the money brokers. The bottom line.
Another contributory factor to the lack of analytical skills is the education system. From an early age memory is prioritised over cognitive skills. Young people should be helped to work things out for themselves as well as to work closely with their peers and parents. Instead of competing to read or complete times tables before their class mates all children should be taught to see each other as a learning resource. That way learning will take place through osmosis and not be contrived. If we learn to feel comfortable through listening, discussing and challenging with each other then our knowledge and skills will increase dramatically. We would then be much less likely to accept much of the dross that the media dispenses. The national curriculum is flawed because it is imposed. Much of the time spent is school is wasted because young people are forced to learn things they would rather not. The curriculum should be shaped for young people by young people and at the heart should be ‘why’. If the answer is not to the satisfaction of the learner then why force them? Wait until they are ready and let them seek that knowledge out for themselves. If we trust them they will find their way. Training them to be obedient workers accepting average or low pay is not a stimulant for life. It is a betrayal. As the teacher and writer John Taylor Gatto concluded at his acceptance speech upon being named as the New York State Teacher of the Year for 1991 “all of these lessons are prime training for permanent underclasses, people deprived forever of finding the center of their own special genius…. School is a twelve-year jail sentence, where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school, and win awards doing it. I should know.” If the media had anything about it it would highlight these issues and ask these questions and many more with the intention of provoking thought. Education and the media should be working together. The relationship with preparation for work is an indictment on society and those who perpetuate it.
Liberation is therefore the way forward. Questions that have so far been shunned should be commonplace. The powerful should be held to account for reality and not allowed to hide behind a veneer of untouchability. Lame language and lame duck journalists and editors who survive on ego and competition should be extrapolated from all forms of cultural communication before they damage us further. The time to emancipate the mind is essential for a real democracy and not the crass representation we are currently experiencing. There is a place for Rihanna and Grand Theft Auto but it should be no greater than the place for our minds to flourish and our futures determined. We should have a much greater say in what is news and what is entertainment and how it is presented. It can be done. It is being done. But instead of being on the periphery it should be our daily routine.
Bring it on!