Rupert Murdoch, the Australian media mogul, is back in the news. The 21st-Century’s answer to William Randolph Hearst (comedian Jon Stewart calls him Citizen Shame) has once again been dragged away from his yacht to answer questions. An investigative panel wants the what-did-he-knows and when-did-he-know-its about the bribing of cops and the hacking of murder victims’ cell phones for sensational press.
Also in late April, a new survey came out in the American media about the American media, concluding that – surprise! – most of the stories reported on the news are mindlessly superficial.
We’ve just been through a month that saw the Sun triggering the Mercury-Pluto opposition in the US chart (the signature of propaganda), transiting Pluto (corruption) stationing en route to its exact square with Uranus (sudden revelation), and Mars stationing opposed to transiting Neptune (mass hypnosis). It’s time to take another look at the nature of the information we take into our consciousness.
It is odd, in a way, how undiscriminating most of us are about where our news comes from. Especially given how careful we are becoming about, say, the origins of our food (consider how unanimously the public rejected ground beef after the recent expose about “pink slime”). In order to stay sane during the years ahead, we need to be no less careful about how much mental nutrition vs. toxicity is in the media we consume.
News channels give the public what it seems to want, and the public grows to want more of what they are offered. It’s a vicious circle of dumbness. We are conditioned at this point to desire the most late-breaking coverage possible; that is, the up-to-the-minuteness of a given event – not its meaning – is presented as its most important value. Also popular is triviality: the maximum amount of airtime is devoted to the silliest possible non-events; for example, Mitt Romney strapping his dog to the roof of his car thirty years ago. The stories that get mentioned paint a picture of the world that is so meaningless and insubstantial as to keep viewers from remembering how to use their minds, let along from achieving clarity of mind.
But the perniciousness of the media lies not just in its content but in its form. On TV events are highlighted piecemeal, without context or continuity, suggesting a soulless randomness. All tarted up with exclamatory candy-colored graphics, news stories seem to be intended to appeal to an audience of kindergarteners with attention deficit disorder — which, as has been well-noted, viewers of the mass media increasingly resemble. The viewer who hears a cursory mention of a terrible famine somewhere in the world, only to have the program abruptly cut to a commercial for fast food, risks the development of a peculiarly modern spiritual disconnection.
It is telling that it is in China right now that the breathless vapidity of the infotainment industry is especially striking. In the efforts of this newly ascendant superpower to out-capitalism the capitalists, China is mirroring back to us the manic look-and-feel of US pop culture, rendered extra obvious via the crassness of imitation. Consider the popular Chinese magazine whose title translates to: “Next!”
It’s a means of disseminating information that not only fails to encourage a holistic understanding of what’s going on in the world, but actively discourages it. Thus are the failures of the media not merely stupidly innocuous but dangerous. During these years of the Cardinal Cross, we are up against the challenge of keeping our minds and hearts open amidst an onslaught of very disturbing world events, while maintaining a grounded, thoughtful equanimity. More than ever before, we require intelligence sources of the highest quality.
The New Media poses another problem. Digital gadgets further undercut our ability to truly absorb important information: taking the time to subject it to our personal values and ethics, so we know how to use it. In the wild world of cyber data, abbreviation and speed are valued over subtlety of thought and expression. We are kept from reflecting long enough upon anything to discern patterns of meaning in it, let alone to get in touch with our feelings about it.
We really can’t afford to be drawn off focus like this. As meaning-seekers facing a rip-roaring ride over the next few years, we need our brain cells as healthy as we can keep them. This means staying vigilant about whose point of view is behind the media we are consuming. What agenda is our favorite news program pushing? Who’s sponsoring the radio show we’re listening to? What motivation does Goldman Sachs have for underwriting those tasteful PBS series?
In order to stay plugged in, we need the media. But we also need to see it as no more or less than a tool, a resource — to be used by us, not the other way around.