We have about a month left of Jupiter in Gemini. What have we learned over the course of its tenure (June 11th, 2012 – June 25th, 2013)? Jupiter bestows the gift of perspective upon those who are ready for it. It makes conscious the previously unconscious models we’ve been using to confer meaning on things. These models frame our relationship with the big, wide world.
Most of us don’t think of this as a relationship, as such. But just as we all have a relationship with a certain family, or with a significant other (or are consciously aware of the absence of one), we all have a relationship with the outer world.1
In our era, this relationship is mediated by what we call, aptly enough, the media. What is this creature, exactly? It’s an incessant ingress and egress of information (Gemini) that shapes our worldview (Jupiter). It does so regardless of how often or seldom we tweet, email or Google. It affects us whether or not we watch the news. Its billboards and commercials flood our mental and spatial environment regardless of what we think of advertising.
The mass media is the primary belief-manufacturing system of the modern world. We can’t afford not to understand how it works.
Would you say your relationship with the media is an empowered one? Or is it dysfunctional, leaving you with feelings of helplessness, exploitation and manipulation — the kind of feelings that, if they happened in your other relationships, would alarm you enough to head for the exit and slam the door behind you?
It’s important to identify the dysfunction involved. But then comes the realization that we can’t turn away from the world we incarnated into. Consciousness seekers have made a pact with our soul-selves to keep our minds and hearts open. This means finding a way to be informed by the media, rather than being drained, deluded or made numb by it.
Between the Lines
The first step in developing a healthy relationship with the media is to understand that the news can tell us a lot — if we listen implicitly rather than explicitly. For example, from the amount of airtime devoted to a given news story, we can see right away what our society’s priorities are. In the way events are framed, we can see what our national myths are. If we listen “between the lines” we can infer the agenda of the powers-that-be.
Consider the way the media reported a cluster of martial events that packed themselves into a few days in mid-April. On April 14th, under the Mars-Sun conjunction, Venezuela had an election, the legitimacy of which was immediately and hotly disputed by Washington.2 The next day came the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Three days after that came a fatal explosion of a fertilizer plant in Texas.
Let’s take a look at those last two events for a moment. In the USA the Boston tragedy, which featured three deaths caused by two Chechen emigres, was deemed immeasurably more newsworthy than the Texas explosion, which featured fourteen deaths caused, it could be argued, by a twenty-year absence of OSHA inspections.
This is not about comparing tragedies as if it were a contest. This is about looking at how the media shapes our worldview, by insinuating a particular set of priorities into our minds like a cuckoo laying eggs in another bird’s nest.
It was the young Muslims who got the attention, not the systemic infrastructural neglect in Texas. And yet, wouldn’t it be fair to say that the Texas explosion was the one with the simpler fix? But any voices calling for, say, the appraisal and reform of government regulatory laxity were quickly drowned out by the hyper-saturation coverage of the Boston story.
The Marathon bombing was a media wet dream. It offered up an orgiastic cocktail of panic and nationalistic zeal, together with a fabulously clear-cut target for blame: two perps caught with blood on their hands. Moreover, the real-time chase, killing and capture scenes satisfied the public’s thirst for exciting extrajudicial punishment.
If, during those frenzied days in mid-April, there had been any journalistic interest in plumbing the motives of the bombers, we didn’t hear much about it. Conceivably, the media could have stepped back from the action, and come up with thought-provoking questions to add nuance to the conversation. Such as, what kinds of experiences led these young men, seemingly average in many ways, to acts of sociopathic rage? What kinds of information had they been hearing about world affairs? Was it different from what Americans hear? Were there events in their upbringing that served as models for their violence?
But there was little creative inquiry. One had the sense that the tone of the coverage was being set by the pitchfork-rattling patriots at Fox News.
Black and White
There’s clearly an agreement between the mainstream media and the moneyed forces behind it (see Pluto and the Media) to frame events in terms as black-and-white as possible. This is the opposite of cultivating popular intelligence (from Latin, intelligere: to discern). What we end up with is a vicious circle of dumbing-down: the public has been trained to expect grotesque oversimplification in the depiction of current events; and so, news programmers who want to remain competitive dare not disappoint us by presenting shades of grey.3
Tragically, there is an even more significant vicious circle at work here: The Boston killers made their own vilification all too easy. By committing a heinous act, they did not disappoint our expectations. They cooperated fully in the view of them as evil.
When it was reported – almost as an afterthought — that the bombers’ motivation had been to avenge the killing of Muslims by the US military, it caused no ripples upon the smooth gloss of the storyline. I suspect that this bit of news, far from deepening the public’s understanding of the crime, only served to solidify the stereotype of evil religious fanaticism with which the brothers had been identified. I heard no reporter draw a parallel between the innocent civilians killed in Boston and the 14,728 innocent civilians who have lost their lives over the past six years in Afghanistan.
Had anyone on TV ventured to suggest, ever so tentatively, that a relationship might exist between the Boston murders and the 5,000 drone murders that Washington has committed over the past few years (many of the dead having been children: children just as innocent as the child who was killed in Boston4), my guess is the idea would have been condemned as a treasonous blasphemy.
Everyone seems to agree that sheer numbers of deaths are not what make one tragedy matter more than another. Case in point: the sweatshop collapse in Bangladesh5 a week after the marathon bombing, with a death count of 1,127, received exponentially less press in the USA than did the event in Boston. But if numbers aren’t what makes a tragedy worthy of airtime, then what does? If we want to empower our relationship with the media, we need to have a sense of the media’s unwritten laws of newsworthiness.
One of the most obvious is the way the American media spins international events to fit our current government’s foreign policy: e.g. Venezuelan elections, Iranian tyranny, Cuban “terrorist harboring”7. To get reported, an event has to fit the official story.
Thus, because the official story says that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are “over,”6 it is scantily reported that civilians and American soldiers are still dying there.
Those of us who believe that our thoughts shape our reality will want to consider our relationship to the mass media, and to the world moment it mirrors back to us. If the mirror is distorted, we do ourselves no favors by absorbing its messages unfiltered.
In the monthly Skywatches, we have been looking at how each of us is impacted on a personal level by these intense times, especially during a watery year like this one. How, as individuals, can we hold on to our psychic integrity while keeping our finger on the pulse of the times? As the second half of 2013 unfolds, Skywatch will address this delicate balancing act. How do we stay in touch without being overwhelmed? How do we maintain healthy boundaries while keeping our hearts open?
1 I discuss the relationship between individual and epoch in “The World Moment”, in Transpersonal Astrology.
2 Hugo Chavez’s protégé Nicolas Maduro was declared the winner, a fact that was surprising only because Washington has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to destabilize Venezuela since Chávez was first elected president in 1999.
3 Among cultural observers, there’s an ongoing chicken-or-egg debate about this. It asks: Has the mass media caused the dumbing-down of the American public, or is the media simply giving an already simple-minded public what it wants? The question is moot, if we believe that we humans create our reality, individually and collectively, via our thoughts, expectations, desires and beliefs. From this point of view, the mechanism at play between the media and the populace is not cause-and-effect, but mirroring.
4 A week before the Marathon, a NATO airstrike left 11 Afghan civilians dead. Ten of them were children.
5 Those reporters who looked for a local angle to that horror, to point out the story’s relevance to their American audience, found it in the fact that some of the clothing manufactured in that deathtrap had been destined to end up on the backs of American consumers.
6 To get at the truth of this despite the media’s nonsense and omissions, we need to consider that most of the Americans left in Iraq are “advisers” and “embassy personnel” (oil industry employees, mercenaries, and spies such as the CIA’s agents provocateurs)–that is, individuals who were never part of the official story to begin with.
7 Cuba is on Washington’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism” — a list that also includes Iran, Syria and Sudan — because it has harbored Colombian rebels, Basque militants, and aging American social justice activists.