Thursday, March 30, 2023

Broadcast Culture

"TV, kid, videoton-brand, 1972"

Little more than a month ago on national television, it took an astronomer to dismiss the claims of some of our fellow Earthlings, for whom unidentified flying balloons were supposedly the vehicles of choice for aliens. The astronomer poured cold water on the idea that aliens so technologically advanced to traverse light years to reach us would choose balloons for Earthly travel.

Perhaps media gatekeepers presented the non-story of alarm concerning "balloon-traveling aliens" tongue-in-cheek. But wait, these are the same media gatekeepers who allow us no escape from the delusions of hoodlums, thugs, and criminals in politics. Do media "infotainers" really believe that we, the listeners or readers, are uncritically addicted to "news" stories about violent threats to life, liberty, and happiness? 

Frankly, some of us are looking for media probes that require accountabilitymost importantly, to stimulate more timely and effective use of the legal system. At least some of us also expect the media to track any positive proposals from politicians to improve this system, as well as our lives more broadly. Or, when no proposals are offered, to find ways to give access to voices demanding their development, and to hold politicians accountable for delivery on promised changes.

We all know that threats and violence on the media sell, of course. Followers of crime movies, for example, celebrate the early 1970s as spawning the most productions in this genre. Many more apparently than The Godfather in 1972 and Part II in 1974. Whether for entertainment or as exploration of the human psyche, or both, the characters in these productions and their doings have become part of our cultureright alongside the even larger trove of less artful exploitations of violence on television, the movie screen, and in video games. 

We don't really need the last five decades of diligent research into broadcast violence to know that many people become addicted to violence, not only as voyeurs. Uncovering precisely how much broadcast violence stimulates violence in society, much less what it does to our culture is a challenge. Even considering ways to lower people's expression of violence by diminishing their exposure to violence is difficult, especially when the incidence of violence in the media shows little sign of declining. 

But maybe some clever researchers can connect dots between the media's devotion to violence and the current crop of hoodlum politicians who have come into prominence more recently. The 1970s and later were the same decades that these bad actors refined their techniques of intimidation, bullying, and lyingwhich also apparently makes them appealing to the media.

Perhaps more simply, more journalists and interviewers can learn from the relatively few bright lights in the media who ask solid, follow-up questionsto probe these bad actors' inanities or worse. Too many folks in the media seem more focused on keeping conversation polite, or getting any answer from a public figure of supposed higher-social power. Interviewers should be directly asking the questions listeners want asked.

It's time to cut down the verbatim diatribes of the farcical public figures, who very much belong elsewhere than the public stage.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Parrots with Purpose

Original beauty
is licensed under CCA-SA 3.0 Unported

Three years ago, at about this time, recognition was dawning that no one was immune from the global pandemic of coronavirus. We thirsted for clarity, just to navigate everyday life. Anxiety and melancholy abounded, with many people glued to television and other media in hopes some action would stop the spread of the virus.

We figured out lockdowns, social distancing, work and study from home, contact tracing, hospitalization rates, and how to deal with an unfathomable loss of loved ones. And no pathways for remedy appeared for a long while. It was a time we all acquired stories we'd rather not recall.

Meanwhile, anti-vaxers, anti-mask advocates, and other pseudo-populists exploited the opportunity, with ruthless disregard for human life, truth, and freedoms. Some got access to public megaphones to play on fears, parroting weird remedies to the virus, along with other false hopes or diversions. 

Coming just two days after the Centers for Disease Control in the US recommended no gatherings of 50 or more people, St. Patrick's Day celebrations were muted. Regrettably, the tale about St. Patrick driving the snakes out of Ireland remained just a legend. Instead, the local purveyors of snake-oil gained greater media airtime than most, with the nonsense-chatter and personal attacks from these pseudo-populists continuing to grow. And each silly season of electioneering just further intensifies screeches for the camera.

We know that pseudo-populists are also adept using computer networks and social media powerfully against freedoms of thought, speech, and association. More so than with the coronavirus pandemic though, efforts from each of us can seriously help to counter this virus. We can all do our bit to

  • Hold public figures and the media accountable.
  • Stand up to the verbal abuse that George Orwell predicted.
  • Reassert truth and other core values in daily life.

Democracies tend to move slowly to hold bad actors accountable. Prosecutions for defamation, perjury, mail or wire fraud in political fundraising, or other schemes and artifices proceed, if at all, at slower than snails-pace. Legal processes are generally failing to deter much less hold any of the lead bad actors accountable. 

Speaking out remains one of the few viable ways to dismantle the distracting, distorting, or destructive disinformation and misinformation of pseudo-populists. 

Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is to join a political party and find ways to advocate for what you believe in. Otherwise, the hot-air of pseudo-populists will keep filling the gap. A lesson from my brushes with politics is that just a few strong and organized voices can make a real difference relatively quickly to the tenor and direction of these groups, locally, nationally, or beyond.

Whether by joining in these efforts or with support in other ways, any of us can help democracy thrive. What might you do to:

1. Be first to speak up about the concerns that matter to people's daily life, especially speaking out to elected representatives and local media.   

2. Expect and demand accountability of elected leaders, regulators, judiciary, administrators, mainstream and social media platform gatekeepers, or any others whose failure to take prompt action enables pseudo-populists.

3. Support thoughtful family, friends, and neighbors to be involved in school boards or other community organizations and groups.

3. Detect and refuse to repeat propaganda or the constantly parroted names of propagandists. 

4. Challenge and reframe nonsense talk to address what will benefit peoplelike access to food, a roof overhead, healthcare, jobs, safety, freedoms, and peace of mind.

5. Save energy for push-back that matters.

Failures to do so surrender the control of one's life to others, a process that Orwell describes so well in Animal Farm. During the takeover of the farm, the autocratic pigs use the other animals' inaction, fuzzy memory, and limited reasoning ability to confuse collective memories and impose weird rules. The pigs secure obedience largely because their fellow animals ponder ambiguities, without taking any action.

When pseudo-populists already have a head-start in noise, skills, and resources, especially computing resources, it's time to reduce the uncertainties, to catch up, and to scale activities that will outwit these propagandists.