Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Recently, I've had discussions about media and its role in shaping behavior of the masses- specifically, whether mass-market culture promotes consumerism and environmentally unsustainable practices; and whether hip-hop culture promotes violence and racism. The flip side to the argument is whether these cultures are merely a byproduct of audience tastes. I've done my share of media-bashing, but I'm also pretty sure that they're only a small part of the puzzle. CNN is terrible, but if it is viewed by millions of Americans as the daily news, then who is to blame, CNN or Americans?
The short answer is both, but since that's a cop-out answer, the long answer is: what good is it to blame anybody? It's fashionable to blame hip-hop culture when gang violence rears its ugly head, and it's fashionable to blame the media when it spends 6 hours of coverage on Britney Spears or Drew Peterson. But blaming "the media" is akin to blaming nobody; it's like a blame version of Kitty Genovese- spread enough blame around and nobody is really going to take responsibility.
The link above is another symptom of this knee-jerk reaction to assign blame. It's a bill in Congress to do something about the Internet and its role in radicalizing terrorist groups. A lot of things that Congress does make no sense, and this is actually not the crux of the bill, but I wanted to point out that it is the only medium mentioned by name. As if terrorists don't use cell phones, television, paper, and even face-to-face communication. No, it's the internet that has helped spread terrorism.
The thing is, I won't even disagree with assertion. Just like I'm not going to dispute that video games (and violent movies and television) might cause violence in less stable members of the population, or that guns might cause violence. Sure, it might be true, but what are you going to do about it? Ban violent culture? Ban guns? Blame the internet? The point I'm trying to make is that these things are reality, and blaming them or trying to quell them is like the industrial revolution workers that destroyed the machinery that was "taking" their jobs. Things change in the world, and it's better to work with them than it is to fight against the inevitable. So it makes sense to blame the Internet. To the creators of this bill, cell phones, television, and talking are part of reality for them. They've accepted their place in the world, but the Internet just doesn't make sense to them.
I'm sure that's an oversimplification, but I'm painting with a broad brush. Blaming the media is fashionable, I'm sure, because it's an unprovable assertion. But what if we really could understand the causes and effects of the media? If we really knew why Britney Spears gets so much airtime, maybe we can change the rules of the game so that it isn't such a profitable combination to air her 24/7. Or maybe we would just learn to accept that Britney Spears is an absolutely compelling human interest story, that violent video games are fun, and that hip hop is violent and racist because it's just more awesome that way.