As the late great American comedian Bill Hicks famously said “I don’t know if you’ve ever watched CNN for say for more than 20 hours in one day; but I can’t recommend that.” The whole point of the bit along with calling out the U.S. federal government, was to point out that mass media left and right has it’s own agenda and at least part of that agenda is to keep you confused, scared, and locked up in your home. That said, I would like to like to offer a few of my own observations for whatever they’re worth in the hopes you might gain some solace in knowing that the world we live in is not as bad as it seems.
First and foremost, journalism by definition is the process of gathering and disseminating the news, and information related to news, to an audience. The role and status of journalism, along with that of the mass media in general, has undergone profound changes over the last two decades with the advent of digital technology and publication of news on the internet. With that in mind, understand that every major news publication, regardless of the medium is now competing not only with amateurs, but also brand new legitimate internet only publications. My point is that like every other business, the news market is over-saturated.
Every publication is competing for the same eyeballs that now have not only thousands of other news sources to choose from, but also the same amount of new choices in video games, music, food, movies etc. For both better and worse, every market in the business world is now over-saturated thanks to the internet. The pros and cons vary from industry to industry but what concerns me the most and the reason I’m writing this blog post in how this global over-saturation has affected the news and subsequently our society.
The human brain wasn’t built to process the massive amount of negative information that seems to be unloaded upon us constantly 24 hours a day like like a dump truck filled with bad news stories that just keeps going and going and going. I’ll be honest, personally I’ve become very cynical when it comes to the news. Unfortunately for myself and Amy Poehler, we were both raised by loving parents in the suburbs and never experienced any real trauma during childhood. So as adults we now seek out what Amy refers to as ‘Tragedy Porn’ to “unlock deep feelings, cut through the numbness, and punish ourselves for our lucky lives.”
Here is Amy describing this phenomenon in her book Yes Please: “Sometimes I search out bad news as if reading the details will protect me somehow. I call it tragedy porn. I will fill myself up with every horrible detail about the latest horrible event and then quote it back to people like some bad news know it all. ‘Remember that Austrian dad Joseph Fritzl who raped his daughter and then kept her and her kids in the basement for 24 years.’ I do, because I spent many nights reading every horrible specific fact about it and talking about it to everyone who would listen.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not equating any success I’ve had with Amy Poehler, but I can absolutely relate and have had feelings like these my entire adult life. Why am I telling you all this? Because I’m certain there are other people out there that feel the exact same way and I hope this gives them at least a little perspective. Specifically, if I was talking to someone who can relate to the feeling that we’re all screwed and it’s only a matter of time before (insert global disaster of choice) causes the world to end, the following is what I would want them to know.
I like to think of good and evil metaphorically in terms of physics. Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. A bug hits the windshield of a bus and makes a mess in front of the face of the driver. This is a clear case of Newton’s third law of motion. The bug hit the bus and the bus hits the bug. Which of the two forces is greater? Trick Question! Each force is the same size. The fact that the bug splatters only means that with its smaller mass, it is less able to withstand the larger acceleration resulting from the interaction.
Maybe it’s a naive notion, but I like to believe that in this metaphor the bug represents evil and the bus represents good. If we were to assign a value to the physical mass of both good and evil, evil would be fraction of the size of good. For every horrible news story you hear, there are twenty other headlines you don’t hear because uplifting, inspirational feel good journalism doesn’t move papers, doesn’t get clicks, and generally goes by unnoticed. I believe that even though good and evil are subjective and basically artificial constructs human beings have used since the dawn of time to maintain a semblance of order in a world filled with chaos; that all living things are inherently good. Keep calm, and carry on.
I’ll leave you with the famous climactic speech from Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….
The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women, and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.
To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.
Soldiers! don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel! Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!
In the 17th Chapter of St Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.
Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will!
Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!