Once upon a time there were commentators- people who were paid to explain and offer opinions on newsworthy topics of concern. They were clearly identified as opinions– and they provided credentials for analysis and acceptance (or rejection) by those reading or watching the editorial. Last week there was a flood of (justified) criticism of many of the ‘news’ groups covering the trial of accused rapists in an Ohio town. These commentaries on the commentaries (as opposed to news reporting) are still floating around the interworld, as well as the television, radio and print media.
Since we are losing connections to our myths- and myth making- the dramas of tragic events are being further dramatized- with commentary- and it frightens me a great deal. People in power- be they politicians, business leaders, religious leaders- have always used the media of the time as a means of control over the population. This control can be seen in the construction of myths, and the ways in which cultural stories become institutionalized and ritualized. It has always been with us- and the reactions for or against these state- or church-sanctioned ideas have been critiqued by the ‘thinkers’ of different time periods.
After reading an interesting blog post on the reactions to the rape trial and its outcome, I continued reading the comments on the commentary (which was about the commentary offered on the original story), something I generally avoid doing. The proliferation of trolls and my inherent suspicion of anyone who thinks that an issue of any kind can be adequately assessed and responded to in 140 characters does not lead me to want to engage in such exercises in frustration. But this notice of the practice of commenting on commentaries on commentaries piqued an, admittedly masochistic, impulse in me to have a look at some reader comments as posted on stories that can be found on the various interworld feeds- in social media and newsgroups.
A couple of hours later I was so dispirited I had to turn off the machine and take a walk. Wow. I have always wanted my writings to reflect the positive aspects of humanity and the wonders of the connections we can make through the stories that we tell, but catching a glimpse of the comments
kinda sorta completely broke my heart a little in two. Setting aside the obvious trolls (who are, admittedly, a bizarre and pathetic phenomenon, but there have always been those that seek negative attention for fear of not garnering any attention at all), I was dismayed at both the lack of insight and reflection and the overwhelming preponderance of people who think that they are far wittier than they have any right to claim (and I’m not even going to begin to discuss the lack of grammatical and spelling ability. Sigh).
As we lose our interest in finely crafted stories that tell us something about ourselves, and we are increasingly drawn to the sensationalized banality of celebrity and sound bites, it seems as though we are becoming more and more consumed by the wilderness of the interworld and losing sight of the wonders of the real world. The loneliness and desperation of those who have the time and the inclination to leave inane comments on an infotainment posting about the latest celebrity break-up is so palpable as to be foundationally distressing. And those choosing to comment are only slightly more of a concern to the state of humanity than those who thought that a survey- asking about which side of the most recent celebrity break-up a concerned reader might be taking- was a necessary use of time and interworld space.
That we are encouraged in these pursuits- interworld trolling, uniformed commentary, debates entered into on a stranger’s facebook timeline- is inescapable. But we really have better things to do. I’m not referring to watching the latest ‘reality’ or ‘talent’ show. The powers that be- whether of church or of state- don’t want an informed populace. They never have done. Social control is possible when the people are kept tired from over-work and encouraged in ‘relaxation’ that doesn’t involve taxing or expanding the mind in any real way. People in power maintain that power, unchecked, if no one is articulate and insightful enough to shed light on the problems being perpetuated- or created- by our leaders.
We have unprecedented access to information in this communications-driven era- yet many of us are more concerned with what is happening with an entrepreneurial duck-call-making family from the bayou than with world events or the origins and realities of social problems that are ongoing closer to home. The past century has seen the invention of wonders that were unimaginable to previous generations, as well as the leisure time in which to enjoy the fruits of these wonders. And access to these wonders is available, in some form, to most of us, which disputes any charges of perceived elitism associated with knowledge-gathering in this day and age. Knowledge is out there, we can look at it for ourselves and form our own opinions. Yet, if my ‘research’ into the comments sections of today is any indication, so many of us are choosing to remain uneducated and uninvolved in things of import and value, instead favouring mindless entertainment- and the even-more frightening ‘infotainment’- with which we are bombarded daily.
Everyone is entitled to have their own, individually constructed, opinions, and discussion and debate are the foundations of functional and responsible societies. It is frightening that we seem to be willingly abandoning the widely available, legitimate tools we have to form educated and thoughtful opinions. It is easier to simply post a two-sentence quote on social media than to read the entire speech from which it came. In removing the context from which a story is drawn we lose the impact behind the sound bite. This is a truism in the study of religion and mythology, and it should be upheld as truth in the examination of current social, political and spiritual matters as well. We are the sum of our personal and cultural stories, and I shudder to think that the final addition will contain little more than awareness of who won the last television singing contest and which desperate housewife has scored a contract to create a fashion line. We are better than that.