Everybody has one…

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.

9 comments on “Everybody has one…

  1. […] And we have such a great record here of justice for victims of domestic and sexual violence in this neck o’ the woods.  Right. […]

  2. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    Heavy thoughts on a gorgeous Friday…

    It’s been another one of those weeks. Too many things challenging each other for head space for any really coherent insights to take hold and stick around.

    My lovely friend Beth got into a great discussion this morning over at her blog (go have a look- it’s a great essay on the value of perspective and education and lots of other wonderful things…) that has me revisiting some ideas- and some older thoughts I put together ’round these parts.

    This was one of the earliest little bits o’something I posted here at colemining. Change up the specifics of the media coverage, and it’s, perhaps, even more applicable today- in light of this week’s events.

    The weather is (finally) wonderful here in TO. I have plans to see some super heroes with some super friends. I’m trying hard not to let the evident awareness that we are continuing to choose to leap to conclusions without any examination of fact, or underlying causality, or endemic injustice, lead to irrecoverable despair/apathy.

    Same windmills, two plus years on. Hoping to find the wherewithal to keep on tilting.

  3. bethbyrnes says:

    I have just about returned to avoiding all television programmes altogether. We watch news, primarily on the tube. I haven’t even visited the major broadcast channels in a decade.

    Trolls are beyond my ken. I just don’t know what to make of them. In fact, the dangers of having any engagement with social media, is attracting these people and other plagues, while trying to express an informed and intelligent point of view.

    What I always want, is someone with whom to dialogue on an appropriate level. Not necessarily to rubber stamp my ideas, but at least to concur or counter with fact based on personal knowledge and experience.

    But, people are now short-cutting the inquiry process by simply reading the sound bites of others, who like read some previous bites. By the time the last person repeats it, it is burnished with the fools gold of truth, when it was all based on tin foil ideas to begin with.

    Of all the things that have stood out to me this week in watching the latest American tragedy unfold in Baltimore, is how many adults in that city cannot speak English! I don’t know what pidgin they are actually speaking but I assume they all got through 12 years of school with no one correcting either their ideas or their diction or their pronunciation.

    And that is only a fraction of the problem in this brave new twitterverse.

    • bethbyrnes says:

      ‘LikeLY’ read some previous sound bites. sigh.

    • colemining says:

      There is very little I can watch on tv these days. The evidence of intellectual laziness is too apparent.

      I participate in some discussion groups- where the hope is as you suggest- informed dialogue and dialectic. Too often, even those discussions revert to mud-slinging and haranguing- and the trolls are just completely inexplicable.

      Another valuable aspect of the graduate degrees? The emphasis on the importance of using primary sources. If more people got that, the issue of the dissemination of ‘tin thinking’ mightn’t be as dramatic.

      Our inability to communicate effectively- verbally or in writing- is a big part of our collective problem. We are encouraged as we are drawn to the superficial and the ‘good enough’. Our laziness is rewarded and/or excused.

      I say ‘not good enough’.

      Time to stop rewarding mediocrity and banality.


  4. Sounds like my week, Cole. I almost had a falling out with a colleague because she insisted on spouting already disproven soundbites. Don’t discuss politics in the workplace might be the lesson. Or, if you’re going to, at least do some research. It is indeed incredible, that with so many means available to us to source reputable information, many do not.
    There is no doubt that many factors contribute to the disinclination to do more than cock an ear to what is currently popular and I have sympathy with the tired and jaded but sometimes it is our absolute responsibilty to go the extra mile when so much is at stake.
    I often think that if lessons were taught in ads and video games kids would learn faster. Maybe that’s true of adults too.
    I really don’t know what the answer is. Except perhaps to keep conversing even if it does cause colleagues to occasionally fluster.

    • colemining says:

      Sorry for the delay in responding, A-M. Not feeling well lately, so I unplugged for the weekend.

      There are certain people that I find myself avoiding discussing certain subjects with- the result is too painful. I have more than one person I work with who couldn’t tell you who their member of parliament might be, let alone anything else that might require some investment of time and interest. But nary an episode of Game of Thrones can be missed…

      It’s priorities- and ours are brutally skewed. As CBC said- there has always been a benefit to the powers that be to keep us interested in the bread and circuses- so that other things might pass unnoticed. Which means that those of us who choose to pay some attention need to keep up the conversation- however frustrating it may be to do so. xo

  5. I recently read something along the lines of “Today we have access to more information than any previous generation in human history, and we seem to largely use it to watch cat videos and get sports scores.”

    The idea behind bread and circuses – keeping the populace fat, dumb and entertained, relatively speaking – goes way back, of course. It’s easier to do so today, and it would seem a significant percentage of the western world, which has more time on its hand then ever before, is all too willing to go along with the ruse.

    • colemining says:

      This is sosoSO true, CBC. I’ve cited this little piece of reality any number of times- often to blank stares- and feel as though it has never been truer.

      I’m not even 100% sure that it’s as much about how much time we have (although certainly most of us have proportionately more time on our hands than we did a couple of generations ago)- as it is to do with the myriad distractions to which we devote what spare time we have. I know a lot of people who work a lot of hours and have little time for ‘entertainment’- and use that as the justification to pop on a movie over reading a book/editorial about things that influence our common realities.

      I find myself doing it more, these days. I work on a computer all day at work, so coming home and catching up on reading articles and comments and insights into things-as-they-are- not to mention attempting to get any of my own writing done- is harder and harder to do. All too easy to pop on the telly- or sit with a novel- rather than keep the brain working hard.

      Balance, I think, is what is needed. Easier said than achieved, though. Especially when the cat videos are so cute 😉

      Thanks for stopping by- and for your comment. Always appreciate your visits!

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