I’ve been thinking lately, about control, words and the power words have. How words shape feelings. I think this all got started with a quote. “Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance.” Albert Maysles said that. To remove nuance, and therefore nuanced thought, would be very helpful in determining a general course for a populace by manipulating what was seen as important. Manipulating relevance. I think I see this happening in the ways in which our nation (I live in america) ‘talks’ to us. And it is always talking. Context and the nuances of context are my focus here. Specifically where they are at their most broadly influential; across our vast media platforms. The other quote that I’ll use as a counterweight here is from Alan Moore. “The truth is, that it is not the banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptiloids from another dimension that are in control. The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.” I think working from these two angles allows you room to move. I don’t know what’s true, really. I am one person in one of the largest countries in the world. I am flying blind, left to ponder love and information. I’m looking at all of this through the lens of a mostly average white american male. I think that through my male-bodied perspective I may focus on and contribute to some of the angrier ways of communication. Perhaps this perspective is why I feel I need to defend most speech, as I feel swept up at times in my own rage. But perhaps this can be helpful. A common citizen looking at the larger cultural picture going on in the nation, where much of the negative vibe, much voice, seems to come from white american males. Maybe I can have a word on trying to work with this vibe, circumvent it, reason with it. I’m also looking at things in a way that I know I’m sick of the current system from basically the ground up. I don’t want the economy the way it is, I don’t want a resource based economy, even ‘gift economy’ is beginning to sound a bit daft. A moral I don’t want an average same-pay for everyone, I want wages abolished. So.. There’s that. What would be asked of people providing needed societal tasks if they were not based on income? More on this later.
I think it’s natural to be offended. I’m not going to block that feeling up, because its root is in a real place for me. What I’m talking about is how being offended plays out in the media marketplace and how its own context forms. How context transforms over time. we like to ‘tell it like it is,’ we like ‘straight talkers’ and stuff- I think in america this is supposedly what we’re famous and infamous for. I think we believe it is possible to get to the heart of a matter in a few sentences. It’s almost the zen of being gruff. But that never accounted for the anger. Concise is fine, but it’s simply turned into insult hurling, heated. We don’t feel like spending the time needed on issues in order to evolve them out of their stuckness. We have a.d.d., trauma, depression, anxiety. We have to deal with those first.
What guided some of my direction in tackling the importance of context in media was watching stand-up comedy. I think it is a marvelously important societal role. I feel heartfelt about things, but not so much intellectually. I think a lot of people, most people, are like that. We’ll feel muddled when listening to a politician, but resonate when listening to a comedian even when the points being made are the same. That’s because they put it in away I understood, that wasn’t needlessly academic, that was distant. I hold some comics up to a light so hard that I don’t feel they should be fucked with by anybody. In a way, they are our last true philosophers, the comedy stage the last arena of completely free speech. Scholars and the rest of us should be able to understand the blueprints and structure behind the economic scenes. Sometimes there is so much political-speak in the way of simple information that people begin to tune in to shows like The Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight, incorporating them into learning about their world. To be fair, there is comedy that I think is piss poor. Hacky. There’s gotta be a perspective, not just random insights, for me. The first 3 George Bush Jr. jokes I heard in the early 2000’s were kinda funny. The ones that were about him, not his politics. But after that they got real old, and mean. And pointless. It was just scapegoating someone and ignoring the whole broken system. This just adds to the problem. I began to be offended by people ‘on my side’ and by how rude they could be. The context of our (basically) 2 party system creates a moat between us and how to truly support one another. We spend more time each year worrying about ‘who controls the senate’ than calling foul on organizing into teams that play each other in the first place. It was supposed to be about us! People stray from that context too much. We play the system’s game and feel good about change we’ve effected, but we need to also call out the hipocrisy that we need to change so much. And we don’t, we just go to the next fight and and accept this ‘one step forward, two steps back’ routine.
People just want you to state your motives now. Peoples’ motives are usually fairly basic, fairly the same. In politics, in media, in the public eye. It’s not so much about the judgement, initially. We just want people to admit their ego crap. That’s us looking for sameness. Because it’s in every one of us. It’s the admitting it that is of interest, almost before the issues themselves! It’s the weird way we desperately search for our similarities, but it’s probably the most obvious fulcrum for social change; this desire for simple exposition, for the very plain truth. We are more alike than we are different. That’s another amazing truth trivialized with common expression. We are alike in a way that outshines gender, that outshines race, that outshines culture. I see that everyday. You just look around. Listen. There are legitimate reasons, altruistic reasons and narcissistic reasons all mixed about in most of our actions. Some less obviously than others. We’re acutely aware of this and we want it out in the open. Ithink it’s this bit that makes the media machine such a weirdo beast. We do love to gossip.. Throw some money profit on that fact and away we go.. Language and discourse, no matter how well contained and framework’d, are just an attempt to connect with others- to communicate. The more complicated we make media, with business tactics, tricky headlines and celebrity status updates, the more complicated we make.. Everything. Let people speak. If they are harming others personally or with the power they wield, hold them accountable. But don’t give power and relevance to shame. Everyone needs to learn. Eeven if they don’t think so! Everyone needs a hand.
Tossing this barrage of information at us all at once is how the media stays the storyteller. The game really changed in the 1980’s when news became a 24 hour profit business with Ted Turner and CNN, and quite quickly the news got sold to maybe 3 major companies. Now, with thousands of channels looking for any content to fill the airwaves, media secures us within our own mass confusion of options. We throw a story up, and fight. Quietly. Loudly. Subtly. Annoyingly, subjectively, culturally, vigilantly.
I’ll go out of my way to break it down sometimes, to play with grammar, to fly in the face of convention, to provide balance when I think I’ve heard too many fake, uncomfortable tones. Newspapers speak in a language that is fairly elementary, but sees ‘juicy story’ first, ‘well-being’ second. So their plainspeak really stunts and represses instead. You can’t see this by looking inside the article. It’s seen by noting what the articles are about. It’s not read-between-the-lines, it’s hidden in plain sight.
Viewpoints are important because most people, when they’re not angry, don’t dare to speak their mind. But I do not believe our viewpoints should be thrown on the chopping block of pop culture debate because there’s no balance there. A healing answer won’t come from that medium. Sorry. We can shed a light, but that sort of light eventually burns right through the issue, leaving nothing except scorched earth. I really don’t think we can teach by censoring, and we can’t teach from flooding our senses either. We can only teach by entering into levelheaded discussion and then truly adopting the answers found there. While our institutions attempt (poorly) to play that game, we as individuals are as hot headed as ever. We don’t seek answers, we simply want to talk. Which I’m all for. But when we are wrestling with large issues as a nation let’s use discourse to get to the beginning of the argument. We seem to be content with playing with the latest scraps and then forgetting their origins in a heartbeat. People will balk at naming the nuances of racism, for example. We either avoid talking about race like it was the plague, or we overcompensate by practically fetishizing it and the nation moves from one horror to another with little discussion put into why basic structural violence exists in the first place. I looked up the reason for slavery in a high school textbook and it talked about the work that we needed slaves for! Work. Like we slyly got out of mentioning it was about profit seeking (and then something far more twisted). Like labor was simply for labor’s sake and not about resources and security and money. This is an example of how baffled we make our kids as they come up inside our educational system! Profit becomes an innocuous concept. But profit is a killer. It’s The killer.
Context forms around a word and essentially freezes it in amber.. Words can do harm. And there is never an end to the ways in which we can be harmed. How do we work with that now? Saying language is violent means not only the words, but the nonverbal messages, where most of communication resides, statistically speaking. The threat that is suddenly revealed through subtle and not-so-subtle emotional expression. This is where the problem lies. It’s emotional. It’s all we are! It’s not language-based at all, at its heart. But we seem to tackle words harder than concepts. Why is that? the word will never beat the tone, so why is language slowly becoming more newsworthy than behavior?? I believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is forcing us to examine the nuanced reach that racism has in this country. Because mainstream media has been trained (and is training us) to be angry first. It’s actually leading us all back to our anger. And anger sells.
On the opposite end of offense is reclamation. ‘Taking back’ or throwing out a word, revealing that the power behind language is contextual and subjective, that it can be changed. I like reclaiming words, I like culture jamming, subvertizing, turning corporate symbols in on themselves. If you get creative with it someone else will, too. It’s so easy to reveal the ridiculousness of the dominant corporate paradigm. I laugh each time a politician uses the word ‘evil’ in their reasoning. It’s like we were in a movie.
As our media-informed world becomes more and more net-linked and responsive, we are presented as being hyper-cultural, hyper-sensitive and hyper-knowledgeable without knowing or encouraging one another much at all. Just sorta tearin’ each other down online, in the news. Debate is fiery, offenses are aired, attitude is everywhere. It’s all rather strained. We cannot thrive in this reflection! I need caring support from people! Positive regard should be what guides our lives as well as our industries. It’s not because it’s our moral responsibility, it’s because That is what will make us feel safe and cozy. If it is healthy in our personal lives then why should it be different within the conglomerate that produces such an unnecessary amount of nation-cultural information? Our longing to communicate drives us to this industry. That’s why we invented it. But now the industry doesn’t illuminate so much as it standardizes. This happened before the internet age. But the net is just punt kicking it like a champ. It could be any headline. I think media is what it is because it reflects our mortal fear.
We ache inside and try to get a handle on why. But that pop culture soup is a made-up world. It doesn’t exist like that, as some pixel-y, blobby orb that floats in the middle of our minds, though it seems like it does. It’s all just an attempt to define information that we read, hear and see. Mostly, us, as individuals in our daily lives, we internalize. We sublimate and then type some bullshit out online and call that catharsis. But then someone writes back. And it’s war. Again and again. All that madness is too readily accessible. It makes me feel crazy, makes me feel like spouting off. But no good feeling ever came of that, to me.. It didn’t make me feel fine later. Plus it’s too easy. That’s the point. People seem to think they’re capable of face-to-face dialogue that is this honest and inflammatory.. But I rarely see it. And the comment section becomes like a fire started by a magnifying glass. Sure, we’re the ones fanning the flames but because billions of advertising dollars tell us to.. It’s chomsky’s ‘manufactured consent’ plus girls gone wild. We almost think it’s us thinking these things!.. Would tons of news stories depicting acts of kindness sell like Terror does? But what if the act-of-kindness stories ARE what we saw all the time? How would that change the world? Would it?
A money-fueled media system is what exacerbates the battles. Because this mode of receiving information isn’t moral to begin with. Derp. Every headline, every tag, every photo is designed to be provocative, not evocative. This is because every information vehicle is trying to stay in business, get noticed within a market economy framework! It is business first, then humanity. It’s a go-to formula. And so humanity got framed within the structure of business. THIS is the context. This is what context is! This is how sensationalism happens, this is why paparazzi are a problem, this is why celebrity culture is the narrator now. We need to understand the extreme insufficiency of media systems as they are. Calling context and calling bullshit needs to happen more naturally than it does now. People should be calling bullshit, everywhere, on all outlets, in every comment section, all the time. We need to start telling these systems to admit it. Just admit that the media is not our world. It is incapable of speaking earnest truth or looking out for the human heart, because it posits us first within the context of money making. It herds us into a resource/goods mentality.. I’ve been to ‘awareness raising’ potluck suppers where a donation was suggested and the guy at the door prompted our donation with asking what we thought our earning potential was. Now I get that they want to raise funds for a good cause, so why did it offend me so much? It was asking for money in a real polite way. But it placed me securely inside an economic system that is legit killing people.. And sort of assuming that I wasn’t aware of that. It made me look at myself as money first, jessy second and that felt, y’know, dirty.. Just say there’s a cover charge. I’d get it.
“I want to change lives, but not be profound about it. I fight hard to not have an editing system. We all, WE all- let context be destroyed- context is gone. I can’t slip up? I can’t say nothin’? You can’t understand what– you don’t FEEL me? You don’t FEEL what I’m sayin’?”
A necessary question to ask which puts intention back in the game, which brings context back, which brings back balance is: ‘Why is this person using that language? Why is this person doing that?’ Then work from there. It’s got to stem from an emotional place first, then be safely constructed into nuanced critique. That sounds hard to impossible, even to me. Is it to make people laugh? Is it to hurt them? Is it boredom, is it used as a threat? Is it used to sell units? Air time? Or what combinations of these? Ask for our media outlets to begin to phrase questions so that they move us out of ‘being offended’ into a transparent, open conversation? Call bullshit. Perhaps the dialectical method should be brushed off and encouraged here. Perhaps information regarding our culture needs to be commenting on our sameness first. What is our common struggle, how do we teach each other the right questions to ask, the right ways to resolve conflict, where to place importance? Who teaches us what feelings are, or how to sift through them? Charlotte Joko Beck said “feelings are simply thoughts plus bodily sensations.” Is this true? Our minds think, the thinking makes our body react a certain way, and we call this ‘feelings?’ Is this an adequate description? Can we start here and break down our conflicts? Our thoughts plus how our bodies feel give rise to emotion- and this is what leads to words like: Offense, happiness, anger, loneliness, empowerment, boredom, sadness.. So what about our bodies?
Concluded next issue..