There is a well-known episode in Star Trek called “The Day of the Dove” in which the Klingons and Enterprise crew stop warring because they realize that the antagonist alien force is feeding off of their acrimony and growing stronger from it. Probably a Gene Roddenberry written plot. Eventually they come to see that they are both being manipulated. So the 2 sworn enemies do something radical—they agree to do the opposite. They defeat the enemy by defiantly laughing instead. Soon the alien shrinks up and has no more power. All due to this sound psychological strategy of doing the opposite and not becoming angry.
It occurred to me that this is so often what much of our media sets out to do by 1) predisposing themselves to hunt for news stories that perpetuate their world view; or 2) appealing to the basest, most polarizing, well established point of view. 3) Combining both one and two of course for an even more potent sell job!
Much of the media are in the business of stirring and recirculating conflict while trapping their prey with deceptive rhetoric along the way.
The evening news is wired to constantly regurgitate sad, horrific stories over and over again to get as much shelf life as possible. Case in point: the court date anniversaries concerning crimes committed that rehash the stories long after some kid napping or domestic violence act. Do we need to keep being reminded of the very worst stories over and over again?
Or take the Republican Presidential debates from earlier this year as another example. Here was Donald Trump–a man familiar with the tactics of being a bully– dominating the field of experienced, much more qualified politicians, due mostly to sheer entertainment value and his brutally blunt, politically incorrect swagger.
But what was most instructive for me was watching the chosen moderators adeptly steering the debate like lawyer cross examiners in a court with acrimonious lead ins like: “Mr. so and so, Donald Trump has accused you of being a coward and a lousy human being, what do you say to these charges?” Soon enough, sparks were manufactured even when the particular candidates wanted to just talk of their own record and stick to the high road.
Over and over again you can find unhealthy examples (regardless of political stripe) of the media foisting stories and headlines that pander to the cynical predilections of their audience. In the process they prop up the most superficial world views of success and failure while creating an unease and a resentment that only serves to divide while most definitely NOT inspiring or standing for anything new.
The local sports radio personality shows love to spread shock waves of over-reaction based on one game results. It is an industry built on second guessing and “what have you done for me lately?” And the hypotheses are not exactly rocket science either. Yet to hear some of these puffed up panels and experts talk you would think they were serving on the Sanhedrin council back in the days of Christ.
Take the improved state of the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins in proving his capabilities as a starter in guiding his team to the division title for the regular season. After all this unexpected optimism was established to defy the odds, it just meant that talk show hosts had to ratchet up their criteria to the next skeptical level by posing: “Is Kirk Cousins going to STAY an elite Quarterback or not?”
For fans there’s just isn’t any time to feel satisfied and content. Another stand by stressor question is, “What if we don’t sign him for next year?” “What will we do then?”
But we still soak it in because we are hooked to our local sports teams. Even when the sports radio personalities have long worn out their welcome for us, we find ourselves tuning in like junkies, simply because ANY news on our sports teams is better than nothing.
Sadly our information age is FULL of an unbelievable assortment of channels delivering lots of dead ends but little of substance. Very little gets through that is genuine or offering any fresh perspective.
All of this should make us think twice about what we are listening to and watching. And it should also make us reconsider what kind of profession we want to pursue for our lives calling. Are we really writing and saying what is edifying and original to who we are?
At the very least, in so many cases, journalism in general is a great field to stay clear of for the sake of artistic credibility and the honing of one’s own voice. Most is reactive and most is derivative.
Respect in our culture is often transferred upon local, regional, and national celebrity professionals that display enough poise and confidence to be in front of a camera or command a large audience on a regular basis. Secretly we marvel at the unblinking nature of the banter in which so many TV personalities handle pressure and manifest some aspect of themselves on demand without ever cracking up or stuttering too much. We also marvel at the seeming ease and mastery of people we work with that secure positions of unquestioned authority at meetings.
But the older I get the more I see that it just isn’t enough to emulate what seems enviable or prestigious by itself. On closer inspection, you often find that 99% of the job descriptions in many of the highest profile careers consists largely of reactive tedium featuring little in the way of community values or any kind of a higher consciousness.
“I saw Satan laughing with delight” sang Don McLean in his classic song “American Pie” and this surely does apply all too often to the affect resulting from the more deadening aspects of journalism today.
Let’s not add ourselves to the layering of career middle men who, while pleading their case that they are simply innocent messengers, indirectly contribute to unhealthy ideas and misguided values.
It’s like touring an historic old town only to discover that most of the choicest real estate buildings are filled up with nothing more compelling than real estate offices and law offices. We need more arts and culture in the form of antiques and book shops in the heart of old towns.
Meanwhile, although I rarely am the type to lose sleep about changing the world politically or by saving the planet, I DO think we need to constantly assess what kind of a difference we are making creatively and spiritually to people around us at work. Are we confusing the route of our fulfillment as being synonymous with material success? Worst of all, are we merely perpetuating the same kind of cynical, self-fulfilling prophesy that looks at the world with the same paradigm or are we promoting something greater?
Let’s look around carefully as the Klingons and Federation officers did in that Star Trek episode. We might find our emotions being manipulated by a force that is looking in on our plight and growing stronger with every misstep we take.
And while we are at it–let’s get our career and personal life on the same page when it comes to what matters.