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Can Television Help Awaken a Healthy World?

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Many people are aware of a mind-body connection when it comes to their personal health, but few apply this important wisdom to our mind-body health as a society. Just as mental habits impact the physical health of individuals, our collective mental habits -- manifested through the mass media -- impact every aspect of our social health.

The mass media -- particularly television -- offers the most direct and visible expression of our social mind or collective mental functioning. In the U.S., 98 percent of all homes have a TV set, and the average person watches nearly four hours per day. Like it or not, television has become the central nervous system of modern society, serving as our primary window onto the world and the mirror in which we see ourselves. We all swim in this electronic ocean, and it has a powerful influence on our collective self-image and well-being.

At this pivotal time in human evolution, it is vitally important that messages in the mass media serve our psychological and spiritual health and not distort our collective intelligence, imagination and evolution. However, the collective mind of our consumer society is currently dominated by profit-making and, as a consequence, the American dream celebrated through advertising is fast becoming the world's nightmare.

The bottom line: A sustainable and thriving future requires changes in our social mindset and the messages and images of "success" and the "good life" that are portrayed through the mass media.

Here are four different ways of framing the issue of the mass media and the mental health of society:

  1. The mass media produce a constant stream of advertising that creates a collective psychology of mass consumption that cannot be sustained. By programming television primarily for commercial success, the mindset of our civilization is simultaneously being programmed for ecological failure. Instead of educating for a sustainable future over the long run, the television industry is promoting unsustainable consumption in the short run. The average person sees at least 25,000 commercials a year. These are more than ads for a product; they are also advertisements for a consumer lifestyle and the attitudes and values that support that lifestyle. As we move into a new era where the challenge is to live sustainably, we need new programming that reflects the new realities. We are being placed in an impossible double-bind: the mass media that dominate our consciousness tell us to buy ever more while our ecological concern for the planet inclines us to consume ever less. We are creating a schizophrenic civilization, divided against itself.
  2. There is a complete lack of reflective consciousness in the mass media. The media does not hold a mirror up to itself. The last taboo topic on television is television itself, and its own practices, ethics and priorities. Never do we see the cameras turned around to look back and investigate how the television system is doing its job. By turning a blind eye to itself, the television industry is able to hide practices and policies that are detrimental to our society and our future.
  3. A fundamental problem is not what is on broadcast television, but what is missing. By focusing on sensational events and conflicts, the mass media generally fail to report on the really big and important stories of our time that don't fit neatly into a 24-hour news cycle. If we don't hear regularly-televised reports about climate disruption, species extinction, running out of cheap oil, unsustainable population and so on, then the public will assume that these areas are not yet critical. However, just because the mass media ignore urgent trends does not mean they will conveniently cease to exist.
  4. A core challenge is the lack of love being communicated through television programming. Our global future depends on love -- which blossoms when there is mutual understanding, which develops when there is authentic and meaningful communication, which builds upon a foundation of mutual respect. If the mass media fail to actively cultivate qualities of empathy, mutual understanding and respectful communication, choosing instead to foster a callous disregard for life with mindless violence and exploitive sex, then we will create a self-fulfilling reality of suffering.

Transforming the relationship between our social body and social mind via the mass media is far more than a matter of taste; it is essential for the health and well-being of our endangered societies. We cannot consciously build a positive future that we have not first collectively imagined. We are a visual species. When we can see it, we can create it. By bringing inspiring stories and hopeful visions of the future to television, we simultaneously bring those healing visions into the collective mind of our civilization.

The most basic challenge we face is with ourselves as citizens. Most citizens are ignorant of the fact that, in the U.S., television broadcasters that use the public's airwaves (ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX) have a strict legal responsibility to serve the public interest of the community before their own profits. People complain about the media, not recognizing that we citizens have the legal right and the affirmative obligation to hold the mass media that uses our public airwaves accountable for serving the public interest and the health of our collective mind. However, with a non-partisan media politics, we could mobilize electronic town meetings and other forms of dialogue to come together as communities and transform the heart of the media --broadcast television.

Duane Elgin is a speaker, author and non-partisan activist for media accountability. He is the author of "Voluntary Simplicity," "The Living Universe," "Promise Ahead," and other books. Please visit his website, www.DuaneElgin.com for free articles and videos on thriving in these challenging times. Your comments and suggestions are much appreciated.

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