Get your attention? That is a tabloid headline. It's also true. The last few weeks revealed a shocking story that has uncovered widespread treachery. We witnessed dramatic shutdowns of newspapers, arrests of key figures, seizure of records, metro police and Scotland Yard officials stepping down, heads of governments accused of courting corruption, illegal phone and email hacking, planted listening devices, grieving families stalked, celebrities hacked in retaliation or in effigy, verbal wars, transatlantic Twitter fights, convoluted liaisons and incestuous abuses of power.
These "black ops" are not machinations of national security, but of contemporary media and how its' business is conducted. The Murdoch scandal shines a light on something so out of control for so long but hardly noticeable because it's so tightly woven into the fabric of modern culture as to be invisible. Does nobody remember when reporter Walter Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America?" People intuit that this story and investigation has only scratched the surface and is far from over while those in the glare of its scrutiny hope the storm of indignation has subsided from a public's notoriously short attention span. But a still deeper revelation awaits yet unexamined, under the surface dirt being swept away.
"We can't see the forest because the trees are so loud!" There's another headline designed to startle and grab attention but for a different purpose; it's a koan. A koan, instead of telling you what to think, provokes you to -- think. Here's another: As the underhand is revealed does the underbelly go unnoticed?
Maybe the real story is that the real story is buried beneath the real story. What exactly is noble about using electronic eavesdropping for: invading personal lives; ambushing people in interviews; celebrity surveillance; breaking into confidential medical records; exposing private family conversations; herding public opinion all the while shouting "this is in the public interest" to conceal the real agenda -- power and bullying? In fact what is noble about it without the electronics?
What is admirable about: paying private detectives to dig up information; paying off law enforcement for confidential material; checkbook journalism that pays gobs of money for sensational stories -- the more sensational the teller can make the story, the bigger the payout dangled?
What social value is there in 7 inch headlines designed to bypass the brain and critical thinking, screaming labels like "freak," "naked," "evil," fat," "bizarre," "gay," "scandal" with an accompanying photo of someone now dragged to a public platform for dismemberment and humiliation? It both numbs and dumbs.
What is heroic about clever linguistics and innuendo that plants labels or suggestions in people's minds with "sources tell me" when there are no "sources"? What is honest about printing half truths or lies front page and later, a retraction in small print on the back page? Sensationalism doesn't sell you news; it sells newspapers. Nick Cohen, columnist for the British Observer calls tabloid journalism "a theatre of cruelty" and says the current crisis is "a chance to pull ourselves out of the gutter."
What is the gutter? Remember those funny signs, "You are here?" Perhaps we are and the only way out is up. What social value does the gutter press provide? Well, they do nothing to elevate the human condition nor celebrate it. They don't improve an ecosystem, but make it even more toxic. They breed cynicism and devalue humans. Their stock-in-trade is to dehumanize, humiliate and relegate human beings to caricatures. They don't evolve humanity, they devolve it. So what is noble or entertaining about carving up other humans for human consumption or peddling human flesh for cash? There are names for both those "nobilities" and neither is pretty.
Tabloids and even mainstream media have engineered "spectacle," something akin to circus sideshows where carnival barkers shouted "step right up, see the freak human!" Those were the humans with missing limbs, deformities, or hair, skin or growth maladies -- actual medical conditions or diseases. Come on in folks and make fun of the handicapped! Engineered "spectacle" also ruled the ancient amphitheaters where humans were devoured by animals or slain by other humans -- for sport.
More modern versions of spectacle for sport arose at particularly shameful intervals in history -- not enlightened ones: witch burnings, hangings, racial lynchings and the most recent version -- public executions of "wayward" women by misogynist terrorists.
The tabloid's front page is a curtain drawn on the theater of cruelty for exposing, dismembering or performing pseudo or psychological autopsies on live human beings. It even violates the cultural taboo of deriding the dead. Attacking the humanity of real people on stage is most apparent in the cult of celebrity with its implied ownership of the private lives and troubles of the famous. Celebrities are hunted, attacked by reporters who taunt to provoke them and paparazzi who stalk them for the "money shot" even unto death -- and after. Remember the people's Queen of Hearts--Diana?
Public figures and those conferred "fame" by virtue of their talent, service, sport, or gift are deliberately exploited under the misguided premise that celebrities seek fame, therefore their lives are open season. No thought is given to the idea that the gifted and creative among us are sensitive artists living their whole lives in fishbowls and under public scrutiny. The "Hollywood star making" meme and rituals are so customary in our culture that celebrities are forced to play that wearying traditional fame game. It becomes a trap for both them and us -- a game of cat and mouse or even predator and prey.
A talented or gifted person, driven by the creative impulse must create. The talented genius or luminary cannot hide their gift, nor should they; art belongs to the world, not an individual. Artists cannot suppress inspiration or the creative impulse. Sharing art-as-gift requires they take a courageous leap of faith in offering it to the world. And how do we often repay them? With envy, scorn and Schadenfreude -- the dark side of human nature that finds glee in another's misfortune. Tabloid journalism is only too happy to help us humans express our darkest impulses while extracting our cash.
The systematic humiliation and vilification of celebrity provides an effigy and illusory "public enemy" become mirror for the dark projections heaped upon that stranger cleverly made to feel familiar -- the projections cover what we can't bear to acknowledge in ourselves. Instead of seeing woundedness and feeling compassion, we are encouraged to feed our own shadow. That promotes division among humans, not unity; it precludes self esteem and love by a compassion for woundedness -- others and our own. People who love themselves have no need to harm other people; they recognize they are fellow sentient beings sharing a common experience -- life with all its sorrows and challenges.
Websites with those same tabloid agendas encourage "hits" or clicks from consumers so that they can prove high traffic to sponsors who support the sale of more of the same theater of cruelty that abuses and dehumanizes not just gifted celebrities, but by proxy--us.
Ambush journalism proffers that same abuse by drawing subjects and putting them at ease with a ruse promising to: feature positive attributes, enhance image, garner support for a favorite charity, convert an untruth, or help distraught families find a missing child -- as we recently saw News Corp doing in the U.K. The ambush journalist, a practiced sycophant, promises fair depiction in an interview or documentary and delivers instead a cleverly edited sensationalized "hit piece" that fails the promise and profits only its producers. It cleverly dupes not just the human it features, but its audience -- again for a profit.
Is the tabloid culture healthy for humans? Does a steady diet of human misery and shadow nourish the mind and human spirit? What are the long term cultural effects of systematic and public dehumanizing of other humans? How did a decades-long Murdochian ecosystem impact the popular mood? Did it foster hope or despair? Is the result now playing out on the streets of London?
In America, how has entertainment at the expense of others molded culture? Has the devaluing of human beings infected and mutated business or politics? Is there a hidden cost to the constant focus on bad news and human misery? Does it have worldwide or even humanity-wide implications?
What is harmless entertainment? What happens to a society with a vacuum where compassion is supposed to live? What kind of world is created by a constant stream of shadow, cynicism and hopelessness; what is the projected return on that investment?
Do you really welcome and enjoy the emotional, metaphorical or actual wounding and bleeding of a fellow human as they claim you do? Did you see it coming or did it sneak up on you? When and how did it become commonplace and acceptable to support and consume public humiliation, devaluing, bullying and dismemberment of real human beings? In some places they call that "crimes against humanity."
Sometimes we forget to revisit and evaluate if a systemic practice or enterprise in our world is death dealing or life affirming before we invite or allow more of the same. How might it change our personal world and our collective world if we insisted on writing a new headline? How about: "Humanity Wins!" Something important is coming to light in this pivotal moment in history. Pay close attention; humanity, and Humanity, is at stake.
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