Time for a media detox?

Sometimes I watch toxic forms of entertainment media by mistake. I may make this mistake by being fooled into thinking I’m enjoying it… Game of Thrones fell into that category until I became aware of how disgusting it was to watch an endless stream of people have their throats slit, and how it was preparing us all for the current political climate of not knowing who to trust (i.e. nobody).

Today, I allowed myself to watch Triple 9 as a form of masochistic entertainment and to educate myself about what mainstream crap people are flocking in their millions to watch. Like most shows and movies at the moment, it’s mainly about the fact that you never know who is good or bad. Dirty cops, bent politicians, self-serving narcissists with blood on their hands, decent people forced into crime by their circumstances, repulsive gangsters with  a vocabulary of 7 words. This is the portrayal of cool, this is what is being transmitted to us all as “normal”, as “how it is”.

Sure, kids shouldn’t be watching this toxic stuff… but they do. Here in Vietnam, I have seen babies glued to iPad screens watching cool American people shoot each other. I know of 8-year-olds who’ve seen every episode of Game of Thrones. I know many kids who’ve seen Breaking Bad. They’re not only being fed toxic food, but their minds are being poisoned too. The message? Shooting people is not only the norm, it’s also kind of cool.

And then, there’s the adults. The countless bored adults sitting at home getting a thrill every time some mediaeval prince’s throat gapes open, getting an adrenaline rush watching heavily armed robo-soldiers massacre villagers, gripping the seat as yet another car chase scene takes the lives of innocent faceless families on their way home from the supermarket, thinking their intellect is being stimulated as they try and figure out what side – if any – Jack Bauer or Jason Bourne is on, momentarily feeling an emotion before forgetting the image of another hooker all cut up and mutilated in a dumpster to focus on the latest supercool, unshaven renegade detective light up a smoke and sip a glass of bourbon in a dimly lit bar.

You see… I get the distinct feeling that the education we provide counts for nothing as long as the media continues to toxify, misdirect, confuse, anesthetize and desensitize us. As long as the people behind the media control what we watch, they control how we think, feel and behave. The vast majority of us who consistently absorb all of this are educated… well, we went to school and university at least. Genuinely educated? Perhaps not. If we can’t see we’re being manipulated then we’re just not that smart, are we? If we are willing to tolerate glitzy, high-budget forms of entertainment portraying everything that is wrong with the world while ignoring the fact that there are real things that need to be done… well… we’re not moving on that quickly, are we?

If I had the time, I would love to do a full inquiry into the income generated by bloodgutsmurderlyingwarviolence movies compared with movies that make you feel good, or tell a story of ethics. First off, the hunt for examples of the latter would be over very fast. Secondly, the data – I am sure – would be so grossly unbalanced as to make it appear completely ridiculous.

I’d like to see Hollywood and its equivalent in whatever countries are making this stuff start to take some responsibility for the effect they have on people, which probably won’t happen. So, we have a few choices:

  • Detox – don’t watch any of it, and try and help other people do the same thing
  • Prepare – teach people to understand media, the real reasons its produced and what effect it might be having on them and others

The first option is not a reality… you only have to think about how traffic slows down so everyone can take a good look at the grisly remains of a car crash (or the disappointment when there’s nothing to see) to understand the animalistic desire to torment ourselves with disturbing or distressing imagery and emotions.

So, perhaps the only answer is a hard-hitting approach towards teaching critical media consumption, from an early age. Stop blocking stuff and denying the existence of anything mildly controversial in schools and get real. Get it out in the open and have some discourse with students about it. We need to be helping them learn how to think… but I feel like we’re still only generating an endless stream of thoughtless consumers. Mainly because most of us are thoughtless consumers too!


  1. Judy Imamudeen

    I find your post interesting and timely. I’ve been thinking a lot lately too about the kinds of things that we spend our time on and I’m working on a blog post about it. There’s a quote that asks: Are you hunting antelope or are you hunting field mice? Now, I’m not suggesting hunting animals here, but instead to consider if you were a lion. As a lion, if all you ever ate were mice, they’d make a nice snack but they wouldn’t bring you sustenance. And I think that is true about what we “consume”–are we watching YouTube cat videos or engaged in something meaningful? What are we watching, listening to or reading? And what about our own children? Are we inadvertently teaching them to do the same? I think before we teach kids, we need to take stock of our own habits so we can model the change. Of course, this is easier said than done, but the effort is worth it. Cheers, Sam.

  2. Stephen Martin

    “Mainly because most of us are thoughtless consumers too!” Exactly. I find teachers fairly representative of wider society, no better, no worse. It is only that small percentage of us that will ever truly challenge and inspire. Most teachers will blithely watch CNN or BBC and never dream of questioning content or bias. Most teachers will think conspiracy theories are only that. Most teachers waste too much time on their phones and enjoy selfies, just like everybody else. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but teachers are not the agents of change we’d suppose they might be; so many are much too busy walking the straight and narrow to be able to fulfil that role.

    • sherrattsam

      All very true, Steve. Perhaps we are asking too much of teachers to carry the burden of educating (in its simplest sense) future generations as well as trying to help them be good people. That role must surely fall on the shoulders of family and community… but is that working? I would say not, probably because everyone in those families and communities are also too busy trying to get by. I guess we’re talking about the the actual point of education here. Is it to develop the skills needed in the workplace, whatever that workplace may be? Or is it to develop ethics, codes of conduct, wisdom and the pursuit of a good life?

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