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!
Something has been bothering me for a very long time, I just haven’t been sure how to put it into words. Today, as I flicked through the TV channels, I think I may have figured it out.
No matter how much of an ethical position we may take in bringing up young people, both in families and in our schools, all is undone the moment they engage with mass media. Turn on the TV and we are fed a million messages that undermine all teaching.
In this posting, I will focus on violence.
Violence is glorified and war the playground of muscle-bound-heroes-in-the-making. Explosions, bombs, machine-gun fire, collateral damage, drones… you name it, Hollywood has glorified it, sanitised it and told us “it’s OK… this is normal, accept it, worship it.” Sure, a few mavericks have managed to squeeze some anti-war sentiments past the censors, who undeniably act in the interest of warmongers, but war is generally packaged, gift-wrapped and presented to us as something to revel in, not question. Either Hollywood is forced to take responsibility for the messages it transmits, or we have to take matters in to our own hands, turn our backs on it and make the production of war films less lucrative.
The violence doesn’t just remain in the realm of war, oh no, we have our violence tailored both to suit and feed our daily fears. The vast majority of TV series are about murder. In fact, if you fancied a bit of a career change and decided to become a murderer – which many people do, TV is a perpetual “how-to” guide that comes full of helpful advice and tricks of the trade. To go one step further, CSI and other similar shows, provide in-depth information about how you can avoid being detected.
Potential terrorists can also seek inspiration from TV shows and movies, with the creators of these forms of media constantly ahead of the game and coming up with all sorts of wonderful ways that you can be a terrorist. If you’re a terrorist that, sadly, lacks ideas and needs a bit of inspiration so you can raise your game, simply turn on the TV or go and watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, and there you go… a wonderful menu of horrific acts to choose from. Take the ending of shite “cult” movie Fight Club, for example, and tell me its not rather similar to 9/11 – which happened two years later. I wonder how many people who lost loved ones in New York still think that movie was cool? Never mind those who’ve pointlessly had their faces punched in by shirtless morons trying to emulate Brad Pitt after seven pints of lager.
Even escapist, fantasy, costume dramas like Game of Thrones descend rapidly into the provision of violence-porn which give us all a guilty tingle as we are shocked, disgusted and slightly turned on by another jugular being slit, wet slurping sounds and all. But, its alright, there’s dragons and bare breasts, its not real life… or is it? Tell that toddler who just watched his junkie-father have his throat slit in front of him that it isn’t real and watch his tragic, confused face as the tears drip down his cheeks.
If I was to continue with examples, this would become an extremely long blog post. And, we all know nobody has the time to read those. So, I will end with a few thoughts about how schools might respond to this situation:
- Completely and explicitly reject mass media. This would not be censorship, as that is more along the lines of pretending it doesn’t exist. Instead, acknowledge its existence and then take a strong stance on it.
- Make the deconstruction of mass media a key part of education, teaching students to be cynical about its messages – of which the glorification of violence is just one.
- Make it very clear to parents that there will be little tolerance of these stances being undermined at home. Parents of the little thugs, for example, brought up on a media diet of Ben 10 since they could first throw a tantrum about it being turned off, will need to be on board.
Next, it may be time to look at the News.