“Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours…. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
~ Neil Postman
Americans have a voracious appetite for TV entertainment, and the Trump reality show—guest starring outraged Democrats, power-hungry Republicans, and a hodgepodge of other special interest groups with dubious motives—feeds that appetite for titillating, soap opera drama.
After all, who needs the insults, narcissism, and power play hallmarks of reality shows when you can have all that and more delivered up by the likes of Donald Trump and his cohorts?
Trump is inclined to denounce any news agencies and reports that paint him in a less than favorable light as “fake news,” which leaves the Fox News channel to carry the president’s torch for media integrity.
Much like the fabricated universe in Peter Weir’s 1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is the basis for an elaborately staged television show aimed at selling products and procuring ratings, the political scene in the United States has devolved over the years into a carefully calibrated exercise in how to manipulate, polarize, propagandize, and control a population.
Likewise, “The Trump Show” keeps the citizenry distracted, diverted, and divided.
Chicken wearing Virtual Reality gear
As long as we are distracted, entertained, occasionally outraged, always polarized but largely uninvolved and content to remain in the viewer’s seat, we’ll never manage to present a unified front against tyranny (or corruption and ineptitude).
The more beamed at us, the more inclined we are to settle back in our comfy recliners and become passive viewers rather than active participants as unsettling, frightening events unfold. Reality and fiction merge as everything around us becomes entertainment fodder.
Studies suggest the more reality TV people watch—and I would posit it’s all reality TV, entertainment news included—the more difficult it becomes to distinguish between what is real and what is carefully crafted farce.
This doesn’t bode well for a citizenry able to sift through masterfully-produced propaganda in order to think critically about the issues of the day, whether it’s fake news peddled by domestic agencies or foreign entities.
Those who watch reality shows tend to view what they see as the “norm.” Thus, those who watch shows characterized by lying, aggression, and meanness not only come to see such behavior as acceptable and entertaining, but also to mimic the medium.
This holds true whether the reality programming is about the antics of celebrities in the White House, in the board room, or in the bedroom.
“Humilitainment” refers to the tendency for viewers to take pleasure in someone else’s humiliation, suffering and pain.
“Humilitainment” largely explains why Americans are fixated on reality TV programming, and largely insulated from what is really happening in the world around them by layers of technology, entertainment, and other distractions, are being programmed to accept the brutality, surveillance, and dehumanizing treatment of the American police state as things which happen to other people.
How could Barack Obama—whose tenure in the White House was characterized by drone killings, a weakening of the Constitution at the expense of Americans’ civil liberties, and an expansion of the police state— be hailed as “one of the greatest presidents of all times?”
This is what happens when an entire nation—bombarded by reality TV programming, government propaganda and entertainment news—becomes systematically desensitized and acclimated to the trappings of a government that operates by fiat and speaks in a language of force.
Look behind the political spectacles, the reality TV theatrics, the sleight-of-hand distractions and diversions, the stomach-churning, nail-biting drama. There is a method to the madness. Their common objective is to keep us incapable of taking an active role in the business of self-government.
How do you change the way people think? You start by changing the words they use.
In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerant, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind.
Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned—discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred—inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination, infantilism, the chilling of free speech, and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.
In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother does away with all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, even going so far as to routinely rewrite history and punish “thoughtcrimes.” In this dystopian vision of the future, the Thought Police serve as the eyes and ears of Big Brother, while the Ministry of Peace deals with war and defense, the Ministry of Plenty deals with economic affairs (rationing and starvation), the Ministry of Love deals with law and order (torture and brainwashing), and the Ministry of Truth deals with news, entertainment, education, and art (propaganda).
Newspeak eliminates undesirable words, strip such words as remained of unorthodox meanings and make independent, non-government-approved thought altogether unnecessary.
Where we stand now is at the juncture of Oldspeak (where words have meanings, and ideas can be dangerous) and Newspeak (where only that which is “safe” and “accepted” by the majority is permitted).
The danger we now face as a society is a failure to distinguish between opinion and fact. Anyone who relies solely on political commentators for actual knowledge of the world is making a serious mistake.
Americans have by and large become non-readers. Television has become our prime source of so-called “news.” This reliance has given rise to popular news personalities who draw in vast audiences, virtually hanging on every word.
While these TV personalities often dispense the news the way preachers dispense religion, with power and certainty, they are little more than conduits for propaganda and advertisements delivered in the guise of entertainment and news.
Given the preponderance of news-as-entertainment programming, viewers have largely lost the ability to think critically and analytically and differentiate between truth and propaganda.
TV news is not what happened. Rather, it is what someone thinks is worth reporting. The art of investigative reporting largely has been lost.
There is a reason programs are called news “shows.” It’s a signal the so-called news is being delivered as a form of entertainment. In the case of most news shows, the package includes attractive anchors, an exciting musical theme, comic relief, stories placed to hold the audience, the creation of the illusion of intimacy, and so on. Although the news items spoon-fed to you may have some value, they are primarily a commodity to gather an audience, which will in turn be sold to advertisers.
In an average household, the television set is on over seven hours a day. Most people, believing themselves to be in control of their media consumption, are not really bothered by this. But TV not only delivers programming to your home, it also delivers you (the consumer) to a sponsor (the content producer).
There are few independent news sources. Major news outlets are owned by corporate empires. Moreover, even those “fake” news outlets denounced by Trump are enjoying significant sales and ratings boosts as a result of Trump’s so-called “war” on the media. “Trump, of course, has become the greatest source of lead generation the American press has ever seen.” For a dying news industry, the Trump presidency is great for business.
Because film footage and other visual imagery are so engaging on TV news shows, viewers are apt to allow language—what the reporter is saying about the images—to go unexamined. A TV news host’s language frames the pictures, and, therefore, the meaning we derive from the picture is often determined by the host’s commentary. TV by its very nature manipulates viewers.
Every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the actual event, but an edited form of the event. For example, present a one- to two-minute segment from a two-hour political speech and have a TV talking head critique it. This may be disingenuous, but such sound bite footage is a regular staple on news shows. Reporters editing the film have a subjective view—sometimes a view determined by their corporate bosses.
TV news generally consists of “bad” news—wars, torture, murders, scandals and so forth. It cannot possibly do you any harm to excuse yourself each week from much of the mayhem projected at you on the news. Do not form your concept of reality based on television.
TV does not reflect normal everyday life. Studies indicate TV news makes people think the world is much more dangerous than it actually is.
People feel obligated to have an opinion on almost everything, which gives the illusion of participation in American life. But an “opinion” presents only the most rudimentary and fragmented information on anything. Thus, on most issues we don’t really know much about what is actually going on.
We often don’t have enough information from a “news source” to form an objective opinion. How can that be done? Study a broad variety of sources, carefully analyze issues in order to be better informed, and question everything.
Mute in the face of elected officials who refuse to represent us, helpless in the face of police brutality, powerless in the face of militarized tactics and technology that treat us like enemy combatants on a battlefield, and naked in the face of government surveillance that sees and hears all.
If we continue to sit back and lose ourselves in political programming, we will remain a captive audience to a farce that grows more absurd by the minute.
~ John Whitehead