Thursday, November 02, 2006

On Flavor of Love and the media in general

I just read a very interesting article. The author discussed two classics that hypothesized about the future: Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World. Both are about societies that control every aspect of our ability to express ourselves but in different ways. In 1984 Big Brother is watching. Books are burned, the TV spies on us, and we fail to think out of fear. In contrast, Brave New World imagines a different society. No censorship or thought police. None needed. We are hypnotized by nothingness, foo foo, and fun.

The author, Wickham, explored Huxley's fears: "What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one... Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance [and that] we would become a trivial culture." Wickham used Vh1's Flavor of Love as an example of Huxley's fears: "if you think Flavor of Love 2 is innocent television fare, you're wrong... Our media are our metaphors. Our metaphors create the content of our culture. And shows such as Flavor of Love 2 dumb us down and define us to others in ways that ought to cause an awful churning in our national gut."

I don't know if the media gives us Paris Hilton's latest exploits in bigger headline and with greater exposure than other issues like Dar Fur because WE want it, or because THEY want us to not think too hard lest we hurt our brains. But I do know they are intentionally shielding our eyes. Look at the following covers of Newsweek all published the same week in different regions (sources: here, and here):

When discussing current American apathy in my Human Rights class, a student rolled his eyes saying "We are a superpower like Romans of old. Why shouldn't we be focused on celebrities instead of politics? We've got a good life. And other countries? They need to learn about us. Why should we care about things that don't affect us?"

Because we live in a democracy and its important to be informed about our country and its happenings? Because to whom much is given much is expected? Because we are in a position to make a difference even if the only difference is that we read about and then shared for a fleeting moment the pain of a fellow human being sharing this world that grows increasingly global and interconnected each day?

Reading about TomKat's latest weirdness is definitely easier to think about, and I'm not saying that no one needs downtime to read entertainment sites/mags (like this!) But when that's all you read, and all you know, and all you care about- its troubling.

"Cut the stargazin' yo, move somethin'!" Talib Kweli


William Smith said...

I loved it. I have gone into far greater detail about this post in my blog and have included a link to your site for those interested. Keep'em coming. As always, it is a real pleasure to read your work. If you get the chance check out Fahrenheit 951 or for a little bit darker appraoch to the human condition, I highly recommend Conrad's " Heart of Darkness". One about the future, the other about the British forays into Africa in the past. Both highly interesting

Maleeha said...

Thanks for this! And the Newsweek covers are so telling. Did you explain to the moron in your class the demise of the Roman empire? His analogy might have been more apt than he knew.

Aisha said...

William will check it out soon. Heart of Darkness is a good book. Really makes you second guess what you think you know about yourself "the horror. the horror!"

Maleeha, someeone did pointed that out. He didnt seemt o get it. He also said that just because Americans are not educated on countries like "dar fur" doesnt mean they are less intelligent. And the professor said "um Sudan is the country" lol.

Aisha said...

And Maleeha what was even scarier about him was that he is the type of person who is the protypical kind of person you can see running for office. I wont be surprised if I see him at least in our state legislature someday. Very scary.

Huda said...

Well, you'd hope that if he doesn't care about Darfur or the starving overseas, he at least has some compassion for the people who go hungry in his own city... because there are plenty of those people too.

It's so sad that Paris Hilton sells more magazines than an impoverished Indonesian child because it's a horrible reflection on our society. But... superstars like Bono and George Clooney do give me a tiny bit of hope that maybe the uninterested masses will eventually care a little, even if only because it's the fashionable thing to do.

I'd rather they cared because it was the right thing to do, but in the end, it doesn't really matter, I guess.

Tee said...

People like the guy in your class are one of the reasons I think we should have some kind of mandatory Peace Corp. service. (Like some countries have some mandatory military time.) That attitude is so wrong. SIGH. What an idiot.

Having said that, I have a shameful confession. I watched Flavor of Love... And Flavor of Love 2...Oh gawd... And the reunion show. ROFL. It was like a horrible car acccident. I just couldn't look away! LOL.

Anyway, the Newsweek covers make me feel paranoid. I feel so uncomfortable knowing that a great deal of what I'm informed on is specifically fed to me.

A couple years ago I was really into researching secret societies, conspiracies, groups like "The Bilderberg Group" - powerful people that control the world. Scary stuff.

Thought provoking as usual, my friend.

Zehra said...

Interesting post, Aisha. I am not sure if you know but I am from Toronto, Canada and there is a tendency among people here to view Americans as ignorant by and large not only on world issues but about domestic affairs as well. Of course, that is a gross generalization and it is not the case with a lot of intelligent Americans, like yourself for example. But what's disconcerting is that there are people like your classmate who are privileged to be in a postion to make a difference(like you said), and who are actually ok with this perception of themselves. *sigh*

I remember reading somewhere when the war first broke out in April 2003 and the night when the U.S. launched its first attack on Iraq, more people in the U.S. watched re-runs of "Friends" than actual footage or news of the attack.

As for censorship, I learnt yesterday that American soldiers in Iraq who blog about their experiences are now being monitored on what they post on their blogs, which is very sad indeed. Or, maybe this is old news that I just learnt about. Anyway, great post as usual.

Shabina said...

you're reading usa today? mama noooooooooo. :)

i've read postman's manifesto, tis good stuff. in terms of the media, i think, thanks to papers like usa today, the bottom-line mentality is stronger than ever.

meaning, let's give the readers - as in, our customers, not citizens of a free democracy - bite-sized chunks of easily digestable news. not because they need it, but because they'll read it.


Aisha said...

Huda, your comment about "maybe ppl will care at least b/c its fashionable" reminds me of Lemony Snickets where one of the characters Esme Squalor adopted the children because it was currently "in" to do so... :0/. You are right though, if people see the celebs care then hopefully they might care. I appreciate actors like Angelina, etc. who do this b/c they are using their status to affect change. And Huda I dont know if this guy is concerned about the hungry in his city. He probably thinks its all their fault and they could get off the streets or get food if they really wanted it.

Tee- I agree. I think its easy to make such statements if you have not traveled and seen poverty of 3rd world countries and felt their palptable desperation. I dont know if it does any good to get too upset about it. But it is good to know... though to be honest at times I wish I didnt have this mindset and could think like "Bob". It makes life easier and happier to not worry about anyone but yourself and people like you. Regarding Flavor of Love, ok, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't say that when its playing on Vh1 and I'm doing my laundry I do end up watching. I dont think (I HOPE) that anyone watches it becaus ethey really love the show, but more b/c its so silly you can't look away. He was just using it as an example. And to be honest, it is a shame, that they thought to create such a show, not once, but TWICE!

Aisha said...

Zehra, would you say that Canadians are more politically/socially aware of domestic/international issues? I couldnt decided if it was a US people issue or a North American issue. That statistic on the Friends vs. the Iraq War coverage is depressing but not shocking. The presidential address gets low ratings too, BUT to be fair, I dont watch the presidential adress either, I will catch the text version online because sometimes hearing it, I get quite upset.

Shabina, I will have to check that out! thanks. As for USA today, I dont read it actually, I did not know it was a bad newspaper though (I guess bc I dont read it!) but I was surfing online on Huxley and found it :)Do you face a lot of challenges as a journalist to resist the pressure to dumb down and "entertain" rather than inform your audience?

Baji said...

Love the quote--where is it from?

Aisha said...

Baji, thanks :) Its Talib Kweli it shoudl show up next to the quote. If you look at my "of meme's and pumpkins" post below there is a link to info on him on wikepedia.

mystic-soul said...

Read this

USA is worst among democratic nations in respecting privacy of her citizens.

rehtwo said...

As a society, our apathy and ignorance is dangerous. Sometimes I wonder if it's for the better that our %turnout in elections is so low...

mystic-soul said...

Actually, last year when I visited Pakistan - I was surprise to see the level of world's general knowledge among kids there. Comparing to kids in USA, they seems much more well informed about geography and world politics etc.

Aisha said...

Mystic, the link does not surprise me sadly, and yes this is the point that was made in class that our counterparts in other countires are much more informed. It's sad.

Rehtwo, its sad but at the same time I dont know if that means its better that the voting percentages are so low. The people whose votes that end up counting most then are people who reallly are vested in it to use their votes to influence lobbying. The less the major group players the more their voices herad. This is why right wingers dominate in the things our Ga. state legislature passes. I dont know what the alternative is- because you're right ignorant people should not be voting. What Ithink is there should be awareness campagins where instead of stupid smear campaigns, there are regulations on it and people are directed to reader friendly format websites where they can learn about issues in an easy manner that the public can digest and then make a little more reasonable decisions. I dont think this is impossible to do. ITs quite reasonable as far as implementing but I dont know why any politician would want to change the way things are now where one second sound bytes dictate elections and so its easier to manipulate.

Phew sorry, that was quite long!

Shabina said...

Aisha, in response to your q:

"Do you face a lot of challenges as a journalist to resist the pressure to dumb down and "entertain" rather than inform your audience?"

Hell yes! more so as the industry gets more consolidated and only a few key players remain. alas!

mezba said...

Aisha, your commentator above Zehra is right. One of the first things you will notice about Canadian politics is that a lot of focus is on issues such as healthcare, foreign policy and taxation. Personal attacks and negative generalization are rare, and I think some of it is due to our parliamentary system of government, and because corporations are limited to donating only $5000 per year to any party and so on.

However, this is where the bad news comes in. Republicans down south are cozying up to the Conservative party here and already we see some US style campaigning and insults coming here. For example, during a recent debate on whether we should be in Afghanistan, the ruling party said anyone who opposes our mission does not support the troops, completely borrowing from the Republican party, whereas it was the Liberal party (our version of Democrats) that put them there.

So far it (political dumbness and news apathy) was just an US issue (you just have to travel through the heartland of the Bible belt to see that). I was shocked at the number of people there who were amazed on seeing a Honda Civic from Canada! They were like which state is Ontario? Now I worry for Canada though. I hope the Liberals get back in power quickly.

Saadia said...

To answer the dumb girl's question,
1) Other countries do already learn about the US, the US people are the ones that are naive about the world, although there are US troops everwhere.
2) If everyone knew about the fact that Afghanistan is being lost to insurgents, they might question why they should send their kids to might make you think about sending your kids to Iraq.

Saadia said...

Canada seems like a nice country. I think we are left in the dark about it- like what the hell is in Canada. Maybe we'd all go there if we knew.

Jane said...

You hit the nail on the head, darlin'.

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