How Modern Media Destroys Our Minds: Calming the Chaos
By The School of Life
192 pp. School of Life. $22.
There’s an insidious smear that’s worked its way throughout Western society. Those who perpetrate it are miserable wretches intent on demonizing those who refuse to wallow in similar misery. This smear has, as its refrain, a favorite buzzword of the masochistic masses — “privilege.”
The line of attack tends to go something like this.
Person 1: The news is so negative and depressing that I just can’t keep up with it anymore. Doing so would seriously jeopardize my mental health.
Person 2: Must be nice to live a life of such privilege that you can just turn off the TV and your problems go away! Unfortunately, (insert historically marginalized group here) don’t have that luxury.
Ah, yes. The “if you don’t keep up with all the details of the latest public school shooting/example of police brutality/case of institutional racism, then you’re a privileged POS” argument. The favorite fallback of those the educational system has failed.
This cynical, cretinous logic has become so ingrained in our culture that it routinely makes appearances on film and television.
When the douchey tech investor Cameron and his blinkered wife Daphne announced in an early episode of the second season of HBO’s “The White Lotus” that they didn’t follow the news, this was meant to be taken by the audience as further proof of these characters’ privilege and blatant disregard for the less affluent.
You’re required to pay attention to the horrors fed to you by the 24 hour news cycle. You’re expected to wallow in the world’s miseries, or at least those of your own country. And if you don’t, well, you’re not a very good person. And if you’re a cisgendered white male who refuses to wallow, well, you’re in fact a bad person.
Such thinking isn’t just idiotic, but harmful to us all. After all, what good comes when an entire country is riveted to the latest high-profile murder case?
Will an obsessive fixation on imbibing all the news media’s reporting of the most recent mass shooting help prevent future mass shootings? Will the details finally convince the naysayers that stricter gun regulations are necessary?
Will watching videos of police beating unarmed black people teach me something I don’t already know, or am I required to watch, eyes prised open “Clockwork Orange” style?
Such breathless reporting only manages to inflame and destroy the mental health of those of us already on the same page. We’ve become hopelessly addicted to the “disaster porn” we’re fed day after day, but we justify this addiction in the name of being “aware citizens.”
The pressure to maintain this awareness and to take the “correct,” yet ultimately pointless, steps to display common cause after having become aware, has further made us all crazy.
In the immediate aftermath of the George Floyd killing, social media users were told by righteous internet activists that they needed to post a photo of a black square on their social media profiles for something dubbed #BlackOutTuesday to show solidarity with victims of police brutality. This was soon counteracted when the internet’s other righteous activists condemned this action because it clogged feeds for other adopted hashtags, like #BlackLivesMatter, meant to spread further awareness of racism and police brutality.
The whiplash caused by these counteracting messages, along with an entire national dialogue about how to “talk” about instances of racism and police brutality, had us all doubting ourselves, covert racists that we were for posting — or not posting — little black squares on Instagram.
“How Modern Media Destroys Our Minds” states the case for ignoring the media better than I can here, and is best paired with Johann Hari’s “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — and How to Think Deeply Again” for an even deeper analysis.
Not paying attention to the details of every sensational story doesn’t mean you don’t care. On the contrary, it means you very much do care. You care about yourself and others enough that you don’t want to become numbed by the endless deluge of disaster porn masquerading as real news.
It is only by selective caring, choosing to care about the people and things you can actually have an impact on, that you can make an actual difference.
And yes, it’s ok to live life and have fun. You can laugh if you want to.