Spectator Society

Once again we’re subjected to endless all-channel coverage of events that, while notable, do not justify round-the-clock, mostly prurient commentary. The tragedy at Virginia Tech has spawned copycats at Johnson Space Center and other schools around the country. Most are simply threats, but it just takes one ‘for real’ to fuel the media frenzy.

As we know, the news channels keep a stable of ‘experts’ on hand to give their views on every imaginable subject. Retired Generals give armchair analyses of the battlefield, ex-lawyers give us a play-by-play of Anna Nicole’s posthumous legal woes, and now ex-FBI profilers and police officers explain the mental workings of a madman. In the absence of ‘experts’, the news folks talk to each other in authoritative terms about ‘the way it is’.

Enough has been said about the sorry state of the media, which has become increasingly polarized along the ‘right and the left’—point/counterpoint is now entertainment if you like to see adults slinging pejorative ‘sound bites’ at each other. I tuned out after OJ but still see enough of it in passing to remain disgusted and increasingly resigned that we have indeed fallen to new ‘news lows’.

The mass media is the mouthpiece for the dark side of our collective consciousness!!!

But the media doesn’t devolve to the state it is in apart from its consumers. We need to acknowledge we’ve become addicted to sensational, obsessive commentary on almost anything that happens that is ‘out of the ordinary’.

There was a movie in the 70s about a futuristic society that had become so inundated with media that they were numb to genuine human experience, genuine human suffering and could not distinguish ‘reality’ from reports of reality. In the movie, the protagonist news reporter has little cameras put into his head behind his eyes so what he sees is broadcast to the masses. He then manipulates a woman dying of cancer into a romantic relationship and (in anticipation of ‘reality TV’) exposes their relationship and her suffering as a means to boost ratings while keeping her in the dark about what is happening. At the end, love trumps profits and ratings, and he blinds himself to allow her to die with dignity.

I am sad to say I think that futuristic society is now. We’ve so objectified human beings that nothing is sacred, nothing is out-of-bounds. We’re left with little options other than to cover up our self-disgust and shame with more ‘fixes’ and more commentary and more denial of the consequences of what we’ve created. The pundits have covered this ground and there are many theories of how our ‘public discourse’ is either causing or aggravating many of the breakdowns we are witnessing. From my point of view, the true cost is that we’re bankrupting the human spirit.

Perhaps this is the gift Eldering offers. Perhaps our mission is to restore and nurture the human spirit in our lives, in our communities and in our society. If we don’t take a stand for who we are as human beings, who will? I want my tombstone to read: “I am not a thing.” What I want to be remembered for is that I was a ‘player’ until the end, and that I didn’t get sucked into being a spectator of life.

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