Fighting the media machine
Post-truths, assumptions and agendas
Wait! Just Listen is a weekly Sunday newsletter on living a purposeful and meaningful life, in a digitised world of opinion polarisation, gratuitous commentary and click-bait. Subscribe with one-click to receive my musings right in your inbox. If you want access to topics and recordings more attuned to the craft of writing and ideation, do consider opting for the paid version of this newsletter.
Consuming content can be exasperating. We’re exposed to a daily mind-numbing stream of stories carrying exaggerated subplots and contrived twists, ranging from doomsday economic predictions to the latest in Boris Johnson’s line of lockdown ‘non-parties’. The media, once revered as an objective source of worldly clarification, now reduced to sporadic soundbites and sensationalist snippets meekly masquerading as news. Its imperious march to dictate how we perceive reality is well documented. Perhaps less obvious is the insidious effects media narratives have in trapping us within a treacherous maze of routine, dissatisfaction and mediocrity.
As we idly scroll through our social media feeds on a Sunday afternoon, tossed around by the turbulent currents of unattainable expectations and unsustainable desires, another moment is wasted. Another path for serene stillness closed away. Another opportunity to grapple with the real meaning of existence stymied.
The media machine is unscrupulous in holding our senses hostage, snuffing out any possibility for critical distance and considered reflection. We are schooled to react at the slightest bit of media inspired provocation to satisfy the gnawing itch to be validated in a mediatised world not typically known to listen. We’ve become accustomed to classifying life into black-and-white binaries, not just across the political spectrum but throughout our material experience. Nuance is disparagingly dismissed as ‘fence-sitting’, because expressing an opinion is widely seen as a necessary moral imperative to exert ones’ agency.
There is a widely held but erroneous assumption that forgoing ones’ opportunity to speak is an ultimate betrayal of democratic privilege. Whilst silence externally enforced is a tool of oppression, silence wilfully elected is a force of growth. It fertilises the human imagination and remains the only accessible sanctuary where ones’ inner voice becomes audible. Silence creates a space for purposeful connection and conversation.
For some of us, the dopamine hit of instantaneous media interaction presents a convenient excuse to avoid the gritty rawness of human connection beyond the virtual. We anesthetize our feelings of presumed inadequacy, by waging micro ‘online-wars’ with people and movements that unsettle our fragile Internet-dependent egos. This gives us the illusion of control, a point that the tech digital tech industry is all too eager to leverage for commercial gain.
If anything, the media have made sitting with uncertainty impossibly exhausting. We despise the sensation of not knowing what will cross our paths next; could an opportunity for change be around the corner or perhaps a caressing whisper assuring us that everything is going to be alright? Who knows? Either way, being in the dark is anathema when residing in a digital world that promises quick answers and shorthand routes to a constructed narratives of truth. People would rather know than think. Preying on this desire for the certitude of ready-made meaning has become a perfected art-form for those in positions of power.
However, the most pernicious effect of living in a media saturated world is that it breeds a culture of truth by consensus rather than truth by evidence, truth relative to collective opinion rather than absolute truth. Worse still, any longing for communion with eternal truths outside the blinding glare of screens is countered by a modern media-induced psyche that sees “spiritual enlightenment” as just another product or checklist item on the inventory of self-actualization and the Good Life. As such, our attempts to seek an experience outside the media’s sphere of influence often lead us right back to where we first started.
But all hope is not lost.
Look hard enough into the depths of cyberspace and you’d hear a faint but distinct murmur gathering momentum from those living on the intellectual fringes of mainstream society; visionaries, artists and writers whose work revolves around the humble exaltation of the present moment building our capacity to find something to love, something divine in every particle of the universe. It’s the sound of collective indignation roaring to achieve individual emancipation from the agenda-driven media narratives that have for far too long colonised our sense of truth and subjectivity.
My personal (and yet public) fight against the media machine began through this newsletter, approximately a year ago. As seasoned readers would know, this is a space where I try to evoke the complexities of the human psyche outside the whitewashed digital spheres of superficiality, showcasing a full palette of themes ranging from compassion and boredom to identity and writing. These words that I churn out weekly represent an urgent call and note-to-self to embrace the truths that shape the persons we are, truths that are too sharp-edged, too jagged to fit comfortably into a media-fuelled reality.
I’ve learnt that, despite the mainstream push to highlight, politicise and sometimes clumsily normalise instances of presumed imperfection, it is ok to simply acknowledge a reality that is sterile and shattered, because its broken pieces will continue to sparkle under the sunbeams of an indifferent sun. Let time and not your Instagram feed becalm the stirred waters of a troubled conscience and remedy the festering pain of unhealed wounds.
Remember that at the heart of all polarised tussles between differing ideologies, opinions and assertions, is always the question of what is real — what makes us real in our personhood, to ourselves and others, and what makes the world real to us. Because the moment we stop questioning, we stop living.