It’s easy to counter the racially coded statements of right-wingers and Tea Party spokespersons. But it serves no purpose other than for entertainment. John Stewart does this four evenings a week, preaching to his choir. It’s much more difficult, but potentially more important, to identify the purposes of our real media gatekeepers. Let’s think in terms of concentric circles.
Fox News and extremist right-wing bloggers are the outermost concentric circle of gatekeeping, where race-baiting and clownish entertainment masquerade as “news” or “opinion.”
CNN, the large daily newspaper chains, local news broadcasters and the major broadcast networks all make up the next level. There, manipulation of public opinion occurs in a subtler form. A practiced eye, however, can discern three themes:
One, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Violence – both the threat and the fear of violence, as well as our fascination with violence – make up the sea that we swim in. Two: The “news” is merely the invitation to the real product, which is, of course, the commercials. The weird mixture of these two themes produces a third one. We receive the constant, daily message that we should be very, very worried, and at the same time, that everything is all right in our fantasized consumer paradise. This kind of thinking is called “schizogenetic”: in simple terms, it is making us crazy.
The innermost – and most insidious – level is composed of the “center of opinion,” including such moderate-to-liberal bastions of “reason” as the New York Times (including its Sunday supplement), the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and the New Yorker. In this world, the gatekeeping intent, similar in its corporate world-view to the others, comes in a more elevated form. The writing is really good, and the radio voices are really soothing.
Indeed, at this level, the message is conveyed at least as much by style as by content. No shouting, name-calling, exclamation marks or all-capital-letters here! Their taste is impeccable.
Well-meaning, university-educated, influential, “free-thinking,” self-described liberal Americans are almost literally seduced by the arrival of the glossier versions, where subtle messages of support for the American empire are digested along with Armani ads (Heavens! I’ve used the passive voice twice in one sentence!) that subvert the bad news with a more fundamental message: consume, or be left behind. In mythic terms: be a hero or be a victim. As Jerry Falwell said, “This is America. If you’re not a winner it’s your own fault.”
David Brooks is a gatekeeper of the first magnitude. He has been called the sort of conservative pundit liberals like, who “engages” with them and praises the “moderate majority” of Americans. He shows contempt for Tea Partiers and supports both John McCain and (at times) President Obama. Now that’s reasonable.
A student of mine forwards a recent NYT article of Brooks’: “The Spiritual Recession — Is America Losing Faith in Universal Democracy?” — because the article appears to be about the loss of myth, one of my favorite themes.
While Brooks does make some insightful comments about the loss of myth and the struggle to find meaning in its absence, it’s critical to understand that he, like all gatekeepers, is writing from inside the bubble of American Innocence. By doing so, he is implying that all “reasonable” readers share his basic assumptions.
But some of us who watch from outside of the bubble have realized that we must do more than pontificate about politics and culture, even about myth itself. We have to learn to think mythologically in order to extricate (liberate, if you prefer) ourselves from the flawed mythologies that no longer serve us, and the ways in which they reinforce our belief systems.
We remember, as James Hillman wrote, “…that peculiar process upon which our civilization rests: dissociation.” Only such a stance – precisely the stance that Brooks and the NYT offers us – can enable us as individuals and as a nation to go on fantasizing about those Armani ads while our military (abroad) and our militarized police (domestically) continue to wreck biblical violence upon the Others of this world.
Thinking mythologically helps us to identify the voices of the gatekeepers. Such voices (formerly the priesthood, now the corporate media) set the limits of acceptable debate and subtly reinforce what Joseph Campbell called the sociological level of myth, the narratives that validate the existing social order. Brooks does this in his first two paragraphs by implying that “the dream of the beautiful collective” (a code phrase for “socialism”) is antithetical to “universal democracy,” and later by stating categorically that “capitalism is necessary.”
I am not implying that socialism is a panacea. Our problems go way beyond such (necessary) considerations of how wealth should be created and distributed. I’m simply pointing out that our responsibility as mythologists is to deconstruct such skillful writers as Brooks and identify their real agendas.
Remember that Brooks, the New York Times and all of the corporate media strongly supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our military interventions in countless other places. When he writes, “Americans felt responsible for creating a global order that would nurture the spread of democracy,” he is referencing one of the most fundamental assumptions of the myth of American Innocence, that America has a divinely inspired mission to save the world. Accepting that assumption, ten generations of American parents have offered their sons as willing sacrificial offerings to Ares, the god of war. And they have willingly ignored the suffering that the empire has inflicted upon the Third World.
It was no accident that Brooks wrote this article just as the debate about attacking Iraq yet again was heating up in the media. The “loss of faith” he is lamenting is the willingness to blindly support our leaders in yet another military adventure.
For more on Brooks’ hidden agenda, see this article: “Highly Placed Media Racists,” by Steve Rendall.
If this subject interests you, please see two other blogs I’ve posted on the subject of gatekeeping: