Friday, April 9, 2010

Watch Your Tongue

Fill not your mind with empty thoughts nor your mouth with empty words.

Most of us are unaware of just how much our thinking is effected and shaped by empty words. I don't watch much television any more, because when I do I literally shake my head at the nonsense I'm seeing and hearing.

A TV station advertises the 10:00 News, let's say. It's an hour program. The producers are responsible for delivering exactly 60 minutes of program. Of course a lot of that time will be taken up by commercial advertising which often consists of well made and attractive nonsense. They put an actor in a lab coat holding up a deliciously designed container of the latest snake oil and convincing you that you need it. And if it's patented you can even "ask your doctor" to prescribe it. There's a commercial for the latest electronic gizmo that's certain to help you find romance. And you can't travel quickly and comfortably without owning the latest classy looking jalopy. They show you the icing. They don't show you the cake underneath.

In between the commercials and other promotions there may be 35 minutes left for news. A lot of that time will be taken up with sports, weather and, possibly, stock market news. That may leave 20 minutes for other news. If there is more than 20 minutes of important events to talk about you won't get it all. If there is less than 20 minutes you will get ballast. In either case someone else is deciding what is important. Not you.

Maybe having been a broadcaster and commercial actor myself has given me a clearer perspective about these things. No maybe about it. But there's no reason not to pass my perspective along.

I was working at a large TV station during the Viet Nam war. There were a lot of protests against that war. This station sent a news team to Viet Nam to interview local Americans who were over there. After asking them who they were, where they were from and what they did there, they asked what the person thought of the protests back home. If that person thought the protests were detrimental to the efforts it was included in the news program. If the person agreed with the protests that portion of the interview was cut from the news. The station was purposely giving the impression that no one in Viet Nam was in favor of our leaving there. I was quite young at the time but it was when I first began shaking my head.

I was the morning news announcer for a large radio station. It was the custom at that station to repeat the top story at the end of the newscast, and so I did, because it was the custom, I had exactly 5 minutes, and one day I realized that the practice was cutting into time that could be used for another important item. Then, sometimes the top story was merely what one politician said about some other politician and it didn't bear repeating. It was just empty words. So I stopped the practice altogether unless the top story was of world wide importance. It wasn't long before the more conservative listeners raised their objections. They wanted the repeat reinstated for no other reason than that's the way it was always done. So I complied.

A few years later I happened to be listening to that station and heard that the practice of repeating the top story had been dropped completely. "Oh, my prophetic soul."

One day last winter I watched the TV journalists at Fox News throwing snow balls at each other during the newscast. I enjoyed that very much, not because of the snow ball fight but because it illustrated how unimportant to them it was what they were there to do.

By all means watch your TV News. But as you do remember three things.

First, it's show business. Most of those people are members of AFTRA, The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. They are entertainers.

Second, everything you see has to be carefully designed to fit into a specific and limited time slot. There is no spilling over even if there is more news than can fit into that time period and you will be given unimportant news to fill out that time slot if there isn't.

Third, there is no news outlet that doesn't have an editorial policy. Someone is deciding what is important for you to see and hear and what you should think about it.

Challenge the empty words and the empty thoughts they give you.

Marcel Proust once suggested that all the great poetry and philosophy of the world should be printed in the daily paper, whereas the news of the day, crime reports, ball scores, recipes, crosswords and police blotters should be published in expensive leather bound volumes, thus expressing his scorn for the relative importance we give to what we read.

DB - The Vagabond
It's Spring. Plant a smile today.

(This is not a contest.)

In your opinion what is the most amazing thing that could happen during this decade? Make it as outrageous as you want but keep it within the realm of what you consider a possibility.

Only 5 responses so far.

Answers will be published the first day of Summer.

DB - The Vagabond


pacifica62 said...

Once again you have taken a somewhat serious subject and peppered it with your own delightful brand of humour. A very good read. The fact that the news is often manipulated and edited is even more evident if you see the same story on the news in another country. Your advice to "challenge the empty words and empty thoughts" is well taken.

Gerry said...

It has always bothered me a lot how the media powers that be can slant the news, and also how crime can be sensationalized until you would think that was all that was happening in the city, which is why I quit listening to TV broadcasting locally. One source is enough, the newspaper which I read each day. For breaking national news I rely on the Internet which will be covered by the newspaper, too. Now at last I have got a balance of news coverage that is less affecting. If a big story is breaking I will go down to Doc's and see it on CNN, too. One of the worst experiences I have had though was being embedded with CNN covering the Iraq war. I was very upset over the war and then to see it close up and personal with Pierre who watched it all day long! It only got worse. And worse. I have watched so many wars on the news, World War II, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraqi war, 9/11, but not the Afghanistan war now, no. But the worst case of slanting I think I have seen was on the editorial page of the Arizona Republic after Roe vs. Wade. The powers that be must have been democratic in a Republican state, because they made it seem like the world suddenly changed to pro choice. My protests were never published, which made it look like no letters even came in that reflected any other opinion. The Garfield County News in my home state did a better job of representing a difference of opinion. And this woman editor published some remarkable letters written during a big environmentalist, cattleman, BLM war about the ranges, everybody got their say. She understood the value of allowing diverse opinions to be published, an old newspaper woman I thought with integrity. She could have taught these big city newspaper guys a lesson. Fascinating subject!!

Linda's World said...

I always find more enjoyment in watching local new programs rather than CNN or FOX news. The really important world events are covered locally too.

What could happen during this decade? World Peace~wouldn't that be nice. Linda here on the other side of the country.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

What amazes me is that most of the news coverage is negative. If we devoted half of every broadcast to good deeds and good tidings, then perhaps our perspective would change and we would be a more civil country again.

Liz said...

We are forever congratulating ourselves on the 'Freedom of the Press' that our (western) society enjoys.
We are forever looking down on societies that we believe are to be condemned for their lack of freedom of speach.
When will we ever realise that there is no freedom when our democratic, capatilistic society pays people to silence the truth.