June 19th, 2003


What about the other guy?

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The Media Matrix

One day, several years ago, I was sitting on the bus reading an article on the front page of the Washington Post and there was that word. Should. The news article was telling me what someone should do in the particular situation. I couldn't believe it. The news isn't supposed to tell me what should happen or what someone should do...the news is supposed to lay the facts out to me, with no sense of self, no influence, right?. I unfolded the paper and skimmed the rest of the front page. Six times. The word should appeared six times on the front page of the Washington Post. Should is a word that belongs on the Op-Ed page. Or maybe in the weather report. But not in the news.

In the following days, I noticed myself staring at someone reading the Washington Times. I had always known, somehow, that there is a difference between people who read the Washington Post and the Washington Times. I had heard that the Times was a bad paper. I had heard it was poorly written. But I had never read it, and to be honest, I still haven't. But how could it be worse? How could it be worse than a paper that uses conjecture on A1?

I started to pay attention. I started seeking out alternative news sources for shits and giggles, but what I was really doing was sharpening my skills within the Media Matrix. I picked easy exercises: on my way to work, I'd tune in to Pacifica News and listen in amazement while they sat there reporting the "news" while casually saying things like "President Se-Lect George W. Bush addressed so-and-so today..."

But that was easy. That was like trying to hit a volleyball with a two-by-four. A simple spinning jump kick. Slowly, and with the help of my Morpheus, I could begin to manipulate the Media Matrix. I could learn more from what the Matrix wasn't saying than what it was. I got more out of how things were being said than what was being said in the first place. I was breaking free from the Matrix.

My skills are honed. And yet, it still surprises me what a strong hold the Matrix has on the world around us. Take, for instance, something as innocuous as the morning yabbo show on Oldies 100.

As I've said in the past, I have to listen to Oldies 100 in the morning because it's the only radio station that comes in in my apartment building, and I can't get ready in the morning without knowing the weather. But between the weather and the music, the morning chatter people get to talking. Usually, they keep it within their realm of knowledge: the pet psychic will come on to read the listeners' pets' minds, the lady who played Mrs. Beaver will come on to talk about some charity walk, or they'll do some pseudo game show to get listeners to try to answer questions for tickets to the Beach Boys Revival concert.

Sometimes, they take a step into the Matrix. A week or so ago, they were talking about Hillary Clinton's TV interview, and by association, her book. The radio people were debating whether or not she seemed wooden or stoic in the interview; scripted or war-weary. But their point was the same, whether they thought she was reading from cue cards or not: she is a hero, a survivor, a modern day renissance woman with the resolve of an entrenched soldier. Then they turned the debate over to the phones. And the calls came rolling in. More priase: she stuck by her husband no matter what. She believed in him when no one else did. She managed to perservere and come out on top. Her book will be an insight into true strength and courage. And the radio hosts oohed and aahed over how right they and everyone else were.

The metaphorical cat came out of the corner of my eye, however, when the few dissenting calls started being aired. One guy said he couldn't believe that they were wasting their and everyone else's morning talking about his foul woman. Another guy said he could use a copy of the book to get his barbeque going. Each of these calls were cut off; the host thanking them for their call, but dismissing them with an accusation of partisanship.

Partisanship?!? An entire one-sided show is being devoted to kissing this woman's ass, yet any opinions to the contrarary are partisan?

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