The Red Pill

One of the things that’s bothered me since I first started travelling outside the US is how US-centric our news is. Granted, if you live in the US, you might assume that’s normal, but the extent to which our news media ignores the rest of the world is pretty incredible. You hear barely anything of substance about the rest of the world, and you certainly hear quite little about the opinions of other countries with respect to our policies – unless it’s in a piece bad-mouthing France for not kowtowing to Bush.
When travelling to Europe, or Japan, I’ve always found it incredibly refreshing to hear about the rest of our planet, and to listen to the perspectives of people who are not steeped in the opinions of news cognoscenti from US television.
When staying in London or Paris I’ve found news from Spain, Italy, Germany, Russia, China, and many other locations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. They actually seem interested in hearing what other people think about and value, perhaps because they’re surrounded by people with different opinions. Each time I’ve returned from a trip abroad, I’ve felt like a snail that has had its eyestalks cut off – or a blind man whose dog has been taken away – or, okay, these are all really horrible analogies, sorry. 🙂 Basically, all I could again see upon returning was what was immediately surrounding me here in the US.
When I first began watching CNN I felt like the world had at least opened up a crack. I wasn’t getting a ton of information, but at least now I wasn’t stuck in the world of soundbititis and infotainment. Unfortunately, since September 11 2001, with Fox News slowly kicking its ass, CNN has been steering its programming more toward “Inside Edition” and “Crossfire”, and away from actual information. The turning point for me was hearing Soledad O’Brien berate Michael Moore about his latest book on the morning talk show – with a pretty damned clear conservative pissed-off edge in her voice and questions. If I want a political bias from my morning news hosts, I’ll watch Fox, thanks!
That’s why I’m happy over the past year to increasingly be finding alternative news sources. I guess I can thank the Bush administration for that, in some ways – people here in San Francisco and other urban areas in the US are so pissed off at the current administration that they’re creating alternative ways to get and spread information, and the popularity of those sources continues to increase.
This morning I watched Newsworld International and got to see some of the news from NHK Japan (they just had a huge earthquake near Niigata). Last week I stumbled across a show on Link TV, “Mosaic”, that was an hour-long summary of the news from many of the major news stations in the Arab world – amazing! During the week I bounce between the local NPR station (KQED) and Pacifica (KPFA), particularly Democracy Now! in the morning.
Unfortunately, all of these programs are either pay-TV (DirecTV) or public radio (pay-radio?). Why is it so easy to find garbage for free, but to get something I’m interested in, I have to pay? I suppose with respect to media, it’s because the media is so geared toward entertainment, and advertising. Each channel wants to lure you to its station, its site, and to do that they focus less on information and more on shiny objects – beautiful people, entertainment news, amusing soundbites, petty wars of words between Kerry and Bush, regurgitated press releases – these are all so much cheaper and easier to produce, and keep people watching because they don’t make people feel BAD. Talking about the war in Iraq and what an f’ed-up mess it is, the genocide in Sudan, and poverty and disenfranchisement around the world are total downers, and won’t keep your viewers watching!
But this pay-per-play aspect of useful US news is just one aspect of a larger trend here in the US. Many people I know won’t now drink their tap water – they buy bottled water or run the tap water through a filter. More and more folks are buying those Sharper Image air purifiers, or their allergies and asthma are so awful that they run HEPA filters of some type at home. It isn’t that these are people who have disposable income and buy these items as a luxury, it’s that the tap water and air are increasingly bad for us, and if we DON’T purify them ourselves we face the consequences.
When did we in the US decide that people should be forced to pay for a baseline – for air, for water, for straight talk? When did we decide that people who can’t afford to pay to clean their OWN air and their OWN water should be left to become sick? Why is it that to learn what’s actually going on in the world, I can’t trust the major US news media? Is this a free-market economy run amok? Is this capitalism at its finest? Where is the invisible hand? Where is the rising tide that raises all boats?
When people are distracted by shiny objects, I suppose it’s easy to ignore these issues. People want to be happy, and will naturally be drawn toward things that make them feel good. But isn’t happiness built on ignorance a complete sham? How can we get people to take the red pill? What would happen if more people did?