Our perception of the world and the opinions about different events are formed on the non-stop basis. It is through media channels we receive the majority of all information that is used in the opinion formation process. We listen to the radio when at home or in a car, we watch television, we enjoy photographic masterpieces and read newspapers. Magazines and journals are telling us the “news” without which we could have lived happily ever after, but we again fall under the temptation to be anguish with the financial world crisis, even though your boss gave you additional bonuses, and to listen to what media monsters are offering us for dinner. We are getting information from the secondary source, and it is unknown whether that secondary source is telling the truth to us.
In this research paper, I will investigate different media channels, as well as present my research results and opinions about whether media is the real creator, or it is just the means of people to know it and has their judgments.
Media and Truth
To be accurate with notions, first of all, I would like to discuss what truth is and what does this idea entails. There are many theories of fact, but I am inclined to the following definition, which is closer to the correspondence truth theory, the traditional approach supported by such Greek philosophers as Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato. Truth is something that corresponds to the factual state of affairs or events. Under this definition, the state of thoughts and state of objects are tightly interconnected. So the truth is determined to the extent how accurately particular events represented. The fact can also be called the objective reality, the reality that is free from subjective judgments and assertions. But here is another tricky thing, as actual truth should be revealed by carefully using words, thoughts, and symbols, and in general, the ideal representation of the events can be only achieved through the profound analysis of additional factors.
In practice, in our everyday lives, people are not very much preoccupied with the separation of objective reality or truth form the information they are getting through different media channels. Of course, they can evaluate its reliability, but in general, they are just eating for dinner the served courses.
The epigraph dialogue to “A Flood of Pseudo-Events” by Daniel Boorstin very vividly depicts the people’s attitude to media when on a woman is telling another how beautiful her child is and the mother of the child just responds that it is nothing, as the picture of the child is even better. It is an exaggeration, but in life, it is how things usually are. Boorstin also suggested that the responsibility to make the world, and subsequently the news, interesting was transferred from God to journalists. These are they who decide how to serve this or that news event, name the picture or interpret actions of famous people. In the 21st century, people cannot live without news; they need them as air or food. If newsmakers offer nothing astonishing, they started to feel intellectual hunger. People became greedy to positive and negative emotions they can consume with their eyes or ears; they became “overwhelming news addicts.” Lucky reporters are no longer valued for their capability to present current events most objectively, but for their ability to find out more and more games that would make people cry or laugh, sign or shake their heads; that would go people speak about, discuss and feel valuable and sociable through this discussion. People will never be alone and useless anymore until they have something to talk with others.
That is why Boorstin introduced the notion of “pseudo-events.” Pseudo-events are those events that are created for different purposes artificially. These could be public relations of various companies, interviews with celebrities, people what to read and hear about or in other words just circumstances or events that were created on purpose for society to know. Pseudo-events, according to Boorstin, have the following characteristics: they lack spontaneity, as they were previously planned. It could not be the earthquake or the airplane crash. Then, pseudo-events are created for the only purpose- to be reported or reproduced. The success of such events depends on their distribution scope. They cannot be true, as they are invented to astonish and capture minds, and subsequently, sell more. There is nothing supernatural, profits only. Pseudo-events often appear to be ambiguous, as they make people think more and arouse the desire to dig out the truth. Without this ambiguity component, the news is not that spicy and exciting. And finally, pseudo-events are like mantras or self-fulfilling prophecies. If you call your boat Titanic, it will go down one day.
Media is very much about politics. We will know what “they” want and allow us to know. They will shape our worldview the most convenient for the way to be able to control and manipulate our actions and choices. It is all virtual world to us, as it does not directly influence our lives.
Virtual World and Photography
Susan Sontag had drawn an analogy between the virtual world and the image world. Her point is that the image and reality are complementary notions. Truth can change the image and not vice versa. To my opinion, photography is the purest, innocuous and objective media channel to inform people about the events. Pictures are the means of understanding the world, the reality, to see games from the other side of the world. Photographs capture moments of existence and present them as they are. They cannot carry anyone’s judgment. They just provide instant access to reality. Of course, they are only copies of fact, but complementary copies. In photographs, it seems that the truth had never been so close. According to Sontag, photography, about reality, can be characterized by the following: it makes exotic, distant things near, and can equally distance everyday things. It liberates people’s mind and makes them look at simple things from the unknown side, from the unusual angle. It pushes to see the beauty where it cannot be seen from the first glance and to reveal impenetrable depths of regular things. It is not fair to judge the world from visual evidence only, as dramatic there is dramatized even more and the beauty is depicted even more beautiful. On the broader level, the situation with photography is close to that of with pseudo-events. To some extent, photographs are an aesthetic revelation of reality, which is not true in any case; it is some part of it, as an inevitable reality source. Photos are shaping people’s ideology and opinion formation, but in much lesser extent then news do. It is what Guy DeBord wrote in this regard in his “The Society and the Spectacle”: “The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world evolves into a world of autotomized images where even the deceivers deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving”.
Reality, Hyperreality, and Media
Reality is defined as the capability of the human-being to be real and to experience things in his or her everyday life. This existence should be objective, and this represents the main problem in locating the actual and distinguishing it from imaginary or sophisticated perceptions. Reality appears to be merely the illusion. There is no single definition of the hyperreality as well. The notion of the hyperreality is very close to that of the pseudo-event. It is the simulation that is characterized by the mixture of reality and its representation. Hyperreality can also be characterized by the simulacrum, which is the copy with no original (Baudrillard, 1994).
The hyperreality theory is tightly connected with media studies in the issue of performativity. Social performance of people is said to be a copy that instantly reproduces itself by being viewed therefore distributed among others who will the most probably incorporate the performative action into their behavioral patterns.
Performance role within mass media should be addressed in the following way: firstly as being rendered among broad scale audiences, and secondly as a phony ‘unreality’ that presumes the ‘realness’ of everyday life. The first analysis form is apparent that portrayed performances such as gender or race stabilize those behavior modes and make audiences to take on, upgrade, and capture those performative identities by reproducing the simulacra. Regarding the second issue of media criticism, the metaphor of Disneyland by Baudrillard should be involved, that the constructed fantasy realm exists to presume that the rest of the world is real (1994). The apparently incredible performances of characters on TV and in movies should be reviewed in light of their essential role in persuading people masses that their social performances are more close to reality, and ensuring the most foundational ‘other’ to assert all identities.
Media and Death
In the final part of my research project I would like to turn into the death coverage in media that was discussed in details in the book “Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death” by Susan D. Moeller. I would review the example of the death of two outstanding women that occurred the same week- Mother Teresa and Diana, the Princess of Wales. According to Moeller, 197 minutes devoted to the story of Princess’s death, and 16 minutes to the death of Mother Teresa. I am not to judge who of those two women was more outstanding, but I can see that the death story of the Princess appeared to be more “tasty” to the society. Princess’s death was full of intrigues, ambiguities, secrets and unclear facts. Even now I use to follow some TV programs that are still capturing the attention of millions with sound names: “The Death of Princess Diana Had Been Revealed”. And nothing was shocking in the death of Mother Teresa. She did a lot when being alive, and she is being remembered mainly for what she did and not how she died. I do not, in any case, diminish the personality and the activity of Diana during her life, but it appeared that her private life and the circumstances of her death crossed the sense of respect and the feelings of dignity. The attention to Diana persona was justified, as being the public persona and the Princess of Wales; she was expected to follow some set standards of behavior. The photograph of her and her lover sheik was sold for 6 million dollars and was called the most expensive picture in the history of photography. Did the image carry some artistic sense of beauty? No, it was just the thing that could be well sold. This photograph will never change anyone’s life due to the depth of its inner sense, it only showed the princess’s infidelity, which was exactly what people wanted to see. Hunters for negative emotions and evidences of celebrities’ imperfections and their dirty stuff are continually shifting their scale of values downwards. Media show what people want to see and say what people expect to be announced.
In conclusion, I would like to summarize that there were times when media served as the channel to inform people about current affairs in the most possibly objective way. These days were forgotten at the moment when it was realized that media could bring a lot of money and influence people’s minds. Media does not represent the truth, the create it and shape the reality in any possible and needed way. My personal experiences with media are not negative only, but I prefer not to watch TV news and carefully choose the information to read to be closer to the reality I live in. I accept my reality and not the reality media offers to me.
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