Prompted by an article on the culture of negativity in current-day journalism, I recently wrote a piece on the junk element of the mass media. Shortly after that, I read an article on Downton Abbey, where the fallacy of a classless society was exposed. The argument was that humanity needs to be gentler to those down on their luck. A thought-provoking TED talk by Alain de Botton in the article drove the point home, portraying newspapers as instruments of mass ridicule that a judgmental and callous society wields, among other things, to report failure after failure, turning story after story into an endless stream of castigation.
The writing’s on the media wall. This issue is a thorn in many people’s sides, and turning more relevant as time goes by. Society is obsessed with propriety and jobs (‘Hi, pleased to meet you, what do you do?’ – what do you do acting as the new cover by which we judge people’s books i.e. lives, on the go – as de Botton notes, in so many words), frowning on whatever doesn’t support the job ethic and the general, ill-defined notion of rightness that goes with it.
Having been faced with the issue anew, I found myself wondering how to best describe this phenomenon without sounding negative.
The answer came in the form of an article that lays out why we’re tolerant of this corrosive, intolerant mode of tolerance i.e. why we’re hooked on the destructive rather than the constructive aspects of free speech.
Here’s a short review…
The article is titled “The Most Dangerous Drug Isn’t Meow Meow, It Isn’t Even Alcohol…” which was published more than a year ago, on March 22, 2010. In it the author, Mr. Brooker, makes his case on various dangerous drugs and substances. He begins with alcohol, interestingly enough, the legal but still psychotropic (mind-altering) best-seller of our times, hearing how Mr. Brooker is not a big fan. Up the substance ladder we move, over the legal fence and into unlawful territory, where we find marijuana. This substance is not to the author’s liking either, and he explains why: having been there and done that, he’s no longer interested in it, his memories of it laced with a heavy dose of the chills.
The same goes for LSD, the notorious psychedelic nuclear bomb of the 60′s.
So here we are, with three psychotropic substances exposed and rejected, hearing how the author is averse to any mind-and-mood altering substance, not because he’s afraid of them but because he has no use for them.
Yet drug policy and its various shortfalls and double standards are not the author’s central point. They’re devices used to set up and identify the substance that scares him the most, to which no one seems to be paying attention: a substance which is available everywhere, for pennies, accessible to people of all ages and promoted at will, cut with all sorts of irritants and corrosives, such as hysteria and bullshit, blended down to a slur, passed and filtered through various funnels and sieves, distilled and condensed to a potent mix of judgment and excitement, and pushed on the public as something thoroughly beneficial, despite the fact that the end product is a hook in the psyche, and toxic as hell.
What is this dreadful drug? The newspaper! A mass tool for streaming perversion that, as things stand, centers around substance poisoned with crap.
Thank you, Mr. Brooker. You’ve framed the issue perfectly, providing the template for a caustic analogy that’s true and meaningful. It places the issue of drugs i.e. mind-alteration, in perspective, saying a lot about our society’s irrational obsession with the destructively negative. You’ve shown how we are, as a society, on the whole, strung out on locating and correcting abusive behavior to the point where we obsess over it, ending up abusing ourselves.
In other words, we’re out of control, in need of rehab, asap.
And if this assessment sounds negative, then it’s possible that we’re not just in denial but also in dire need of intervention.
Or this may be just another problem-seeking argument in the midst of an abuse-centered din, more part of the problem than the solution. You decide.
PS – Brooker’s article was printed in a newspaper, an irony which the author was no doubt aware of, and which he used to his advantage, criticizing his medium’s shortcomings in a scathing but constructive critique of modern-day journalism. The current paradigm is riddled with paradoxes, and the proverbial knife cuts both ways. There are ways to dilute negativity after all, if one is willing to place one’s own media (and self?) under the lens.