FOUR GENERATIONS OF MEDIA
In my paper for the 2006 Athens conference, I argued that many institutions have a vested interest in creating what Barry Glassner documents as a culture of fear [GLASSNER]. Religious institutions contribute to a climate of fear by capitalizing on our fear of death. They assure us that life does have a happy ending - at least, for those who behave well in this life. Ernest Becker argues that our entire life is spent in The Denial of Death [BECKER]. Politicians also use fear as a means of social control. Totalitarian governments do so blatantly, with the familiar apparatus of secret police and network of informers, surveillance and control of media, removal of Civil Rights and persecution of dissenters. Democratic governments have to create fear by more subtle means, by Manufacturing Consent [HERMAN & CHOMSKY]. Noam Chomsky argues that mass media is part of the industry of fear since it prints only what fits the purposes of the American corporate culture of which it is a part.
Another reason why mass media contributes to the climate of fear is that the daily newspaper and the hourly news broadcast (the first draft of history) considers history as the story of conflict told by the winners. During a decade spent in California, the only news I got of Quebec was of conflict between the "two solitudes". Back in Montreal, I attended the International Jazz Festival, with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets enjoying music together with little sign of police presence and no incidents of conflict. But good news is no news.
During a war between two groups in Egypt, the Library of Alexandria was destroyed; because of the outcome of a war in Turkey, scholars were forced to flee to Europe and thus trigger the Renaissance. Those two events are presented in traditional history as incidental by-products of the wars. But those are the important events. Who remembers or cares that this gang of thugs captured that piece of land? The important effect on civilization was that a certain subset of the knowledge of the Greeks was preserved, which determined our view of them and the subsequent history based on their wisdom. The important issue between those two events is not which gangs gained which territories but who preserved this wisdom during the interval and how it was stored and transmitted to future generations. Cleopatra had lent many volumes of the books in the Alexandria Library to her lover, Mark Anthony, who had them copied and preserved in the Pergamon Library in Turkey. (That's partly why the scholars were there.) Fortunately for us, he sent back the copies rather than the originals. Such little-recorded facts are much more important than the well-documented wars that bracketed the destruction of the library in Alexandria and the flight of scholars from Istanbul.
Telling the story of communication rather than conflict provides an alternative model of media which suggests how it might contribute to a climate of hope rather than a climate of fear.
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