TALKS: THE MEDIA AND PEACEMAKING - PARTS ONE + TWO
(KUNM Airdates: 6/25/04, 7/30/04)
According to a recent study by a communications investment banker, it's projected that by 2007 the average American will spend 3,874 hours per year with the major consumer media - that would be over 10 hours a day with TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, video games or the internet. That would mark an increase of 792 hours per year, or 21 percent, from 1977. In our mediated society, a question worth asking is what influence the media has on our ability or interest in resolving conflict peacefully? Do news and entertainment programs on television and the films shown in theatres fairly represent the wide range of ways to resolve conflict? Is the emphasis on violence influencing children and adults to favor violence as the way to address conflict? What print and radio mediums? Should the media companies hold any responsibility for helping society learn more about peacemaking? Could media makers offer programs that could be both popular and more diverse as to conflict resolution ideas? What steps can the public take to influence the media to do so?
This time on Peace Talks, a two-part conversation with media makers, media activists and consciousness scholars about the media and peacemaking. Some of the material for this program was recorded at the first annual Media and Consciousness Conference held by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), May 28-30 in Santa Barbara, California. Host Suzanne Kryder talked with IONS president James O'Dea, television producer Belvie Rooks, and media activist and author Duane Elgin. In a follow-up panel recorded at KUNM's Studios, Suzanne talked with the executive director of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project Bob McCannon and Albuquerque Journal Culture Columnist Leanne Potts.
In this first part of the series, our guests decribe and analyze the existing media landscape around this issue of peacemaking and non-violent conflict resolution. Part Two explores possible solutions and steps media consumers can take to affect change.
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DUANE ELGIN: I see the mainstream media, essentially reinforcing and using violence both for its advertising and its programming. A common aphorism in the broadcast television industry says "If it bleeds, it leads." In other words, if there's blood there, we want to show graphic pictures of that. Physiologically, we are conditioned to be oriented towards threat and violence so the mainstream media is appealing to our most base instincts - a concern for threat and violence - as a way to hook us into their programming…it's not only an adolescent use of the media, its not only in bad taste, it's really threatening our capacity for mobilizing ourselves as a human family for a sustainable and surpassing future.
BELVIE ROOKS: Occasionally when I'm thinking of relaxing and wanting to watch mainstream television, I find it difficult to find anything that I really want to watch once I establish certain parameters - that I don't want to watch violence, that I don't want to watch bloodshed…I don't like watching death and murder and blood as entertainment. So when I'm going to the movies, my eyes are covered a lot and I'm touching the person next to me and saying, "Can I look now?" I feel that violence sells. And when you look at the studies on the impact of violence on children, by the time a child is 12, they've seen 8,000 murders on television. That to me is fairly astonishing as far as shaping consciousness. So I'm not sure how we can expect that embedded in that message is not violence.
And the other part of this discussion for me is that we're kind of projected into these narrow niches and everyone is in a little box. There's this separation and I think it's hard to identify and have a sense of people's humanity when they are so narrowly niched and you see them as separate from or as "other." The "good guys" and the "bad guys" or the black people and the white people. I think there's not an awful lot that builds on questions of peace and compassion and caring and all of those things that I think are part of or a subtest of what it takes to be a peacemaker.
JAMES O'DEA: The impact is inestimable in some ways and I think we are all…beginning to realize that it's probably far far greater than we imagined. One of the things that we do at the Institute of Noetic Sciences is try and understand the science of consciousness itself and what sort of mapping you see in relationship to this topic is extraordinary. The old concept of "message sent," "message received," "message understood," in the siple equation of a broadcast formula, does not seem to be an adequate description of reality as we now begin to understand it. With regard to peacemaking itself, peacemaking is something in an interconnected world wherein, if our consciousness is really interlinked in a way we had not understood before, each one of us is a nodal point of intersection with some larger group shared phenomenon. The old paradigm that somehow history is a series of actors and people in control and we get to watch them as we to watch the media and our levels of participation are minimalist, is, in fact, a false paradigm.
And if there was a piece of information that you could get out there and say, "Listen, YOU are part of the broadcast system. YOUR own awareness is filtering into the mainstream. That YOU are a participant in the game." Then you could see, in some very fundamental way, that you could contribute your own life-sourcing and energies into the peace paradigms in the world.
Leanne, what's your sense of what degree the media impacts one's ability to resolve conflict peacefully?
LEANNE POTTS: I think you learn conflict resolution skills from many sources. Media is one. It's a powerful one. I think if you're not making the human connections in your lives to learn some of this, the fault is with you. I mean, there are other ways to learn conflict resolution than what Rupert Murdoch tells you or what a newspaper headline writer tells you or what Dan Rather tells you. I mean, come on, the world's a lot bigger than that. If you just want to sit and watch, then you're not going to do any better (with conflict resolution skills). But if you care about making the world a better place, if you want things to be differently, then that's what's going to motivate you. If you want to be a violent nation…and I might add that we were a violent nation long before there was television, radio and video games. We were a violent nation. I mean we have it in our constitution our right to bear guns. We take our weapons really seriously in this culture. I would argue that maybe this culture has never been very good at conflict resolution. That's a skill we've yet to master.
Bob, does what we see in the media really impact people's ability to resolve conflicts non-violently?
BOB MCCANNON: Absolutely. The irony is that the media never tells parents to what extent the research shows that watching violence makes kids more aggressive and, more importantly, desensitizes them to the pain and suffering of others. The research on that is just mind-boggling. And it's important to realize that the Hollywood PR machine criticizes this on the basis that, "Well, it's just correlations and correlations don't prove cause and effect. You can't prove that watching violence makes kids more aggressive." They say that over and over again. Well you can't prove anything in social studies research except through correlations. And the correlations (regarding violent media and aggressiveness and desensitization) are much greater than the correlations between smoking and lung cancer. Kids are learning to resolve conflict through violence and I believe it carries over to citizens in this country are thinking that the way to solve national conflicts is through huge military budgets and sending those troops off to fight wars…
James, you've said we're close to seeing an emergence of a more compassionate and globally-conscious audience, determined to see a better reflection of its true values in the media. If you believe we're close, when is the tipping-point going to occur and what do we need to do to see this shift in the media?
JAMES O'DEA: I think the media needs to see the shift in us. I can't say, precisely, how it will happen. Because what we can say is that the world view upon which the media has built its structure is a house of cards. It is built on an unsustainable value system. It is interesting that during the peak of the war frenzy, people were referring to the trance-like quality of the media. It really had this quality of sucking people in. Now, people are talking about the media as feeling somewhat schizophrenic. The New York Times is just making an apology about the fact that it really wasn't doing its homework, and that it in some ways participated. So, those are cracks and faultlines in the framework of meaning. Because, as I think has been pointed out, hypocracy and lies will surface. It may take awhile, but it will be revealed. I can't say how the media will be transformed at this point, but I can say that the world views that it is based upon are the ones that are really, clearly, unsustainable, and are having their last hurrah.
I'm wondering if media about nonviolent conflict resolution could be made sexy, or could be made entertaining. Could there be a reality TV show that shows people how to mediate conflict in the workplace, or help people learn how aboriginal tribes resolve conflict, and be really exciting, and everybody'd be talking about it.
LEANNE POTTS: There's a sitcom on CBS, "Joan of Arcadia." It's got very strong Christian leanings, but it's about a young woman who's in high school. It's kind of like it would be a WB show, except it's on CBS and it has this Christian setting. And she resolves the conflicts of being a teen through faith. It was a hit this past fall with young people. It did real well. So, obviously, CBS found a way in that situation.
BOB McCANNON: See, I agree with that, wholeheartedly. There is no doubt that the people who control our media could make nonviolent or conflict resolution or positive shows very, very interesting and they could get high ratings. However, Hollywood is composed of about five, huge, global, media monopolies. And they don't want to take risks. They have to follow sure-fire, tried-and-true formulas when it comes to program creation. Which is why we see "Lethal Weapon 1," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Lethal Weapon 3." And how far is it going to go? Stallone is talking about making "Rocky X," or whatever it is now. Hollywood does not want to take risks; they want to use the tried-and-true formulas of sex, drugs, alcohol, rock and roll and violence to sell stuff to people. Look at "Finding Nemo." Look at some of the biggest blockbusters of all time. They have been absolutely wonderful shows that have had very positive messages. But most of the Grade "B" movies being turned out, and even the Grade "A" movies, are following the old, tried-and-true formula of promoting violence.
DUANE ELGIN: One media model I would like to see in the Middle East or in Northern Ireland or a place of great conflict --let's take the Middle East -- I'd like to see a twenty-four hour television and radio channel that would allow both sides a continuous platform for being heard. Continuously. And the only agreement is that it would be available to all sides in the conflict. So, twenty-four hours a day, you could turn on the TV set, maybe, there in the Palestinian/Israeli area and you would see conversation, dialogue, continuously going on. We can afford to do this. It's technologically very feasible. But, socially, it would just open up the scope of conversation for dialogue and transcending the physical violence. That would be one suggestion.
BELVIE ROOKS: One of the things I would really like to see is something that involved young people more in the producing and creating of some of the things that we're talking about: Some of the issues, some of the problems. I'd love to have them have cameras and go out and talk to their peers about these problems and to produce them in a way that's kind of MTV-like, in that it gets their attention. But the content is different.
JAMES O'DEA: The media is so full of reporting officialdom and the official point-of-view that a media centered more simply on the voice of citizens, in various places around the world, I think would be extraordinary.
What can media consumers do to change the face of media, to see more representation, in all media, of peacemaking values?
LEANNE POTTS: Vote with your dollars, first and foremost. Don't go see "Rocky X." Don't go see "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Don't watch Fox News Network. Vote with your dollars. That's the language these people understand. Go see the movies you do care about, that do represent values you want to see, and your children to see.
And how about in terms of print media? Is there anything consumers can do?
LEANNE POTTS: Once again, vote with your dollars. Write your paper. Write and tell them what you want to see. Call them. Tell them what you don't want to see, same with your local TV station, and participate.
What else can media consumers do to change the face of media?
BOB McCANNON:: Well, I certainly agree with Leanne's notion of voting with your dollars. And I think that, too often, people are so passive when they consume media. Take an activist's stand. We've had 960 people take our four-day catylist training. And we've tried to get each one of those people to write letters. Not only of things they disagree with. But write letters of things they agree with.
(transcription courtesy Rogi Riverstone)