The Source of Our Discontent

Peter Gabel, president of New College of
California and associate editor of Tikkun magazine, told a meeting of spiritual
progressives today that the greatest source of pain today in our mediated
society is social separation.

Peter Gabel, president of New College of California and associate editor of Tikkun magazine, told a meeting of spiritual progressives today that the greatest source of pain in our mediated society in the U.S. is social separation.

A climate of
fear, denial and
tentativeness is
the source of
fear and depression.
–Peter Gabel

Gable told the 1200 people attending the Network of Spiritual Progressives at the University of California, Berkley, that media practices result in “casual artificiality and superficiality.” He illustrated by recalling a newscaster in Boston who announced breathlessly, “The Red Sox win and a fire in Dorchester! Back in a moment.” The juxtaposition of the two stories left no discrimination between the relative importance of the sports news compared to the loss of homes of people in a fire.

This results in a “flattening” of meaning, according to Gabel. When the important and the trivial receive the same attention and emphasis, our sense of the value of other people and the sacredness of the world in which we live is undermined. The media substitute a casual artificiality, something familiar to all viewers of local news programming.

The parade of stories, none presented with real depth or meaning and wrapped in feigned casual banter, strip meaning from all stories. We are saturated with this kind of media. From the artificial content of of “real TV” shows, to the compressed time given to sensational stories on morning TV, to the content of local news, there is no depth that leads to greater understanding, nor content that empowers the viewer to participate in problem-solving.

In fact, Gable told the group that these media actually contribute to our sense of isolation and feelings of disempowerment. This contributes to disengagement from meaningful community.

Gable’s onto something important here, I think. It goes deeper than critique of media content to the way media shape our perceptions and values today. It’s a far more interesting concern than merely looking at the coarseness of the content. This gets to the power of content to influence how we perceive the world and related to each other. Or, in Gable’s proposal, how we don’t relate to each other as a result of the way media frame our world.

I’ll be probing this more in the future. I’ll also be writing other impressions from the conference this week.

Join the conversation!

Post a reply in the form below.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image