Emotional Vampirism Part 2

In my last post I talked about the the way the media – especially TV – pushes emotionally manipulative material on us in an attempt to both control what we feel and think and eventually believe. The emotional side tends to be less obvious until something increases our awareness of it because we are naturally distracted by the objective content of the story. The Virginia Tech shootings were an opportunity to observe the media milk the emotional content of a story and remind us that TV is a form of theater using sight and sound to achieve a predetermined effect.

In another context my sister sent me an e-mail about her view of terrorism. She said in part:

I think the point of a war that aims to kill civilians is a war that is being played on the emotions – like guerrilla warfare it breaks the rules of war in a new and horrifying way. It is aimed at continually jerking one around. However, I think the human mind is such that it eventually shuts down – an individual can only live with so much terror and mayhem before defense mechanisms take over. Life becomes a different process when one has gone numb.

It struck me as I read my sister’s email that the media and terrorists have something in common because they deal in the same coin – emotional manipulation. Perhaps a key to understanding the apparently perverse alliance between our MSM and terrorism lies in the underlying methodology of using powerful emotion to influence and control.

I am not arguing that this is a conscious alliance. I first became aware that the media are almost certainly unconscious of the degree to which they are acting as conduits for the emotional message of the terrorists in 2003 when I was visiting my son in Florida. He has a big TV – which certainly helps amplify the emotional impact – and as I followed the war coverage I noticed that Fox News used pretty much the same kinds and amount of emotionally wrenching footage as networks more opposed to the war such as CNN and the BBC. I recall one instance of Fox holding a burning US armored vehicle on the screen for over a minute as the voice over carried general war coverage. Any pro administration message that the words might have carried was utterly contradicted by the visual image of defeat. At the level of pictures and their emotional impact Fox was doing pretty much the same as the others which I do not believe was their conscious intent.

In addition to the often discussed ideological reasons and the irresistible attractiveness of spectacular imagery to the news business I believe there is an unconscious disconnect between terror and its reporting because both the Western audience and its journalists live in a very different world than the terrorists. One lives insulated from primal realities in a world of metaphor, construct and narrative. The other lives in the primal world that has existed from time immemorial. One lives in a world restrained and bounded by laws, institutions, and specialists to take care of all the sharp bits of life. The other deals directly in intimidation, fear, and death.

When I say that modern life insulates us I am talking about modern Western urban and suburban life. The basic processes of life, how we get our food, death itself, and extreme experiences common throughout our evolution as a species are all sanitized and hidden from us. Those who deal with the primal aspects of life, people in the medical profession, soldiers, policemen, are set apart by uniforms. Others, like farmers, are not. I grew up on a farm so I understand, for example, that the phrase ‘running around like a chicken with its head cut off’ isn’t just a metaphor or, worse, a ‘mere construct’ but a physical reality intimately involved with both how we sustain ourselves and the mystery of life and death itself. I understand that when I slaughter chickens I am killing and that I do not know what lies beyond death for either myself or the chicken.

I think if terrorism was taking place regularly in the West the press would soon change its tune. The quiet acceptance of the banning by the French government of coverage of the 2005 riots tacitly recognized the self stoking cycle of carbecue and media coverage. That uprising was Islamic, but probably not Islamist, and certainly fell far short of the terrorism in the Middle East. In short, I think anything that disrupted normal Western life on a daily basis would soon trigger the cultural immune system that normally prevents the press for acting as a conduit for forces which hold values inimical to it.


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