You are not the reason you are unhappy: Why the modern media should take responsibility for so much of the unhappiness in the world.

By E.F Nicholson

Cartoonist.Michael Leunig

Cartoon by Michael Leunig

As with most advice based writings, be it personal growth, self-help or relationship guidance the focus is centred on the choices that a person is making. This is understandable, in the sense that, it is often within our own minds and hearts that we have some influence on creating positive change in our lives. Yet at the same time this perspective of “It’s up to YOU” can miss out a critical factor in what shapes and influences the people that are in their relationship with themselves and others. This factor is the environment and context from which all of a person’s problems emerge such as our society, our culture and our economic and political environments. All these areas of influence can’t be removed or seen as oblivious to the things we think and feel, both about ourselves and the world we live in. This is even more the case when we examine and see the immense power and reach that the modern media has in our lives. This is not only the case for us adults but it is even more so for the next generations. As we see stunning statistic that tell us of the average teenager in the UK will spend  7 hours a day glued to a screen, be it the TV, their iPad, smart phone or laptop. They are saturated in the media and its message. So in this essay, I would like to look at exactly how the media, in its current form, impacts our life and experience of relationships with ourselves and others.

As it’s a worthwhile question to ask, does the media within the society we all inhabit make it easier or harder for us to be fulfilled and at peace? Is the media’s rich culture that surrounds us, an affirming force in helping us build loving and close relationships with others and ourselves? As any good advice for being happier must factor the environment that happiness is being striven for. Telling a person in an overpopulated, maximum security prison, that they need to see “The glass half full”, when they are on the receiving end of violence, rape, fear, intimation and isolation on daily basis, of course comes across as naïve, patronising and glib. So why should saying the same thing apply, to a person stuck in a menial job they loath, living alone in a small cramped flat, up to their eyeballs in debt and has been without a loving close relationship for the past five years, be any less facile. These examples highlight that “advice” which is just about a particular person, without context to their environment, can’t be seen as “whole” or even “helpful” advice. If anything, it has the danger of furthering someone’s sense of dis-empowerment and low self-confidence, as if they are unable to be “more positive”, or make “affirming changes” they may squarely blame themselves, rather being more compassionate and understanding towards themselves about how hard it really can be when you’re encased within a certain “non–helpful” environment. The “be more positive” angle also furthers an inherit disconnection, ignoring the fact that any significant personal change comes from support, friendships, connection and the fullness of our relationships, never solely from someone’s drive, will power and personal conviction. So as you can see, not only do we battle with our own self-limiting beliefs, but we are also surrounded by a modern culture that has a very different agenda to that of us being happy, which we will now explore.

The new world we inhabit…..

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Although you could write a long list about the differences between life now and life fifty years ago, an obvious one is the growth of technology and modern media, in conjunction to this is a transformation into a consumer society. In Western society and increasingly for all corners of the globe, we have become “turbo consumers” of goods and services but also a turbo consumer of media, whose reach and power is unprecedented in human history. The media we ingest, through film, TV, internet, laptop or smart phones has cleverly wrapped itself around our day to day interactions and has a persuasive and almost inescapable presence in our lives. Like the fish searching for water, we stop seeing it as a “stand out” object. Rather, it occupies our space like a form of mental and emotional oxygen. We just breathe it in without much thought. As this experiment by the mentalist Darren Brown revealed a number of years ago on channel four documentary, as he manipulates a couple of high advertising executives to produce exactly what he wants them to produce. This disturbing reality reveals how much we may think is “original thought” but, in fact, is just the regurgitation of the message that we have been exposed to. When you take the implication of this kind of benign entertainment piece, by assuming that we are exposed to it, not just once to the media’s message, but all day, every day, at every corner we turn, then multiply it, not by a day but a life time, the impact is truly staggering. So the development of the powerful medium of communication has also been running parallel to a number of other social changes.

How it once was…

As I point out what I see, I see the changes we have gone “from-to” socially. I am not being nostalgic about the “good old days” rather just looking at what has happened and the impact of that on how we experience ourselves and our priorities. So when we look at what has changed in the last 40-60 years, what do we see?  One of the most significant changes, that comes to understanding our relationships better, is the breakdown of community and the relationship and bonds that go hand in hand with that. Due to a whole range of political and economic choices made in the last sixty years the structure of how our society is operated is vastly different not only to the pre 1960s but throughout most of what we know of human history. Many people can no longer find this sense of belonging and connection within their extended family and local community, as the structure that allows that type of feeling to develop is no longer there. These needs never leave us and we have just been shuffled into a corner were we have very limited ways in order for them to be fulfilled. Tied into that dissolving of local community has been the gradual erosion of the impact of religion in our lives. I am sure there are plenty of figures to illustrate this, regarding church attendance and many other variables that measure how our religiousness have plummeted. Not that I think that’s a bad thing, as much of what filled that space was fear based teaching, built on hierarchical dogma. So, despite the fact some of that may have been a good thing, its absence has still left a psychic hole where we have to find news way to have that need for something meaningful in our lives. So, in spite of the structure that century after century that has been used to build connections (community/family) and meaning (religion), we have had set out to find new ways to replace these losses.

Foot in the door….

The tricky part of all of this is the process of having these “needs meet” and it is not something we set out consciously to achieve, they are just the natural drives we are born with and needs that we set out to fulfil with the resources and opportunities that are accessible to us. What has happened over the last few decades is that the breakdown of community and spirituality in our lives has left a hole that large multi-national corporations have seized upon. They have done this by using media as their “foot in the door” to our psyche and have stepped in and replaced and reshaped what once was. Gradually, they have supplemented, the prevailing ideology set out by family members, community, or church with their own ideology known as “me and more”. As the media has by stealth, without permission or consent, quietly made themselves the self-appointed social storytellers, the voice of our wise elders, our access to community, society and connection. They, the modern media, have become the authors of the definitive manual of what matters and what you need to do to be happy.

Who decides what story needs to be told……..?

logoglobesquareThis media aims to relate to us at an intimate place and cocoon us in that message. The technology we use now has become so fundamental and integrated to our personal and working lives that it almost guarantees the message of media will encircle you. So knowing the power and access to “message immersion” the media holds, it then must be of the utmost importance of the media to know who has the ownership and power to choose what we do or don’t see. Many people may be shocked to know all the range and mediums of communications, from Film, TV, Radio, Print and Internet as well as mobile is currently in in the hands of very small concentrated group of companies. The figure is that 80% of all the media in the world is owned by eight companies. In the USA its now only 5 companies down from 53 from 1983. These companies are enormous and powerful global conglomerates, who over years and years have gradually been buying up or making the competition go bust. All these media companies are driven by profit, which is mainly generated through advertising revenue. The source of this advertising income is known as the other “for profit” in companies such as Coke, Nike, BP and so on. As they both inhabit the same “for profit universe”, there is a mutual and shared understanding of what is required to achieve their mutual objectives as well as what will block or inhibit their insatiable hunger for growth. The media and its advertisers in lockstep have marched forward, engineering a complete transformation of our values, priorities and the meaning we have in life.

Thousands of voices but one message

Like all corporations, these eight companies and their advertisers that enrich them, have only one obligation and it isn’t to educate, enlighten or support the human spirit. For those who have set out to hijack our minds, as there is only one, singular and unwavering obligation, which is to make “profit” and they will shape the universe they build within the chambers of our hearts and minds, with that one objective of profit, determining what we are exposed to. Although at first, given the fact that there are thousands of different products and services, all competing for our money and attention and the environment looks diverse and complicated as a landscape of individual packets of media or selling or purporting something unique. Yet as you pan back further and see it in wider and broader context, you see they are linked and in resonance with a common and unwavering message

Feeling bad? Great it’s working….

bnkysThis message is delivered not in the products themselves, rather than prevailing process regarding how we are told what we need, what we lack and what’s required to be happy. It is a story that is told, the worldview that exults as the most desirable, the fundamental message of what matters and what is important that has just crept its way into how we think and see the world, a coup d’état of our collective consciousness, you might say. The people shaping this story know exactly what they are doing and they have very detailed and in-depth knowledge about how people operate and what are the core wants and needs that shape most of our lives. With this in mind, the media and its advertisers go about saturating us, by the minute, by the day, visually and viscerally, answering the question that we all are asking ourselves over and over, how can I be happy? How can I be a better person? What should I do to feel better about myself? What do my kids need to be happy? Etc. Sadly people consume this message, consciously and unconsciously, without really questioning the motives and agenda buried deep within the message. In the past our storyteller shares with us knowledge and wisdom to help us grow and evolve. Now these modern storytellers share a message that is aimed to weaken and undermine how we see ourselves and the world around us. Here is a brief list of some of the messages the media and advertising aim to lodge firming in our conscious and subconscious minds.

  • They tell us that to be truly happy with things we have, that the happiest person, is the person with the most things.
  • They remind us how insecure and lacking we truly are and then provide us with the product or solution that will fill that hole inside of us.
  • They repeat ceaselessly that what matters most in the world is “me”, whilst simultaneously bring our attention to how small and insignificant we really are.
  • They tell us to be afraid by drenching us with images and stories of violence, aggression and power, just so we can’t forget how frightened we are meant to be.
  • They feed an understanding that true masculine is about power and control and true femininity is about looking good, submission and getting a man.
  • We are affronted with the celebration of all things shallow and superficial, that somehow the lowest common denominator is somehow worthy of aiming for.
  • They hypnotise us into docility and passivity by providing access to the pathos and drama via other people, pretending to other people, on a flat screen on the wall.
  • They not only provide us with the “for” and “against” of a debate but most critically, they choose what are the acceptable parameters of what is about to be discussed.
  • All the while providing cover and distraction for plutocratic governments and financial institutions to pillage poorer or more unstable parts of the world in the on-going acquisition of resources, a kind of greed on greed.
  • They turn their wholesale destruction on our environment and the impending hell on earth type realities we are drawing closer to us, into just another “issue” that needs to be worked on.
  • They media portrayal of slaughter and murder of innocent civilians, mothers, daughters, husbands and fathers as necessary collateral damage when it’s done in our name and murder and butchery when it’s done in the name of enemy state.

What it then wants us to feel….

  • This system of communication wants you to be unhappy, it wants you to eat more than you should, drink more than you feel you need to.
  • It wants to foster a hole inside and encourage you to fill it with everything they are selling, ensuring it’s continued with an ever deepening magnitude.
  • It wants you to clock up debt and feel financially insecure, ensuring greater capitulation to the role of “wage slave” that been assigned to you.
  • It wants you to wish your life was more, but reminds you that you probably don’t have what it takes, so why not crack open a bottle of wine and watch CSI Miami  .
  • It wants you to become more and more isolated in cut off and happily provides the means and ways do so and when the sense of futility one day overwhelms you, then a wide array of numbing opportunities you will need.
  • Most importantly it wants you not to question, not really look and examine how things are and question where and when did we decide this is how our society should be shaped and run.

freedomIt will always allow you to feel positive and happy, as long as that happiness stays with the boundaries of what is acceptable. We are always allowed to rebel and even dissent, as long as that dissent remains within the boundaries which have been drawn and offer no real threat to the systems of power. We see this clearly demonstrated when it was leaked that the FBI was working ways to somehow link the Occupy movement to terrorism. Not only that they saw a group of non-partisan citizens, openly non-violent, peaceful, operating within their supposed democratic rights that came together under the banner of “Occupy” as terrorist threat by the US federal government and private corporations who it turns out were in the process of sharing information and strategy. Cementing the unspoken synergy of large corporate power and state power. The author Robert Owed from the article linked puts it aptly “We have freedom as long as no one hears you”. For those, who try to keep us just ignorant and enslaved, it all makes perfect sense. I have no doubt a mass of people coming together in a unified voice demanding justice and freedom would strike terror into these people and would definitely be seen as a threat. As we often just think the way things are, it is just the natural organic growth of humanity and although some aspects are, much of what many of us battle with day to day, doubt, debt, lethargy, stress and worry have been deliberately brought about to ensure more power and more control to others. This process has serious consequences, both individual and for all of us sharing this earth.

 The broader impact on society ….

men worldAn example of the grave implication to the extent of hold that media has over public feeling and awareness reveals itself when we consider scale of harm and mass murder by our government in foreign countries. Over the last 40 years, it is hard to comprehend how they get away with it. A fact many UK citizens are unaware of is that the UK government has been involved directly and indirectly in the death of 4-6 million civilians, close to the amount of Jews killed in the holocaust in world war 2 but strangely enough, we don’t view our own UK governments in the same dark and vicious light as we do Hitler and the Nazi’s. Why is that?  For an explanation of how it’s possible, we need not look any further than the government and multi-nationals that are partners in crime as well as the media and its message. As it has managed to successfully engineer indifference in some parts of the population, enhanced with a steady stream of mind numbing distractions with the reminder and repetition of what really counts is “me” and as long as I am ok, who cares about “others”. The media then convinces another segment of the population that although there is the cost of innocent lives, maybe the cost will be greater if we stand back and do nothing i.e. Iraq, Libya and possibly soon Iran or Syria. Then more and more great swaths of the population are so embroiled in basic survival, they can’t concern themselves with the welfare of other people in faraway lands. Yet the most critical aspect as to how this silent consent brought about is the power of choosing what information is worthy of sharing and the tone or angle in how that information is shared. Without us knowing, we are being feed a view of the world that supports and encourages the objectives of large multinationals rather than the collective will of the people, which our democracy, in theory is meant to ensure. If you just imagine every major UK newspaper dedicated the first 5 pages of every edition or TV news stations the first 10 minutes to every news hour, over the first 21 days of “shock and awe” in the invasion of Iraq, showing graphic pictures of the conservative IBC’s estimates of 6000 civilian deaths, slaughtered babies, children with their stomachs spilling out, mothers weeping over there dead children, husbands crying in anguish over the bodies of their dead sons. Detailing in explicit and graphic images the death of each and every innocent human being, giving each of them a name, attributing value and dignity to each of those lost. I have no doubt that if this type of honest coverage was what the media pumped out, there would have been such public outrage and horror, at what was being done in our name, that the war would have had to be stopped, ensuring the life of millions in Iraq that died unnecessarily in the coming years. Instead we were given the sanitised, muted, scripted, info-graphic type “wartainment”. So, we see the media has the power to not just compel us into buying things we don’t need, or make us feel insecure but permits, cheers and allows death and destruction on a scale that’s hard to imagine. A recent debate titled Iraq 10 Years On: Was It worth It? Was appropriately harpooned by medialens.org, on twitter pointing out how obscene and inertly bias the question was by asking how the title “9/11 ten years on , was it worth it?” would have been received. This legitimating debate title subtle reveals, how it’s not about the truth, rather how the truth is framed and exposed.

Seeing through the deception…

When we examine this message and process and see it for all its ugliness and destructiveness, we see it is incompatible with the kindness and compassion most of us would like to live our lives by. We see its prevalence can’t be squared with living in close community and caring for others and it will always be undermined by any feeling of self-contentment, inner knowing and social solidarity you accumulate. Little do we know that we are being tricked, distracted and deceived every time our eyes are taken in by a billboard or TV commercial or a pop up on some web site, as what they are selling is never what they are selling. Seeing through the lies and deceit inherit in what the media pushes can come about as we individually start to separate what I believe about myself and the world, that comes from my own intuitive and direct experience, and what do you think is strategically placed in your psyche allowing you to internalize it as one’s own, such as “I really need to get slimmer” or a guy thinking “If I had a Mercedes, it would really show the world that I made it”. It’s this process of really seeing how deep much of the media and messages go into our psyche that we can gain most freedom from. As many of us have been entrained to not question beliefs that really do need questioning. A very basic acid test to work out how are the things you think could be what you have absorbed and internalised are easy to identify, as normally the ones that make you feel small, frightened, guilty, angry, ashamed etc. You can be guaranteed that the media you are exposed to could have helped shape and cement some of the ways in which you formulate negative self-talk. As the world views its broadcasts is truly a recipe for anxiety, struggle and unhappiness for all who breathe it in.

Reclaim what we know to be true..

handsYet an exciting aspect of really seeing the modern media for what it is, is it allows us to reclaim and reconnect with some genuine sense of who we are. We are not “consumer-bots” just forever running on the mill of “I am working for consumption”. That means, as you disengage from absorbing media, much of that truth can return without much effort. With such restorations, lies a story of who we are and that we are born from compassion, love and care for others. You can start to question the myth that we are all inherently greedy or violent and take faith in the fact that you are neither of those things and surely you nature is more or less genuine than anyone else’s. You can liberate yourself from the feeling that having more will make you happy, that if I won the lottery my problems would be solved and all the other modes of thinking that somehow manage to equate “have” or “acquiesce” with fulfilment.

The insidious hook and lie that you can be happy if you really want to…

As we wish for successful and fulfilling relationship, we must also ensure that we have some basic autonomy of mind and heart. If we suddenly wake up one day and feel some deep unhappiness and despair about life, then as far as our modern and media and its advertisers are concerned, you are exactly where you are meant to be. Then, to bury you even further, they tell you the reason why you are depressed or down is that you’re not trying hard enough. That’s it probably because you aren’t beautiful enough, successful enough, rich enough or talented enough. To prove this point, we are saturated in famous people, rich people, successful and beautiful people who are all just living the dream and are just loving life, proving that it’s all you that’s the problem. Although we know these people are exceptions to the rule, we still buy into the view that somehow, in some way, that could be me. There isn’t room on the stage for all of us and there never will be, as who then would do the mind-numbing menial jobs that keep our system moving? Even if it was possible, we fail to see by buying this we are buying the lie that even if it was you and you become all the things you are told will enhance your life, you will be just be empty and devoid of meaning then just as your are now. If it wasn’t so tragic and such a painful delusion for many, it could be considered hilarious that a recent study shows that class mobility has remained the same as feudal times. This shows how fraudulent this myth really is, as it says you have much chance now to become part of the rich and famous as a peasant did of becoming a Lord in 1231. Yet this belief that “anyone can make it” is all about proving to you that your debt, poverty and sense of helplessness is again down to your own lack of something. The same subtle belief system is sold in much self-help literature. I see there is place for learning more about one’s self internal process but it shouldn’t be done without seeing context by which we live. As it’s a convenient and advantageous belief to propagate the powerful and elite, that our unhappiness has nothing to do with the oppressive and empty system we live from, rather it all has to do with lack of positive attitude. This puts our focus solely “inwards” when in fact we need to be wary of looking both within and without, as each part is as equally important and essential in our whole life that we all share and inhabit.

Swimming against a sea of lies…

So rejecting this powerful message takes great courage and strength. Doing so doesn’t mean you have to stop buying anything, throw out all electronics and go “Grizzly Adams”. Rather it’s about continually remembering that what matters is how we feel, how we love and how we strive to live a life in the truth of who we are. Doing so in the sea of lies and misdirection is not easy but it gets easier when you start to see the extent of the custom built information stream designed to make you feel less and want more. Our feeling of despair and apathy are not there because we are deficient or not positive enough, they are there because there are pervading structures and systems designed to ensure we are unhappy but pacified. The fact we are often forced to spent thirteen years in education in first part of life, that trains us to do “what we are told” and  “others know what’s best for us” is telling us things regarding the life ahead. Our schooling is preparation and training in the art of “docile automation” and “unquestioned subservience” that awaits us. Those who conform are rewarded, those who don’t want to or are unable to, are destined to spend their lives working in jobs they don’t like. Yet either group, be it the so called winners or losers, end up caught in the same degrading and heartless system, some will just have a higher standard of misery. As they will both by buying things they don’t need by working for a job that don’t enjoy, for a goal of somehow getting somewhere that is vastly more empty and meaningless than we imagine.

 I am unhappy but given the way things are, that’s no surprise..

Earth-handsSo a very liberating thing to be aware of, is that all the things we do, all the things we often feel bad about inside ourselves, are natural or normal distortions and aberrations that appear when someone is taken from the environment that is built to ensure they thrive. Living on one’s own, with relatively few close relationships, eating food that has no taste, and being removed from nature and connection with people and our planet, locked in boxes, watching boxes, traveling to work in boxes is not a life that is meant to produce happiness. It’s a life that produces exactly what it is designed to produce, a life where millions take anti-depressant and other mood altering pills that are both legal and illegal, where others drink to shut off, smoke, watch TV, eat till they are sick. It’s a system where a small elite group profits and is enriched by framework that is built to ensure unhappiness and then built to numb them for the pain and the causes of that very same unhappiness. As shutting off and numbing ourselves is a perfectly understandable thing to do when faced with such overwhelming pain, meaningless and lack of closeness and connection. So what I have wanted to do is show how tough it really is to find peace, in a world where structures are built to ensure our inner emptiness. All of us are striving for more love and more compassion in our lives, all of us that wish to see a world more filled with more justice and kind deeds see that this is not the easy path, it is not the path that will be rewarded or assisted, encouraged or praised. As at heart, there is a common view about media is this nonthreatening medium of communication that mirrors back what we want and how we see the world. News, entertainment, sports whatever the topic, the media and the advertisements slotted in. We are told that things exist but not in the intention to either inform us, entertain us or engage us. Yet we see this is a lie, a lie of mammoth magnitude with far reaching consequences both for humanity and our future. As at heart, the modern corporate media, we are encircled in, is built to ensure consent for mass crimes and violence by our state to go unanswered, it is an instrument of social control and indoctrination of youth and adult population. This may seem as over dramatic exaggeration but it’s not until we really start seeing our modern media accountable for all the blood spilled in foreign nations, answerable for its silence on the impending devastation of destruction that climate change will bring, and a host of many other social ailments, that are needed if there is any hope to make things better. As we can’t escape from our captives unless we first know that we are captured.

Admitting it’s not easy, is not giving up…

Seeing this truth is not about giving up on life, making excuses or despairing rather it’s just an acknowledgement that to nurture these worthwhile aspirations of love, connection and integrity, automatically puts us against the flow of some very powerful social forces. So the commitment to live a more loving life, to put kindness before success, to put justice before wealth, to put compassion before status and to love one’s self before bettering one’s lot, takes great courage and spirit. So if you’re reading this and this is how you feel and this is you, then congratulations, your dream of a better and more loving future is the light which keeps hope alive and a light that no darkness can vanquish. You need to remember that you are a revolutionary, a radical, as are all of those that run against the grain of what is acceptable, bear pain for doing so. Yet you’re also pre-cognitive, as those who dedicate their lives exclusively to the bank balance they build, to the goods they purchase, the status they acquire, the power they wield and the control they brandish, do so forgetting that all of this will disappear into dust, like seeds on barren and parch earth. Whereas for you, the radical this is not the matter. As the love you have nurtured, the kindness you have given, the compassion you have developed and the justice you have strived for will stay with you and with all of humanity for all of time, within the immortal memory of the divine. So as tough as it is, just remember, it won’t always be that way. The path of love and kindness, whatever become of the earth and its people, will always outlive the path of greed and violence, as love and kindness, unlike the pettiness of greed and the malice of violence, is born of the eternal and the celestial and all who give themselves to it and live from it, share in its endless life and boundless and loving nature.

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6 thoughts on “You are not the reason you are unhappy: Why the modern media should take responsibility for so much of the unhappiness in the world.

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