In our society (Australian mainstream society at least) there is increasingly a tendency to cultural conflict, to stronger and stronger statements, to more open, public and violent rhetoric.
We can see it in our treatment of governments right across the country. Any government, any flavour. There are ever shorter honeymoon periods after a government comes to power in a big election win, and then the downward spiral begins. Soon enough it’s “the worst government ever” and the next election sees and entirely predictable change. And the cycle continues.
We can see it in the prevalence of bigotry, narrow-mindedness and bullying that infects our society (and sadly some of our churches).
We see it in public debate – for example the marriage discussion, environment & carbon reduction, asylum seekers.
The public discourse is vitriolic, violent.
The willingness to be teachable, to be open to the experiences or views of others almost non-existent.
There are those who would point to the internet, and it’s inherent capacity to make every person an author, commentator, journalist as the root cause.
I’m increasingly coming to wonder about the roles, and the long-term implications of two other aspects of our society.
The first is advertising. There is now a couple of generations of adults whose lives have been soaked 24/7 in advertising since the moment of their birth. Don’t get me wrong, advertising has been around a long time – but not in anything like it’s present form. Our lounge rooms, roads, workplaces, telephones, televisions, radios deliver advertising directly and immediately to us, almost non stop.
And the main message of advertising? It boils down to “you should be dissatisfied with what you have”. Whoever you are, wherever you live, whatever you drive, however you clean your clothes, you should be unhappy. You are not good enough. And if you buy “product X” you will be whole, or buy “product Y” and you will demonstrate you actually do love your kids/partner/dog/goldfish.
If we spent 20, 30, 40 years constantly being told “who you are isn’t good enough” do you think at some point we might come to believe it?
The cult of celebrity is only a slight variation on the same issue. There is a constant parade of people who only differ from you and I in that they can very effectively pretend to be someone else (isn’t that what acting is?), sing, or kick a ball/jump into a sandpit/run fast (choose your own sporting equivalent here) but are nonetheless presented to us as a role model, an identity to be aspired to, a voice to be listened to. The underlying message seems to me (intended or not) to be simple: “who you are isn’t good enough.”
The second issue, is our increasing addiction to media in the form of news, current affairs, and opinion. News media thrives on an ever increasing rate of acceleration. The news cycle is shorter and shorter, the sound-bite more important than the reasoned opinion, and the need for conflict central to news and ratings. Media seeks controversy and reports it. Media generates controversy and reports on it. And when the controversy, the conflict dies? We move on to the next hot spot. Media fills our houses, our telephones, our laptops, our television screens…and our minds….with controversy and conflict.
Now there are two things to say here.
The first is that we get what we want. We choose to watch television/read magazines/surf the net and we choose the content that we allow into our lounge rooms (that’s not so true about the signs plastered all over our roads/railway stations/sporting fields). We reinforce the two issues above by our own actions every day.
When we stuck a “no junk mail” sticker on our letterbox at home, I grieved for my lost encounter with advertising. I was actually sad that I didn’t get to read the latest Target/Myer/Kathmandu/Bob Jane T-Marts catalogue telling me how unsatisfactory my life is without their product.
When I choose my viewing/reading/surfing habits based on stories of conflict, when I drop my “opinion” into the voracious maw of a public comment section on my favourite website, when I buy into the adulation of celebrity……I get what I ask for.
The second is that we know (or ought to) there there is another way. We proclaim a God who is love. A God who created us (however you understand that phrase), loves us, values us. A God who wants to say 24/7 “who you are IS enough, IS satisfactory, IS good.”
I don’t think there are simple answers, but for me at least it starts with wondering if we are growing a problem of our own making. And I need to think more about the influence of non-stop advertising and conflict-driven media in my own life, and those of my children.
I’m not advocating a “drop-out” approach, whereby we move to a shack in the mountains and cut ourselves off (mmmm….tempting!), but a need to intelligent, thoughtful and deliberate engagement in our culture.
And the willingness to sometimes say no.
No junk mail.
(And no, the irony that I’m posting a story offering strong opinion about opinionated media isn’t lost on me!)