The Media Eco-System

I heard the term ‘media eco-system’ used the other day and got to thinking about what that might encompass.

An eco-system as I understand it, consists of a complexity of mutually dependent inter-acting parts that constitute a ‘whole’ and embodies an aspect if not the totality of the realities of the organisms within. The media eco-system provides us captives a diverse selection of socio-cultural perspectives that demand belief, rejection, adherence or refutation of the sensational often incendiary information conveyed, pushing those of us locked into the media world toward extremes of opinion and behaviors not to mention paranoia.

I’ve come to realize the media eco-system is essentially oppositional by design, generating anger that insures the rabid following necessary to the systems’ sustainability. So, I wonder, how do I stay informed about the things that matter these days without getting sucked into the vile vortex.

I guess, to be fair, not all news presentation is sensationalized. I’ll just have to look harder to find a fair and balanced coverage. (Not sure, but I think that might be the slogan of one of the more egregious sources.)

A Deep Sense of Place

I’ve been reading about the villagers of rural Sumatra who have occupied their ancestral lands for generations. The rich volcanic soil and abundant rainfall have provided reliable rice production for families to remain in place for a thousand years or more. Such an extended presence has led these folks to develop deep spiritual connection to the land. Beliefs have developed over time securing a sense of peace and common bond among these rural farmers. Tabus have evolved to ward off ill-fortune, rituals, past down over the generations, are performed to appease nature’s gods.

How incredible it must be to have such a deep sense of place, a conception almost unimaginable for Scandinavian transplants like me, so far removed from any place we might think of as ancestral. We immigrants can, of course, understand our inherent ties to nature traceable back to our primordial past, our single-celled ancestors, but we lack the personal connection to place, the spiritual and physical continuity of the Sumatran villagers.

Things change. The aggressive influx of the revealed religions undermines traditional beliefs, interrupt respect for local sacred places. Growing populations force more villagers to commute to jobs in the city where material values take hold and village life loses it’s sense of cultural autonomy.

I guess it will always be the case that new ideas will eventually disrupt old beliefs, for better or worse.

The Beauty of Rationalization

I’ve been thinking, lately, about the nature of consumer capitalism and how it tends to disenfranchise tens if not hundreds of thousands of people. Folks who are, on the whole, perfectly functional individuals, who have been caught in an impossible financial bind not always of their own making, find themselves unable to provide basic human needs, particularly shelter.

I’ve been reading about a large sub-culture of nomads living in various mobile vehicles who rely on scant social security payments and taxing seasonal employment to make ends meet. The dilemma has me wondering how these folks, who have not chosen to ‘drop out’ in order to exploit the social safety net but rather work in order to maintain an autonomy, deserve such a tenuous existence.

Convinced as I am of the oppressive predicament suffered by thousands, of whom I’ve been made aware by a dedicated and credible reporter who spent extended time living with these vulnerable folks, I find myself disturbed and righteously indignant at the unfairness of it all.


But, to be honest and upon further consideration I must admit my righteous indignation is pretty hard to sustain, you know, having to suffer such distressing contemplation, which has led me to the rationalization that maybe not all of these folks are such innocent victims, that maybe their dilemmas are the result of irresponsibility on their part; maybe they dealt frivolously with their formal education, blew off consumer math, made bad choices in the selection of spouses.

So now, upon even further consideration I find I must relieve myself of my overly righteous suffering. I find myself able to comfortably return to the placid complacency which is my mien and so proceed with my normal daily routines untroubled by occurrences beyond my control.

The Good Life: Realizing the Fascinating

I’ve been wondering, lately, about what’s required for certain things to be found fascinating; what it is certain objects, people, ideas possess that place them into the realm of the alluring, compelling and intriguing. Certainly, these terms are used too freely without true consideration of what exactly qualifies as delightful, enchanting or riveting, still, most of us will have experienced things that, upon reflection, we would assign the category.

Fascination, I suspect, requires not knowing all the details. The fascinating must be the mysterious, harboring hidden meaning maybe ambiguous forms existing in subdued light, beyond the completely knowable. Obscured, the fascinating becomes captivating, inhabits the imagination, mesmerizes, holds one’s attention to the exclusion of all else: sensual magnetism.

It occurs to me assigning the concept is subjective, that such a designation has to do with personal experience, state of mind. And one’s perspective, unquestioned certainties about the world tend to dispel the imaginative sending the fascinating to a slow death. Plus, too much knowledge of the object in question, too much exposure will turn the fascinating into the mundane.

It’s a quality-of-life issue, it appears to me, but realizing the fascinating, experiencing pleasure in the sensuous will require relinquishing certainties. One must leave herself open to the unforeseeable, put himself at risk of surprise.

I’m good with taking a chance now and again.

Why We Laugh

I’ve been reading that laughter is a means of communication. It’s an infectious behavior that manifests in social groups particularly but not exclusively in party settings. It’s understandable I guess as a stress reliever given the social pressures we all endure. What we laugh at though is often, more than likely really, about disparaging someone.

Humor may be self-deprecating or gentle teasing but a good laugh generally requires a victim and the focus of derision will often be someone seen as holding a position of superiority, a boss perhaps, or someone seen as feigning dignity. So, it’s a status thing. Put-downs level the playing field psychologically, distill our insecurities and are great sources of raucous laughter shared with friends.
Certain comedic routines feed the same need. There are comedians who play the dunce card; who display an incompetence or obliviousness that makes us all feel better about ourselves.

In any case it appears that humor tends to focus on subjects who are clearly inferior to us, a true doofus or two who allow us the illusion we are good and well-functioning individuals, at least for a little while. Which, I guess, is reason enough for a little fun-poking, realizing, of course, each of us is likely to be the recipient of the poking at some point.

The Cancel Culture

I’ve been thinking lately about some of the public individuals who have been fading from view, have virtually disappeared from the cultural narrative in recent months (or years). Some of these folks have found themselves in disfavor for a variety of reasons: perceived racial bias, sexual improprieties, sometimes simply political incorrectness or holding views found to be inappropriate by the more sensitive of our cultural judges.

I can think of a particularly clever and insightful comedian, a creative radio personality, a talented dramatic actor and several pols who suffer the sins of behaving badly in a moral or ethical sense. There appears to be a particularly virulent group of vigilantes sifting through the pasts of those deemed suspicious seeking condemning information. I suppose condemnation may be in order in some particularly egregious cases even though the perpetrator may have contributed to the public good most of his/her life.

It all makes me think back, wonder if there’s anything there, in my past, that might be brought up, maybe by a disgruntled neighbor or former friend, that I might find embarrassing were it to be revealed.

And, of course, there is.

A Chosen Leader

I’ve been reading about how mass movements are started, what exactly is required for people to unite in a collective opposition to the status quo. Such a phenomenon is often brought about, I guess, by economic insecurities and perceived loss of status which sometimes results in a breakdown of the social order. A lot of frustrated people find themselves treading water without a worthwhile goal to swim toward.

What these folks want, I suppose, is hope for a better future. They seek a leader who can spin a believable narrative promising improvement; someone to thumb his/her nose at the established ways, one who has little regard for prevailing institutions, one defiant in word and deed.

Usually such an individual emerges in response to the cries of the disenfranchised. Sometimes, though, a talented ambitious man may insight the masses through coercion and false narrative to rise up against their own best interests, to champion change for the sake of change, fed by the energy of their common opposition to perceived injustices and identification with their chosen leader. They rally for their side to win at all costs, but in so doing threaten in their vehemence the integrity of the institution allowing them the free expression they exercise.

An unsettling scenario, it seems to me.

Upon Reflection

I’ve been reading about the history of the mirror: how the idea of ‘reflection’ took on new meaning over time.

Humankind has, of course, been aware of the reflected image since pre-historic man first gazed into a still pond. The dangers of such a discovery became apparent in Greek mythology when Narcissus, realizing his beauty, became obsessed with his reflection, fell into despair his love of self could never be requited, killed himself and was reborn as a flower (curious but fitting, I suppose).

By the Renaissance pretty much everyone had access to mirrors. It didn’t turn all Italians narcissistic but the focus on personal appearance brought about by the availability of the reflected image profoundly affected the way people everywhere thought about themselves. Gazing into a mirror makes the gazer aware of his (or her) unique oneness. Social relationships become more complex. The individual, aware of her (or his) physical attributes easily assumed an expectation of relative worth beyond the status assigned by other means such as social rank, wealth or useful contribution to society. Visual presentation: grooming habits, manner of dress hair styling became increasingly significant and for some cultures border(ed) on the ridiculous.

I must admit to remembering preening in my teen years. Now I purposely avoid mirrors whenever possible. But, as my physical appearance has become less photogenic I find my psychological well-being not as dependent on visual presentation. One of the advantages of ageing, I guess.

Queen of America

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to have a national identity: how we might imagine some sort of consensual, some unifying set of shared values in our diverse population, an identity, we might imagine, manifesting itself in the actions of our chosen leaders, our elected representatives who we see putting into motion actions we consider important to maintaining our moral visions. Of course, as the political winds blow, half of us will be upbeat knowing our chosen leaders are heading the country in the right direction while the other half will passionately believe the opposite.

This conundrum has me thinking about the British. The Royal Family, having a centuries old heritage, provides a national identity for a pretty fair number of British citizens judging from the crowds one sees in photographs of various state rites and national observances. No longer wielding political sway the Royals serve as a unifying symbol for a population whose politics has produced the divisive likes of Margret Thatcher and Boris Johnson.

So, maybe we need a King or a Queen, someone to focus on in these days of extreme partisan division, some apolitical demi-god (or goddess) who represents the values our diverse population can agree upon, someone to reign over our national holidays as a symbol of unity.

Personally I can’t think of anyone who might adequately fill the bill but I’m open to suggestion.

Beauty in Death

I’m finding the transformation of nature this time of year breathtaking. The vibrancy and variety of colors transforms the environment so dramatically my visual surroundings become something totally other, so changed, that, on a walk in the woods, I find myself someplace unrecognizable as if it were another world.

Nature though is dying, she is in the throes of death, breathing a last gasp as she fades into dormancy. In another month these woods will appear dead, reduced to subdued browns and grays. They will have been abandoned by songbirds and hibernating animals. There will be little to suggest there is any life existing here at all. The death of nature will, of course, eventually transition into a sort of rebirth or at least a regeneration of life as the seasons advance.

What makes nature’s metaphorical death so unique is the flair, the exuberant celebration of finality she displays. Such an enthusiastic embrace of physical demise doesn’t seem to follow for the animal world except, perhaps, for certain humans convinced they too will be reborn in the spring.