Storytellers for the Masses
“Mass media organizations are the culture producers in modern society.”
As we slowly walked back to Kalea, Lua commented,
“That was a fascinating conversation on the beach. Don’t you think so, Mister Rico?”
“Yeah, sure was.”
“You were listening, weren’t you? You know, there is a big difference between listening and just waiting for your turn to speak. Tucker is a natural extrovert and big talker, a personality type that is well-suited for success in a society dominated by a pervasive ‘culture of personality,’ excessive celebrity worship, and where one’s ‘brand,’ hollow though it may be, exerts a strong gravitational pull of tribal identity. It is a shallow culture that has, unfortunately, infected many of the institutions today. But I’ve always preferred to listen more than talk. One learns so much more from listening than speaking. A bit of wisdom and understanding is the reward you get for more listening and less talking. Most people do not listen very well. Either their minds are a constant whirlwind of their own thoughts, beliefs, ideas, opinions, and conclusions; or they think talking is somehow strong while listening is weak.”
I understood. From my own experiences, I had observed that almost every problem within a group always seems to start with bad communication. Someone simply isn’t listening.
Lua went on to say,
“Listening is such an important act. It requires us to be fully present, and that takes practice, but listening doesn’t have to involve anything else at that moment. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. Listening to somebody, completely, attentively, is more than just hearing and processing the words they say. When you are truly listening, you are also paying attention to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not just the verbal part of it.”
“And listen to the story. What is being said? Why? Stories have real power. If you pay close enough attention, Mister Rico, you'll see that to control society, you don’t really need to control its courts or armies at all, you just need to control its stories.”
So true. And corporate controlled media outlets, television shows and envy-producing advertising are telling most of the stories most of the time to most of the people, I thought to myself. Mass media organizations are the culture producers in modern society. The increasingly monopolized private sphere of the media — effectively a ‘consciousness industry’ — increasingly diverts and distracts attention away from important political and social issues, protecting existing networks of power and domination from any serious challenges.
The post-war creation of mass consumer culture — consumerism — as a response to overproduction from cheap fossil fuels and innovation and fueled by a global annual advertising budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars, along with the expansion of easy credit, has been a boon to many. This mass appeal has shielded the dominant growth-based political economy from meaningful social criticism. Consumerism, unlike the ordinary consumption levels humans beings require to live well, is a deliberate organizing principle of a linear take-make-waste economy based on abundant cheap fossil fuels and overcapacity of production.
Sadly, even mainstream environmental discourse has been seduced by the siren song of consumerism (as ecomodernism), proffering ‘green consumption’ and recycling (a.k.a., Garbage 2.0) as legitimate, feel-good, technological, market-based responses to ecological crises. Media exposure, much of which reinforces consumer culture norms and economic growth narratives, occupies from one-third to one-half of people’s waking hours. Clearly, any program of transformative culture change must confront the substantial role of the media in reinforcing dominant discourses of economic growth and consumerism. It must tell a different story.
The goal of an economy should be to minimize natural inputs to attain a sufficient standard of living. The ultimate purpose of an economy, after all, is the maintenance and enjoyment of life for a long time at a sufficient level of wealth for a good life. The economy should not simply be an ‘idiot machine’ that maximizes waste in an attempt to satiate what are now obviously insatiable human desires for material wealth and extremes of comfort, convenience, and security.