“To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.”
– Yiddish idiom
Julien Smith writes about the implied violence in rap music and real violence:
when this implied (though explicit) violence turns to real violence, we all of a sudden switch from being really impressed to being horrified.
This is an important question, because there’s a serious disconnect between media and reality – in both mainstream media and new media. The disconnect is even more powerful in new media because of its intimate nature.
Why are people impressed with media violence? Media violence feeds on human flaws, human weaknesses. Male egos – and I fully and wholly admit to being an American guy with an American guy ego – have been trained since birth to believe that manliness and masculinity requires physical domination of someone else. That may even be hardwired into us, as evidenced by ten thousand years of nearly constant war. We believe that to be a man has violent implications, and the media, in its perfectly rational quest to sell more stuff (ads, merchandise, etc.) serves up things that reinforce our existing views.
Think about it for a second. Why do newspapers serve up bad news? Why are so many forms of media infused with sex and violence? Because they sell. They sell, sell, sell, and if you’re the recipient of the money machine, you want it to keep cranking out money for you, even at the expense of the society you live in.
Here’s the catch. Violence begets violence. Yes, it’s trite, it’s cliche, but it’s also very true. If you surround yourself with violent images and sounds, if you immerse yourself in violence ideas, words, and actions, you will act violently. You program your mind every time you pop the earbuds in, every time you turn on the TV or fire up the browser or boot up iTunes. When you need to solve a problem, your mind draws upon its knowledge like a carpenter opening up a toolbox. If the majority of your mind’s resources are based in violence, it should be no surprise to anyone that you resort to violent solutions to problems. As the expression goes, the world is horseradish to you.
It’s amusing, in a dark sort of way, that our culture will spend billions of dollars and countless, obsessive hours on what we put in our mouths, but we give no thought to what we put in our minds.
New media is doubly important in this respect. When you produce a podcast, a blog, or another form of consumable media, you have an intimate relationship with your audience. The earbuds and the iPod-sized screen require focus. I know lots of people who leave the TV on in the background but comparatively few who turn YouTube on in the background. New media asks and receives focus from the people who enjoy it – and because they’re focused on it, their minds are automatically more receptive to what they’re listening to, reading, or watching than traditional media. This means that new media producers have that much more influence over their audiences and that much more influence in the audience’s lives.
If you produce new media, think carefully about what you produce. When you turn on the mic or uncap the lens, how are you going to change lives?