On the Post-9/11 Plague

Blitz Magazine, November 2001

On September 9th, it was time to start another book. I randomly plucked one from a shelf and began to read. The book was The Plague, by Albert Camus. By September 12th, I realized that the choice was an eerie coincidence.

plagueThe Plague, published in 1947, is the story of a city visited by the bubonic plague, and of the psychological and functional changes forced upon the city’s people. However, the plague is only a symbol. What Camus was really writing about was the German occupation of France.

We are now the plague-stricken, with our affliction being terrorism and everything that created it. The parallels between the novel and what we are now experiencing, and what we will experience, are too numerous to cite—you’ll have to read the book. But in it, Camus touches on the media and writes about how, when journalists become bored with reporting the death tolls, and on the frustratingly-slow recovery process, they turn their society’s disaster into morbid entertainment. Their news becomes limited to the information supplied by the Prefect. In the time of crisis, they lose all credibility.

In the aftermath of the September 11th attack on New York, I’ve been sickened by the media/Hollywood treatment of it. The image of the plane crashing into the World Trade Center just had to be shown again. And again. And again. And again. The major news organizations used it as a logo. There were/are the Creative Writing 101 titles: ‘America Under Attack’, ‘Helping America Heal’, ‘America’s New War’. The White House joined in, with Dubya’s speechwriter making him say things like ‘Dead or Alive!’ then helped with the branding of it all with the incredibly ridiculous ‘Operation Infinite Justice’. Dateline is still busy wringing every last melodramatic ounce from the disaster. Advertisers are running promotions around it: ‘Buy an RV and we’ll give $100 to the New York relief effort!’, and ‘Buy a 2002 SUV and help keep America moving!’

Other truly nauseating examples were the special editions of the magazines. Those from Time and Newsweek were little more than collections of photographs taken on and around that horrible day. As what? Keepsakes for scrapbooks and photo albums, to be pasted in along with the baby pictures? On September 16th, Fox scheduled Independence Day for its Sunday night movie. On the already moronic Entertainment Tonight, the story from the odious Mary Hart was how ‘The Stars’ managed to get home from the Toronto Film Festival. Then she interviewed a producer, who unwittingly summed up all that’s wrong with Hollywood when he said: “This kind of thing is entertainment as long as it’s fantasy. Once it happens, it ceases to be entertainment.”

plague1In The Plague, the citizens struggle to live their lives normally, in denial, helplessly going through the motions, obedient to every edict from the Prefect. Dissenters are quashed.

The novel’s main characters are heroes; doctors and volunteers, who spend their days lancing the buboes on the bodies of the stricken, in hopes that release and disposal of the noxious fluid will help bring an end to the pernicious plague.

There is only one character who self-destructs—the profiteer. This man makes a lot of money by appealing to the base instincts that arise in people during times of crisis; once the plague has run its course, he loses his mind, his friends and his freedom.

Camus was writing about World War II, and we know that this type of situation, and its effects on any society, has been the same for centuries. But the nature of media has changed; its scope and capabilities have changed. One would hope that, with all this sophistication, the behaviour of those who work in all forms of media would change for the better. I’m not seeing it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Minefield Culture: Dubya’s Re-Election Sparks a Rant

minefieldBlitz Magazine, January 2005

Shhhhhhhhh. Don’t tell anyone what you know. Don’t let anyone know what you think. Keep your opinions to yourself. Smile. Be nice. Don’t upset the apple cart. Your job depends on it. Your career depends on it. Your children’s futures depend on it. Your life depends on it.

This is the environment in which we now live. It’s nothing new in many other parts of the world but, in North America, censorship has moved from a slow creep to a full gallop and it is the responsibility of all of us to do something about it.

We now live in a culture of ignorance. Talk to people you know—see how many bother to read newspapers. It shouldn’t surprise you that a lot of them don’t bother. Why? Too much information, and few of us have the time. More importantly, most of the information is useless pap.

Most importantly, many newspapers can no longer print real stories. They can’t discuss secrets and motivations of public figures and the corporate world. Journalists can’t break a lot of important news stories. Columnists can’t express their opinions. In some cases, newspapers are knowingly printing false information. Because editors and publishers don’t want to get fired. And, if they allowed their papers to return to the days when investigative reporting was an essential service performed by real journalists, they would be fired. By the corporate interests who own their papers and only want certain things revealed, and in a certain way.

Americans are fond of calling their nation ‘The Greatest Democracy in the World’. That statement is now so far from the truth that it wears the cloak of pathos. When the Republicans very much illegitimately made off with the White House in 2000, Americans had an opportunity to fight to have a real democracy (only Colorado has taken baby steps to try to change the system of electoral college-allocated votes). Americans had a chance to force their politicians to take a look at the Canadian system that, with all its faults, is still the best in the Americas. But Americans did nothing.

In November, they had another chance to take back their democracy. Instead, half of them had to suffer the humiliation of hearing the world’s collective gasp at the re-election of a man who is, without a doubt, the worst ‘leader’ their nation has ever had, a dangerous man leading a dangerous charge.

Canadians haplessly watch all of this, with no choice but to care, and worry, because we’re physically, economically and culturally attached. Woe to us. Because now the shredded US democracy is held hostage by a massive block of ‘Evangelicals’, a group of Christians most closely associated with ‘Family Values’. These people talk of this Family Values credo like it’s something new—as if millions of family members over many centuries have not held the same values.

It’s easy to make fun of the ‘born-agains’, with their hokey ‘praise the lords!’, their never-ending fundraising antics and their cult-like obsession with the bible—all conducted while said fundraising is wrought with fraud, their church leaders are involved in sex scandals, their fellow church members run corporations that are some of the biggest tax evaders, employee abusers and environmental offenders on the planet, and their kids spend their allowance on pot, crack and bullets.

Yes, these people are dangerous. Because they choose to lead lives of ignorance, and they want the rest of us to join them. Since the election, everyone in entertainment, broadcasting and journalism openly acknowledges that the Evangelicals have to be appeased. Pleased. Placated. Pandered to.

We all shook our heads at the uproar caused by the revelation that Janet Jackson has breasts. Now it’s not funny. Now it’s ‘No Sex! But, er, Have Babies! And, uh, Up with Marriage! But Don’t Let Yer Wife Find Out About Yer Other Gal! If Yer Gay, Don’t Tell Anyone! And if Yer Gay, uh, Down With Marriage! Up with The NRA! But, uh, No Shootin’ Anything Cuz The Bible Says Thou Shalt Not Kill!’

Yes, the bible-thumpers of America now have their hands firmly around the necks of American culture and it’s going to take one heck of a Democratic candidate to undo the damage in 2008.

Meanwhile, there’s an alarming increase in the number of American schools that, in sex education classes, teach one thing: abstinence. So there’ll be millions of teen-agers battling raging hormones while learning about sex every day, and in every way, from the Internet. With no access to birth control, lots of girls will get pregnant, and they won’t have access to abortion. While gun clubs proliferate and video games become violent to extremes previously unimagined, journalists will not be able to do stories that might offend the sensibilities of local pastors. Television producers will have to stick with stupid, ‘clean’ sit-coms, and movie producers can forget about releasing certain films in certain markets. Everyone involved in any form of media communications now has to wade through a minefield of hypocrisy and political correctness the likes of which no one has seen before.

How refreshing it was to see an American soldier ask Donald Rumsfeld an intelligent, cogent question relating to the fact that American soldiers in Iraq aren’t properly outfitted for combat. Rumsfeld was horrified, and so taken aback that his hands fluttered. Why? Because he had been assured that any media member not toeing the Republican Line had been blacklisted. There’s little doubt that a barred journalist fed that question through that soldier—a hugely sad commentary on the decline of democracy and freedom of the press.

North of the Mason Dixon Line, it’s no secret that an awful lot of Americans don’t hear about US soldiers dying in Iraq, that children are learning history from texts that have been ‘cleaned up’ (read: changed). They famously know little about other countries, other economies, and other civilizations. This means that there are millions of Americans who, unless they’re savvy enough to seek out independent journalism, don’t have all of the information, and truth, they need to be productive citizens.

This is censorship. By a group of people who cling to something that may or may not be real. And who, to satisfy their lust for their beliefs, invest millions in keeping one political party up, and keeping down–way down–anything resembling illumination, revelation and truth.

History has shown us, over and over and over again, that ignorance is dangerous. Rampant ignorance among Americans is bound to have an effect on Canadians. Which means that we must be very sure to protect and support writers, independent journalists, independent producers, independent broadcasters and the increasingly-precious CBC. If we don’t establish a bulwark against this new wave of censorship, we’re going to be in as much trouble as the Americans are now.