Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Faces of the Enemy: Media and Threats to Freedom and Democracy in the Western World

An American flag in flames with people attacking each other
From a propaganda comic book 1947

The power of media is undisputed. It has far reaching effects on our psyche and influences our thoughts and perceptions in both conscious and subconscious ways. The problem is that media is not only all around us but its stance is quite often reinforced by us. Although media is an overarching term and there are better and worse fountains of knowledge to quench one's thirst with (BBC vs Fox respectively) the fact is that media, regardless of its reliability, rides a common current.

Apart from a sensationalist perspective that has the heavy tendency to overemphasize the bad over the good hence giving an extremely bleak view of humanity, media is also very topical in nature. For example, over the past decade or so and with increasing vehemence, terrorism has become the major focal point. In other words, the bearded fundamentalist Islamic fellow has been more often than not in the news and has become a staple footage of most media, reliable or not.

There have been other faces in the past. They are usually portrayed as dangerous, a threat to freedom and democracy. In the heyday of media, the face that appeared in the newspaper headlines was the painted and feathered native Indian. Their so-called savagery and bellicose attitude was contrasted with the civilized and peaceful lifestyle of the settlers. The fight of the settlers was naturally one of territory but in the minds of most people of the era (and even today!) it was a moral matter, namely a fight between the goodhearted religious folk, of earnest cowboys and cavalry against the so-called cruel and blood-thirsty Indian.

Then the media shifted its attention -- that is once the threat had been neutralized -- and the focus became the black man. The African American was subjected (and again in many ways still is) to a case of negative stereotyping. Both poverty and crime were blamed on them, mainly due to a disproportionate attention on colored criminals along with some Hollywood typecasting.

The fear of the black man became a naturally occurring and reinforced reaction regardless of the issue of racism. You may be an open-minded person but you would still carry around the conditioned fear and mistrust within you. Just imagine you, a white person, walking down a dark and empty street and a colored man walks towards you. That moment you would probably prefer running into a white person although you swear that some of your best friends are black.

The next common international enemy was a more complex matter because it defied the perimeters of race. Although stereotypically they would be Eastern Europeans with an obviously thick accent and terrible fashion sense and haircuts, their ideas were seen as more contagious and hence much more potent and dangerous for the common folk. In fact, there was the paranoia that even your next door neighbor may be one of them – a communist.

All of this fear, the perceived threat to freedom and democracy in North America and the rest of the Western world led to witch hunts à la McCarthyism and its visual Hollywood representation of horror flicks with zombies and infectious diseases. Yet strangely enough, the same spirit with its witch-hunting and finger-pointing paranoia is still felt and heard across the Western populace even today.

In fact, the most recent enemy to freedom is the first-mentioned long-bearded terrorist who more often than not dwells in cages and wishes to destroy the American dream from a backward and barren wilderness. In fact, he is trying to come up with the most creative ways of instilling fear and panic in the West (more deliberately so than the wicked conniving communist) and is not shy of putting on explosive underwear to get his point across.

Which is what, by the way? What is his point again? Media goes along and claims that the matter is not political but moral and religious. The famed and infamous “Axis of Evil” demonstrates that there is a moral dimension to it all and brings back memories of the settlers' fight against the unruly Indians.

The West then, backed up and bolstered by mass media, is seen as the good and righteous standing up courageously for our rights and freedoms all around the world. I do not claim to diminish or take away the wondrous accomplishments of the Western world, with its current world power both economic and ideological, (still) being the United States.

Yet I wonder if these freedoms can be perceived indeed as so fragile that they are constantly under attack and that our spokesperson, the media, always has to look behind its shoulder to see who the next enemy may be. True confidence and affirmation in one's beliefs and accomplishments should not be deterred or influenced by such threats but should face them squarely and boldly in the eye.

In fact, the consequence of all this fear mongering has led to an evident decrease, not increase of freedoms and rights. The paranoia seems to be pointing back to ourselves, while the powerful media continues to fan our angst and insecurities. 


Vincent said...

You describe facets of America and then in the same breath you ascribe the same things to "The Western World", presumably including the UK and Europe. (Politically I know the UK is part of Europe, but that's another kind of conflation which I also reject.)

You mention the difference between the BBC and Fox, but the differences between America and UK are huge and significant to this kind of discussion.

The Second Amendment of the American constitution, for example, would be viewed with horror here in England.

But if you take out the references to the Western World, I'll accept what you say as fair comment.

Arash Farzaneh said...

Fair enough.