Time to check our naive tango with the media?

Published in the Involvement Newspaper, Daystar University (under different title)

For the third time this month, I’ve been asked whether I got a girlfriend. No, it’s not my grandma this time. You see, granny’s verdict has always been unambiguous – she is waiting for her great grand-babies. But that is a chat for another day. A few days ago, when my Korean friend Kim asked me again whether I had found a Korean

girl for myself, I was not upset. Instead, I told her that there was no younger girl to date here. For once, Kim wasn’t amused. He knows that contemporary Korean boys are in trouble finding girls younger than themselves. The local dailies recently reported that low birth rate was to blame with the female populace shrinking speedily. Statistics Korea revealed that 33,794 marriages last year involved older brides. And the future, they warned, is not so bright for boys in this part of the peninsula. And that is why I am coming back to Africa soon… this also, is for another day.

Now to the media. There were days that I loved the press. In college, I would stay up in the newsroom the whole night to see the paper go to bed.  At particular nights I rubbed shoulders with zebras and wildebeests on my way to Bethel Place at the wee hours of the night. The hyenas would laugh off-tune and nocturnal insects screech uselessly. By the way if you cannot visualize what I’m saying, you are fresh in Daystar, Athi River in particular. But yes, I loved Involvement newspaper which I once described as my saccharine sweetheart. I hustled for her. Then I jumped over to radio and television. I would mourn if I missed late night news, talk shows and selected entertainment. I also adored several news anchors, presenters, and comedians. At times, I cared to follow their private lives and gossips sprawling them.

I found a handful of role models in the media personalities. I even wondered why Phillip Ochieng, the press veteran, accused the press. But that was then. Today, I would disagree with Esther Arunga, sorry, Esther Timberlake in all matters safe for one – the media stupidity! I will explain. But first, there is an appreciation. My journalism teacher was necessarily right on the media’s role to inform, educate and entertain. These functions, I have proven beyond minimal doubt as being practically instrumental in our socio-economic and political milieu. I also know of many milestones that the media have positively engaged our cultures: the voiceless are heard, scandals revealed, and freedom expanded – bravo to the men and women of the pen.

But beyond the above façade, I have come to know of our hazardous tango with the press. Unhesitant, I would join the veteran in accusing the press. But I must start by accusing you and I for going salsa unthinkingly. For starters, our understanding of the nature of mass media has been misguided for a long time. In our tango with the press, we have unfortunately been soothed into the belief that media and their contents are neutral. We failed to grasp the reality that media system does not merely interact with us, but shapes how we understand and imagine ourselves as a society. If truth be told, the media are not only informing but forming. They are forming our worldview – the way we see and live in the world- because they powerfully disseminate philosophical assumptions. These assumptions are so potent and do not simply develop spontaneously under historical, social and cultural influences but are products of fundamental and directing commitment which lies at the core of mankind.

I will add that our naïve dance is getting better with technological clatter. But we are so soaked in the entertainment that we have forgotten to reflect, critique and posit alternatives where desirable. Neil Postman called it, “Amusing ourselves to death.” Meanwhile, columnists, musicians, producers and journalists make and remake stories, dramas and news items that selectively embody and frame the myths, issues, conflicts and ideals of our cultures and their idols. And sadly, we have consumed this selective interpretation of reality without question. We have unconsciously let the media, our tango darling, to be the examiner, the benefactor and the cheerer in our delight. Correspondingly, our tango darling is also the accuser, the jury and the judge of whomever she earmarks, whenever she pleases, and for whatever the reason.

Under the guise of productivity, self development, profit making and entertainment, the media have turned us into economic rationalists. We now see the world from a monetary perspective caped with commodification of human relationships and cultures as key approach. Economic rationalism has become the enemy of our very hearts – we have simply refused to be content. Our commercial entities have become clogs of planned obsolescence. That your stylish phone, laptop or ipod today is hopelessly unfashionable tomorrow. In retrospect, we have been placed on an acquisitive treadmill – materialism, consumerism and greed are on the driving seat. Meanwhile, the difference between our sermons and marketing strategies are getting negligible; our politicians get media airtime to promise heaven as if they ever set a foot there; and our families glued to the screens because Afrosinema continues shortly.

But the tango must be paused. This time, critics ought to be listened to; not marginalized as out-of-touch elitist and moralists. Demystification of the myth of religious neutrality is vital now than ever before. And no more should we dance naively with a thought that media contents are neutral – as speaking for the good of the common man. For we now know that they are reflecting worldview commitments of the media barons and the like-minded. But largely, also, reflecting the cravings of our gullible generation amusing itself in a deadly tango. This is not for a chuckle!

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