The other day, in response to a comment I’d made on a friend’s FB post, someone called me a “liberal elitist.” That’s a first. Elitist, yeah—how could you not be at least a little bit elitist if you have a living consciousness in a world of soul-dead drones? It’s a survival strategy. But liberal? It’s been many moons since my beliefs and opinions fell anywhere within the “liberal” shade of the spectrum. It felt like it does when Republicans talk about “the liberal media,” as if a bunch of huge corporations taking orders from advertisers and the government could possibly be “liberal.” I think “liberal” to them means, “in some small way decentralizes my whiteness by talking about black people, queer folks, and immigrants.” Really though, I think they’re just reacting to the same scent of rottenness that all of us detect about the media—it’s feeding us lies and mind control, sewing divisiveness, and generally making people fucking crazy.
As part of my work as a Hip Hop Educator (TM), I have a presentation where I go on a journey with the class, examining words, their meanings, and their implications. I write a bunch of words on the board and then talk about what they mean, and how it relates to the society we live in. A philosophy professor I work with called it a “semantic map.” For me, it began as a way of taking difficult theoretical concepts and making them accessible. It also arose from an understanding that while we may be speaking the same language, we don’t necessarily all mean the same thing when we use certain words. Words are symbols, signs that point to a vibrating bundle of concepts, electric with emotions and associations.
Media – Mediate – Mediated – Immediate – Unmediated – Medium
“Media” means “in between.” In whatever form it takes, it stands between us and something else. Mediation begins with our physical bodies—our senses mediate between us and the rest of, well, whatever is out there. “Material reality?” Who knows? Point being, on a day-to-day level we experience it mainly through our primary physical senses: touch, smell, taste, hearing, sight. I’ll pretend for the sake of argument and simplicity that those are our only senses; just roll with it.
Senses as mediation, for example: a few months back I was visiting a friend. Her housemate’s daughter is around 8 years old, and like a lot of children at that age, had taken an obsessive interest in learning all there was to know about something. She reminded me of something I “knew,” but had forgotten: when our eyes—those brilliant flesh camera light-receiver things—see color, they are not seeing the color of the actual object; they’re seeing whatever spectrum of light that the object could not absorb. A “blue” shirt does not absorb the blue part of the light spectrum; it reflects, and that’s what our eyes see. Objects in mirror may be completely different than they appear.
Of course, our senses are the least mediated aspect of our lives, because they’re the most direct. We have bodies, we are bodies, we exist in bodies; they are us. We don’t exist in any tangible (hee hee) way without them. I taste the apple, I see my cat sleep, I hear the constant roaring of combustion engines on my street, I feel the lukewarm coffee going through my mouth and down my throat, I smell the sage smoke. I has the five senses, is the five senses. Information gets more mediated from here.
If I see someone get punched in the face, that’s unmediated. I saw it. I may not be the one getting punched, but I saw the event take place. As soon as I tell you about it, the event is now mediated. In between you and the face-punching is me and my story. And a story it is, for facts themselves are infinite, and must be pared down—who, what, where, when. I can’t possibly give you all of the facts; the speed of the punch in miles-per-hour, the tone of the impact, the distance in feet that the punchee travelled before falling to the ground, the air temperature, the buildings in the background, the number of pieces of broken glass the punchee fell into, etc.
Now, if I’m telling you a story, face-to-face, the experience of mediation is interactive; you can ask me questions. The story may grow and change depending on what new information I provide. Why did this person punch someone? What else was happening? What do I know about the event, what do I not know? Was it a lovers’ spat? Friends beefing? A paid-for beating by a professional puncher? You get the idea. A face-to-face story is also customized to its audience; you’re telling it to your homie, your mom, your lover, a group of friends, a classroom of black and latino 10 year olds, a classroom of wealthy jewish teens.
Mass media is completely different beast. Television, film—these things tell you the story. They are active, you are passive. They give, you receive. There’s no questioning, no customization; it is a mass-produced product, the same latte every time. And, all of it is controlled by a handful of mass media corporations; at last count I believe there are six companies who control 90% of all media on the planet—newspapers, books, magazines, radio, television, movies. Corporations, which have only one function: to make money. As I’ve said before elsewhere (Did you read The Concrete Shinobi yet? If not you’re slipping, hit me up), machines are not alive, so they do not value life. They’ll do anything to turn “resources” into “money.” Even a glance around the world we live in will show the psychopathic results.
There’s a cute and dangerous myth floating around this culture that the “media” simply provides what people “want” to see. One wonders how such “wants” can possibly divorced from a lifelong indoctrination by consumer culture on every level. It seems to me that the desires of communal animals like humans are fairly simple—water, food, shelter, relationships, leisure. Actually, those are pretty much the desires of every living being on the planet, judging by how they all get down; the other day I saw a honey bee taking a nap on a flower petal. Nowhere on that list is a Toyota Corolla, an I-Phone, or skin bleaching cream. Media in the consumer culture creates false desires to perpetuate itself.
A hard pill to swallow: most of us are simply not in control of what we “want.” The machines control that, as they control almost all material aspects of our lives.
You can learn a lot about what this culture “wants,” and a lot about its real values, by observing its mainstream entertainment. I rarely go to the movies, and I haven’t owned a television since 2006. However, I am on FB regularly, and as a life-long comic book afficionado and OG fan of Marvel comics, I keep up on everything from the Marvel cinematic universe—the netflix shows, the movies. I’ll say, it’s a lot like being in an abusive relationship. They just keep hurting me, over and over, and I just keep coming back. Simply put: all of them are racist to the point of absurdity.
For example, I just finished watching the first season of Daredevil (I’d already watched the second season last year, because Frank Castle). And,
In the VERY FIRST EPISODE…
In the VERY FIRST SCENE…
The VERY FIRST PERSON TO GET BEAT TO HELL…
Is a black man.
Ben Urich the reporter, who’s white in the comic book, for some reason is black in the show—and played with brilliance and dignity by Vondie Curtis-Hall, who is far too good for Marvel. He gets to be the negro mentor for the lily-whitest virginal perfect blue eyes aryan blondie princess who ever walked the earth, Mr. Grizzled Negro teaching the trade to Sweetie McNext-Door, and what happens? HE GETS FUCKING MURDERED.
And not just murdered, either. Brutally choked to death, by… wait for it… A GIANT ARYAN WHITE MAN.
To paraphrase the homie Solstice, the lesson is clear: if you’re a black man, messing with white women will get you killed. Every black man knows this, consciously or not, on an ancestral level 400 years deep.
I could go on. But I’m too lazy to be Detective DZA, noter of all racist bullshit in Daredevil and the rest of the Marvel cinematic universe. And, frankly, that knowledge and those conversations are my private business, between me and the folks who Know What is Up. I’ll give one more example, then keep it moving: Claire, the nurse, is one of exactly three women of color who make substantial contributions to the entire netflix marvel universe narrative. Also played with brilliance by Rosario Dawson, who is an amazing actress, gorgeous beyond measure, and seems like someone who’s probably just as cool in real life as she is on the screen. (She also looks exactly like a woman I used to date, who was also a nurse, and watching her on these shows is giving me weird heart-achey flashbacks, but that’s another story.) Rosario Dawson is also “afro-latina,” i.e. puerto rican and cuban, i.e. black.
Despite her badass-ness, Claire must be consigned to the gutter of being a black woman in the show—first, providing emotional and medical support for the self-destructive life of a white man. Then, by being the only female protagonist to be kidnapped, tortured, and beaten bloody so that the white man can come rescue her. Contrast that with the kidnapping that happens to Sweetie McNext-Door later in the season, who is not only not beaten or tortured, but she kills her captor and escapes. On top of all that, Claire ends up being the light-weight groupie jump-off for superheroes. First she’s got a thing for Daredevil, then for Luke Cage, who comes out of prison and—quoth Trent Reznor—fucks her like an animal. Ew.
Most people consume (there’s that word again) media simply to be “entertained.” In other words, they want to take an emotional ride and then forget about it, as mental/emotional/spiritual escape from the basic malaise and misery of modern living. That this is so common, so understandable, so relatable, does not make it less of a cosmic crime. I don’t believe that we exist simply to be entertained. In fact, I’m going to be even more offensive and “problematic” (folks love that word these days) and say that we have a moral responsibility to do better. A divine responsibility. “Regular” people are envious and worshipful of “creative” people because “creative” people are, in big and small ways, fulfilling their divine responsibilities.
And of course, we are all capable of being creative, because we’re all human. In noncivilized cultures—and to a much greater extent before the advent of industry, even in civilized cultures—creativity is simply a part of life. When you make your own shoes, you’re not just slapping together some buckskin and calling it good; it will be decorated, carefully crafted, as will all of the everyday artifacts of your life. Grandma sews an amazing quilt, Uncle tells an amazing story. The industrial-machine cult of “specialization” would have us all believe that some people’s roll in the machine is to be creative, that is to say “produce cultural products,” while others’ role is to consume the products created by that creativity. Bullshit and evil lies. If you’re alive, you’re capable of being creative. If you’re human, it’s your divine responsibility to do so.