Media, Intellectuals and Masses

Nothing is more dangerously addictive than the media which like the pool of Narcissus can absorb you body and soul. You fall in love with the face that is your face. You are obsessed with the voice that is your own voice. You believe in your own reality. Everything else is secondary to this one and only reality that is yourself. In Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mirror” the persona says:

“I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful –”

The media is not a mirror because it has “preconceptions” about its own ability to make or break reality through the power to affect imagination. Like the world of objects in Plato it is twice removed from reality and yet it assumes that no reality is possible without the image that is contrived. What George Seldes says about the press applies to the media as a whole: “The most sacred cow of the “media” is the media itself.”

Dr. Johnson couldn’t have put it better when he said: “Every man is prompted by the love of himself to imagine that he possesses some qualities, superior, either in kind or degree, to those which he sees allotted to the rest of the world;” The media plays on our vanity, our need to be seen, to be watched, admired and envied. But, at the end of the day we know who or what we really are.

Since reality must be converted into a media byte we don’t know what is real and what is not. We don’t know how much of the feelings people display before a camera are real or just a performance meant to trigger anticipated reactions. Motives are impossible to judge given the fact that images are carefully chosen, information that comes as news cunningly doctored, and what happens behind the surface is far more complex than what appears with deceptive simplicity before our eyes.

Media has to be used strategically by all intellectuals who mean to subvert this existing order to make way for a more just one. Whether the image corresponds with the truth or not, truth will not stop being truth. Truth is on the side of those who suffer injustice and are determined to fight back. No amount of media lies can defeat the truth. If lies worked all the time the slaves in the Roman Empire would’ve been slaves for eternity. Ideology that comes with brainwash collapses before truth.

The criminalization of politics in India would not have been possible without the consent of intellectuals. Louis Althusser speaks of the Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) which means institutions or individuals that generate the language, logic or argument to justify a system of repression. Doctors and engineers top the list in the category of “intellectuals” who are happily indifferent to this system of repression because it does not affect them and in fact their secure lifestyles are possible because they submit to this order. Not any better are lawyers and the teachers in the universities. These are the more respectable version of Bollywood. Fundamentally not any different though. Bollywood is cheap, undisguised and blatant. These traitors have a look of respectability which makes them worse. They don’t want to give up the security of their positions by raising their voice against this order. Why should they? They’re getting paid for all the masturbation and lies.

The million dollar question is: how can we ever have a nation without radical change as the only possibility in view! To quote Walter Benjamin: “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the “emergency situation” in which we live is the rule. We must arrive at a concept of history which corresponds to this.” The real intellectuals who will explain and solve the current series of crises plaguing the third world will emerge from the rock bottom. We live in an “emergency situation,” which means a situation that makes it extremely difficult for common people to make both ends meet. It means survival is impossible for the poor and downtrodden without a fight.

The media gives a superficial gloss to the ideological apparatus that forms the basis of repression. I mean at the end of the day the media is a performance like in Genet’s play The Balcony where appearance is the only reality. It’s not about people or individuals. It’s about appearances multiplied by appearances. We need to come out of appearances. We need to come to terms with a face that is not an image. That’ll be the job of the real intellectual of the masses who will articulate the real needs of real people and not the imaginary ones of those who love and live for themselves.


Categories: Rethinking The World

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5 replies »

  1. Very beautifully written and provokingly analyzed easy-going critical text. The literature premises (such as Sylvia Plath and Jean Genet ) and ancient Greek myths to reach to a presumed conclusion makes Mr Kona’s ideas look even more pretty. It is also equally joyful to see philosophical element such as Plato in the media critique which is something media faculties generally poorly fails to take them into their particular contexts.

  2. P.S: I just wondered how many media studies lecturer and studens heard and care about George Seldes.

  3. “Not any better are lawyers and the teachers in the universities. These are the more respectable version of Bollywood. Fundamentally not any different though. Bollywood is cheap, undisguised and blatant. These traitors have a look of respectability which makes them worse. They don’t want to give up the security of their positions by raising their voice against this order. Why should they? They’re getting paid for all the masturbation and lies.”

    I have to say, it seems you’re being a bit hard on yourself without ever really confronting yourself. Do you consider yourself a traitor? Worse than a Bollywood producer? If so, I would have to disagree with you and remind you of Wittgenstein’s defense of language as use, which I take as pretty restorative of a sense of agency. Although I can’t speak to the role of Bollywood in reinscribing the present social order, I can say that you, as a university professor, made a profound impact on the life of my mind. So, even if you are paid for “lies and masturbation” I thank you. Honestly, I’ve been trying to rethink this whole perversity that’s been made out of the recurrent “mirror” image–as if humanity is total perversion. I reject that claim. Being here has reminded me of the year we knew each other in Cyprus. During my transition from NYC to Magosa, I was reading Winterson’s “Art and Lies,” in which she claims, “There’s no such thing as autobiography. There’s only art and lies.” When we write, we write ourselves–regardless of the pronouns we are taught to use to disguise it. In addition to your reference to “persona,” another Bergman work comes to mind. His 1961 “Through a Glass Darkly,” in which Karin tells her family and all her viewers that she must make a choice. She must choose between a reality in which God is either the “stone-faced” spider-like creature of her dark “psychosis”, or find a place in another form of reality, ostensibly in the looking-glass described in the reference to Corinthians. We too must make this choice in our working lives, our intellectual and spiritual lives, and our daily lives.

    To end on a lighter note, I am reminded of Zizek’s ideas on the San Francisco celebration of National Masturbation Month in his first chapter of “Violence.”

    “…the French philosopher Alain Badiou set out in a perspicious way, today more than ever one should insist on a focus on love, not mere enjoyment: it is love, the encounter of the Two [sic], which ‘transubstantiates’ idiotic masturbatory enjoyment into an event proper.”

    Ironically, the metaphor is apt here and now. As I sit here at my desk in Hyderabad, a New York transplant, and write to you while we are living in the same city again. Understandably, it can’t be helped to sometimes feel to only be touching oneself in this vast nerve center called the internet.

  4. @ at Kelly Jo: your words seem to be a bit obscure. they are not concise to the heart of the problem. Can you please try to be incesive without being plain instead of subtle implications?

  5. @ Ibrahim. I am not sure which “heart of the problem” you are referring to. If you would like to tell me what you think I should be talking about, I’d be happy to be more incisive, “without being plain” of course.

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