Images Supplant Words in This Culture
Bill Keller was asked recently what role he thought The New York Times played in journalism moving forward in the digital age. “Value added,” he replied.
Astonishing if you think about it, the world’s number one newspaper for over a century had just been reduced to almost an afterthought in the eyes of its former editor. One hundred and forty characters or less, immediate brief summaries, and instant analysis without stepping back to think feeds the globe in the digital age.
More reactionary and less thoughtful however has never been a good thing, and society suffers from this today.
No longer do we learn through subject and verb, but rather through a verbal hybrid of images and slogans designed to spare us the rigors of closely examining issues for ourselves.
Our preoccupation with television imagery has helped make this generation curiously artificial and particularly susceptible to the counterfeit. Essayist Michael J Arlen has called it "The tyranny of the visual." And countless other critics have lamented about the perils of images supplanting words in this culture.
It has also made us susceptible to a new kind of intellectual deficiency. Television images have become remarkably successful at distilling complex issues into the broadest and most knee-jerk dimensions. This is particularly true of political programming, which has perfected the rapid-fire style of discourse that leaves little time for thoughtful analysis.
We are constantly bombarded with images that reduce complex issues of our economy into the most easily identifiable symbols. These images condition us to make immediate visual connections:Republicans are cruel and heartless and Democrats are forward thinking and compassionate.
Mitt Romney had arguably one of the most impressive resumes for a presidential candidate in recent history, yet he was reduced to a corporate raider, who fired people, and destroyed communities.
Television isn't reality. Its reality personified. Black, White, Hispanic, Republican, Democrat — they're all distilled into the most easily digestible image. And a public that has grown up learning more through images than words just swallows it whole, then spits it back at one another in a passive form of intolerance and condemnation — the sort that leads us to visually sum people up without ever bothering to listen to what they might actually have to say.
Race issues still linger as people jump to conclusions immediately and assume race is the culprit. President Obama scolded the Cambridge police for “acting stupidly” in detaining Professor Henry Louis Gates for what he believed was racial prejudice. As more information came out, and a beer summit ensued, race was found to be inconsequential in the decision.
Societal and racial issues are so complex and the hyperpartisan reactionary media exacerbates situations to put race at the forefront. Many opponents of Barack Obama are labeled racist, and Mitt Romney was labeled as anti-Hispanic. It’s a debate stopper, and these images change the conversation to no one’sbenefit.
Obama’s policies are a result of this reactionary culture. The only two things you heard from the left about why Obamacare should pass was that it created an individual mandate, and that people with pre-existing conditions would not be denied coverage.But what about the other 2,000 pages?
What about the Medical Device Tax that has caused large layoffs around the country? What about the Class Act? What about the fact that more coverage means more doctors bills, and higher costs in result? Our politicians feed us one or two good things, and the other details get left out and one simple answer doesn’t tell all.
If you ask most people on the street why the economy crashed in 2008, the answers"George W. Bush" and "free markets" are more than likely to be heard. But upon further examination it’s more complex.
There was a housing bubble and culture of getting cheap housing created by politicians in both parties the last 20 years. Bill Clinton scrapped Glass-Steagall, which some believe led the big banks to merge together with ease and hold more sway in case of disaster.
Did Alan Greenspan do the right thing by lowering the federal funds rate to 1 percent after September 11, and raising interest rates after the tech boom? Was Greenspan’s overall loosening of credit a culprit? All of these things contributed, but if you didn’t stop to get more information, it wouldn’t matter.
Maybe there is hope though. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times still turn profits, and The Economist can’t find enough paper to print its magazines. "60 Minutes" is a highly successful show with in-depth interviews and investigations into complex issues.
More information is always a good thing, because sometimes issues are more complex and require more thought then 140 characters.
Armstrong Williams is an African-American political commentator who writes a conservative newspaper column, hosts a nationally syndicated TV program called “The Right Side,” and hosts a daily radio show on Sirius/XM Power 128 (7-8 p.m. and 4-5 a.m.) Monday through Friday. Read more reports from Armstrong Williams — Click Here Now.
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