A Few Simple Myths

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HANDS UP all those who believe that the media tells the truth? Hah! That’s pretty much how most people react if asked to respond publicly to that question. The proposition that the news media in general, and journalists in particular, can be trusted, has very few takers – when somebody else is watching. Not many people are willing to risk the ridicule that follows confessions of trust and confidence in the media.

But something’s wrong with this picture – isn’t it? If nobody trusts the media, then how does the media survive? Why do upwards of half-a-million New Zealanders tune-in to Mike Hosking every morning? How is the NZ Herald able to boast 2 million readers? Clearly, when nobody’s asking for a show of hands, a very large number of us still read, watch and listen to the news.

More than half of us, according to surveys, still trust the media. Sure, that’s well down on the three-quarters who trusted it a generation ago. Still, it’s a lot more than a scattering of upraised hands. Clearly, people still have a great need for what the media provides – regardless of its accuracy. Believing we know what’s going on, matters more to us than knowing for certain what we believe is true.

Jack Nicholson was right when he told Tom Cruise that he couldn’t handle the truth. Very few of us can. Most of us are happy with the myths peddled by the people in charge – and that group encompasses a lot more than the publishers, broadcasters, editors, producers and journalists of the media. In the magic circle of mythmaking stand politicians, business leaders, judges, lawyers, public servants, scientists, academics, teachers and preachers of every kind. Together these “thought leaders” weave a web of lies in which the vast majority of citizens are only too happy to become enmeshed.

Last Monday night I tuned into The Working Group and heard The Daily Blog’s esteemed editor, Martyn Bradbury, methodically working his way through the latest scientific revelations about global warming. One after the other, he laid out the climate scientists’ findings, each one worse than the finding that preceded it. You could see Martyn’s guests physically recoiling from his relentless barrage of bad news. When silence finally fell, the Act Party’s deputy-leader, Brooke van Velden, quipped: “No wonder so many young people are having mental health problems!”

We can’t handle the truth.

This is neither a new, nor an original, insight. A century ago it was already clear to American journalists, advertisers and politicians that the modern world was fast becoming too complex, too riddled with contradictions, for ordinary people to understand, endorse, or easily endure. According to these “experts”, ordinary people would have to be persuaded to make do with a handful of simple myths about the complicated new world they inhabited. Fortunately for these deep thinkers, it was beginning to look as though a few simple myths were all ordinary people wanted. That being the case, it wasn’t people like themselves, the ones telling lies, that needed to take care, but those poor, deluded, fools determined to tell ordinary people the truth.

Obviously, for this to work, it was vital that the technological means of conveying the simple myths of modern society remained in the hands of responsible institutions and individuals. No matter where ordinary people turned, and no matter which forms of communication they chose: newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio, television; the messages must always be the same.

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Our leaders are good and wise individuals who care about our welfare.

Our employers’ interests and our own are mutually reinforcing.

Honesty and hard work will get us where we want to go.

Civil servants are decent, altruistic and incorruptible.

Justice always prevails.

The Police can be trusted.

Crime doesn’t pay.

All men are created equal.

Oh, sure, there are artists out there who challenge each and every one of these myths. But that’s okay, because artists – like the court jesters of old – have been granted special licence to tell the truth. The Powers-That-Be know that, when we finish reading the artists’ novels and poems; when we emerge from the theatre, or the exhibition; when the concert is over, and the song on the radio has ended; we, too, will grasp that the glimpses of very different worlds that the artists give us, worlds ruled by very different truths, aren’t real. They are waking dreams – no more.

But then something happened that caused this whole crazy edifice of myths and lies to start shuddering on its foundations. Technological innovations – the Internet, the Personal Computer, and the World Wide Web – allowed the lowliest citizen, the most aggressive non-conformist, the revolutionary, the reactionary, and the certifiably insane, to talk to the whole world. Communication was no longer dependent upon accessing technology that only the very wealthy could afford to own.

Suddenly, the simple myths were being overwhelmed, and the accepted truths challenged. As the subversively cheap technology became increasingly powerful and the platforms for new and unorthodox ideas multiplied, the Powers-That-Be found their privileged voices lost among a multitude – millions of men and women all shouting their personal truths; all sharing their personal visions.

Not surprisingly, the Powers-That-Be became furious and frightened. Nothing solid could withstand these huge and constantly surging tides of information, misinformation and disinformation. The foundations of the great towers of societal and ideological certitude were undermined, washed away, brought low.

“No wonder so many young people are having mental health problems!”

They’re not the only ones! The half of society that still needs and believes in the media; that still clings tightly to all the old myths; struggles to keep its thoughts in the familiar grooves. It’s unsettling, and it’s getting harder. Why? Because the Powers-That-Be are also losing their wits.

Desperate to keep control, politicians, journalists, and all those other manufacturers of our consent, cast about for some way to stuff the genie of universal communication back in its bottle. It’s not the infinite multiplication of truths that enrages them. It’s that they have lost their monopoly on lies.

16 COMMENTS

  1. Is this a modern take on the old Marxist concept of ‘false consciousness’?
    Is this a long version of ‘Wake up Sheeple!’?

    The media is much more about entertaining people than it is about telling them a highly debatable version of ‘the truth’ so they can then form an opinion about situations and issues that the viewer/readers have very little chance of changing in any way.

    ‘News’ is there to fill in the space between the advertisements.

  2. Since NZ is not a country but is a business -set up by money-lenders and industrialists via military conquest and deceit- and since their Ponzi schemes have run their course and have now reached the collapse stage, we can expect nothing other than ever-greater lying by those who pretend to lead, and we can expect nothing other than ever-greater lying by those who want to extract as much fiat wealth as possible from the uninformed/misinformed ‘proles’ before it all completely collapses (most likely between 2023 and 2025 -depending on how insane the Neocons in Washington and London are and how trigger-happy the warmongers in the Pentagon are).

    During this period of collapse we must never forget that Ignorance is Strength, that War is Peace and that Freedom is Slavery.

    • ” Since NZ is not a country but is a business -set up by money-lenders and industrialists via military conquest and deceit- and since their Ponzi schemes have run their course and have now reached the collapse stage, we can expect nothing other than ever-greater lying by those who pretend to lead, and we can expect nothing other than ever-greater lying by those who want to extract as much fiat wealth as possible from the uninformed/misinformed ‘proles’ before it all completely collapses (most likely between 2023 and 2025 -depending on how insane the Neocons in Washington and London are ”

      Yes….. A few know the truth totally agree and thank you Mr Trotter for writing the truth without fear or favour or any hint of a conspiracy theory.

  3. It’s worth watching the News to spot the lies. LOL

    As for newspapers, most people I know who subscribe to them are 75+ years old. Newspapers will die with them.

  4. Chris is absolutely right; “Believing we know what’s going on, matters more to us than knowing for certain what we believe is true.” Nobody likes to be told that for years they’ve been hoodwinked, especially when it threatens to undermine everything they hold dear. Society needs to believe and have faith in its institutions and social structures. We need to believe that in any social discourse we’re part of, we bring views that can be substantiated, defended, or at least fairly considered. And it’s our need for those important certainties, without which society would crumble, that the corporate media exploits for the benefit of those who profit from whatever the political narrative of the day happens to be.

  5. How is the NZ Herald able to boast 2 million readers?
    Before quoting any figures produced by an outfit that would be motivated to lie about them, it would be worth digging into the definition of what a “reader” is in their eyes. There’s a reason that “newspapers” used to count subscriptions and buyers because that was money and “readers” could be merely somebody who glanced at a headline (admittedly that’s long been acknowledged as a basic feature of news anyway).

    It would be better to look at stuff like this from The SpinoffTV ratings decline, that shows that TV watching, which is far more lightweight than reading, is going down far and fast, led by the frightening cliff-drop of the youngest cohort. NZ Herald and company are just not believable in their claims of still counting for something.

  6. ADA is half right in asserting; “the media is much more about entertaining people than it is about telling them a highly debatable version of ‘the truth’.” Just as “Bread and circuses” kept the masses acquiescent as the Roman Empire collapsed, so too does the media promotion of cheap fast food, crass TV entertainment and over-hyped sporting events serve the same purpose today. And it’s on that platform that the media performs its other role – that of promoting and defending, at any cost, the geo-political imperative imposed on us by today’s “Roman Empire”, to which we must acquiesce, or perish.

  7. I know it won’t be of much interest to kiwis but the current rail strike in the UK has really exposed the media hacks, mick lynch the railworkers union leader has made literal mincemeat of the ‘mediocracy’ not by being a great orator but by calmly sticking to his points and calling them out on the lies and stupidity they spew…of course the condescending middle class expectation that he’d be tongue tied working class oik just led them to be humiliated by him in public.
    Don’t expect to see much of mick on the UK news in future, no one likes getting their clock cleaned in front of millions, least of all the media.
    Why don’t we get that here? because our media are too cowardly to have anyone who isn’t them on.

    seriously if you wanna a laugh watch the interview where he calls a tory hack reading from a list of bullet points a liar to his face, remarkable and priceless..or the trainwrecks with kate burley or piers morgan utter gold.

  8. In the magic circle of mythmaking stand politicians, business leaders, judges, lawyers, public servants, scientists, academics, teachers and preachers of every kind. Together these “thought leaders” weave a web of lies in which the vast majority of citizens are only too happy to become enmeshed.

    Good, good… You’re learning. Well done…

    Last Monday night I tuned into The Working Group and heard The Daily Blog’s esteemed editor, Martyn Bradbury, methodically working his way through the latest scientific revelations about global warming. One after the other, he laid out the climate scientists’ findings, each one worse than the finding that preceded it. You could see Martyn’s guests physically recoiling from his relentless barrage of bad news.

    Oh dear. Still I should congratulate you on a post about cognitive dissonance that demonstrates what that is right in the very heart of the post.

  9. When it comes to Global Climate Catastrophes (dun, dun, daaaaaa)… you comrades know what has to be done, and it’s not a wind turbine in every backyard and PV’s on every roof.

    Not, it’s massive increases in fossil fuel energy to force nudge people away from using the. Just one problem with that approach, as the Democrats are finding in the USA:
    There is virtually no constituency for the Democrats’ actual belief that high gas prices are good for us. That leaves them in deep trouble. They can’t abandon the policies that are driving up the cost of petroleum products, because the environmentalists own the Democrats lock, stock and barrel. But neither can they admit to voters their true purpose, or try to minimize the devastating effect that inflation, driven largely by the cost of energy, is having on people’s lives. I don’t see any way out.

    Actually when it comes to Labour and the Greens in NZ there is a way out – and that’s the National Party. You’ve almost convinced them to hold hands with you as you jump off a cliff and in their always short-term approach to winning the next election, plus their natural discomfort in moving the centre as opposed to just occupying whatever Labour have shifted it to, I’ve no doubt they’ll join with you, just as the idiot Liberals have done in Australia, even accepting that you don’t think they’ve gone fast enough and far enough.

    Which is great, because when the hungry, cold crowds come with the pitchforks and the burning torches for those responsible, you’ll be to point at Luxon and his successors and say, But they did it too.

    And you’ll be right.

    • This is the sad reality of climate change politics: no-one has been honest with the general public about what it will really take, or the huge costs, to reduce emissions from fossil fuels.

      Roughly half of kiwis think they are doing enough by their household recycling….

      And the cost increases will hit the poorest the hardest.
      You could do a lot by redesigning cities and intensification of cities, but that would upset NIMBYs across the political spectrum….

  10. I guess Mike Hosking has not been bought off by the Labour Government and as such presents an alternative view.
    ( I don’t listen to Mike Hosking)

    • Personally, I loathe Hoskings and his Oppo, the original Media Princess. Just assumed he must’ve been reined in under the current regime.

  11. ” It’s not the infinite multiplication of truths that enrages them. It’s that they have lost their monopoly on lies.”

    Missing is that the internet has facilitated the global networking of stupidity, thus empowering shallow thought and its accompanying misinformation.

    Sure, the old systems of information control were flawed and occasionally mendacious, but they didn’t empower science denial, conspiracy thinking and political manipulation on the scale we are seeing today.

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