I’ve been reading Poisoned Nation by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel for the past week or so on the side while I read other books. So far, it’s a wonderful book. It’s very well-researched. It’s well written. And dare I say…entertaining. It’s not entertaining in a “funny ha-ha” sense, but it’s entertaining in a “I need this knowledge inside my head right now” sense. The book is heartbreaking at points. These are real people giving their real life experiences to Loretta to write about. I’m not going to do a full review of the book here because 1) I haven’t finished it yet and 2) I would like the book to have its own post. There is something I do want to address that I happened to think of while reading Poisoned Nation. People are gullible when it comes to the media.
I know you might want to argue with me on that. You probably want to think of yourself as this media consumer who is clearly objective, but you’re not. I’m not either; don’t feel too bad. We’ve all been guilty of eating up what the media says without asking any questions. We have to ask ourselves what we define media as. Well media is television, it’s the news, it’s the weather, it’s reality TV, it’s MTV, it’s CNN, it’s FOX news, it’s CNBC, it’s cartoon network, and it’s Nickelodeon. It’s everything television, but that’s not all. Media is also music. Media can be your newspaper, your Good Housekeeping, your Times, and even your Farmer’s Almanac. Media can also be your books. Also, let’s not forget that the internet is media. This website is media. I would like to think it’s a good form of media, but it is still media. Media is basically how we consume information.
Whatever your choice is, you give a certain amount of respect to your media. I tend to rate books very high on my scale of media. Television is at the bottom of my list along with those crazy magazines like The National Enquirer. There is at least a little bit of truth in everything, but sometimes there is so much that isn’t true it makes it hard to tell the difference. The thing is, maybe there is one thing that is true. We know it to be true. We’ve had other sources say this thing is true. Maybe we know it’s true from experience. It doesn’t actually matter how we know it’s true, it just matters that we know it’s true.
Let’s take this one true thing and put it next to something that may or may not be true. Are you more likely to believe the second thing because it’s next to the first thing which you know is true? You probably are. It’s one of those instances of, “It’s coming out of Barbara Walters’ mouth, so it must be true.” Sure, maybe Barbara is awesome, but that does not mean that everything she says is true.
The whole reason I am on this train of thought is the book I mentioned earlier, Poisoned Nation. The first part of the book deals with water contamination in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. People were told that the water was fine. They were assured that it was safe to drink the water. The outlet telling them was the military command in Camp Lejeune. They sent out official looking letters stating this fact, at some point. An official looking letter is media. It looks official, therefore, everything it says must be true, right? Well, that would be incorrect. Many cases of childhood Leukemia later, some people, some, not all, some, finally decided, “Hey, the water here is not safe to drink.” Others still held to the idea that the official looking media was the truth.
The only explanation I can have is that we’re gullible to media. We are gullible to things that look and act like an authority. Just because something looks like an authority, or maybe even is an authority, does not mean that we should believe everything it says.
I wasn’t alive for this, but, back in the day, War of the Worlds was broadcast over the radio. People thought it was real. There was panic. People did know that not everything on the radio was real, right? The Lone Ranger wasn’t real. I don’t even understand how all of this came about. Just because it is on the radio does not mean that it is true.
This whole thought process reminds me of the phrase “Ignorance is strength” from 1984. That’s really the only explanation I can think of for people choosing to be so gullible to media outlets. It’s ok if we don’t know anything, because nobody else does either. That’s the mentality. The more you don’t know, the better off you are in society. Somewhere inside our heads we know it’s not ok to take everything the news, a magazine, or a book says to heart as the truth. We know that, but we don’t follow through with it. I’ve called out books in the past for containing inaccurate information, but wouldn’t it have been so much easier to leave it all alone? Wouldn’t it have been easier had I just changed my mind about whatever the subject was and called my newfound knowledge the truth?
It is easier to believe what people tell you than to create your own opinions for many reasons. You may not like the truth. The truth may be damaging to you somehow. The truth might mean you’ve been doing things wrong for a long time. The truth might mean that you hurt yourself or your family. The truth might mean you’ve been in denial. Probably the most important of all for this argument is that the truth might bring you repercussions. Everything has a consequence and, unfortunately, sometimes the truth has bad consequences. Sometimes the truth really hurts. Sometimes the truth is so powerful that you have to tell other people and that can cause all kinds of things to happen, many of them are not good.
I’m also thinking that sometimes when you realize what you’re reading/hearing/watching is not the truth or not the complete truth, you have to do some research. That research leads you down a long rabbit hole. You may learn a lot of things that make you unhappy. Most of us don’t want to deal with that. We don’t want to be driven by this need to research. We don’t want to find out these things we never would have known had we not let that one little thing grow in our minds.
It’s hard in a world where we are constantly bombarded by our media almost 24/7 to be able to pull ourselves back and think about what we’re consuming. There have been scientists who have gone so far as to say that watching television puts your brain in this somewhat hypnotic state. We’re suggestible. We’re pliable. We’re wet clay in the hands of the almighty television. I think this is true to an extent. I think media can kind of hypnotize us and I don’t think it matters what kind of media it is. We’ve all read a really awesome book that we could not put down. We’ve been there. We’ve let the world move on around us as we turn page, after page, after page. Were we hypnotized? Maybe.
Honestly, at this point I’m not sure if this whole problem is the media’s fault for trying to hypnotize us or if it’s our fault for choosing to be gullible. It may be a little of both.