The Media and the Flashlight in the Dark Room theory


What do you want us to see now?
What do you want us to see now?

Imagine, if you will, a large room, completely dark.  The room is crowded with people, most of whom you can’t see.  Only those next to you can you see dimly.  You don’t know what others are doing, thinking, or what they look like.  

However, a flashlight comes on and you can see a person, and also hear what he is saying.  

Let’s say he’s ranting about something.  There is a murmur in the darkened crowd, and suddenly six other flashlights pop on.  The people highlighted now chat about that rant.   No one in your area.  But you can see all the others and hear them talking about it.  

Then a strong murmur sweeps the crowd and seventeen new flashlights pop on, the people responding to the first flashlit rant.  Sometimes, you notice, they try and correct the rant, sometimes the person rants about the rant, and occasionally a spotlighted man or woman will talk about how this rant is felt through the entire room.  

But you don’t know what everyone else is thinking about the rant.  And even more importantly, you don’t know if they would have been thinking about the rant had the first person not been flashlit.  Why was that person flashlit in the first place?  Hmmm.  Maybe those with flashlights enjoy the reaction of the crowd, or they may be paid by someone to flashlight on a regular basis, and sometimes those with flashlights are concerned about other people with flashlights getting more attention.  

This is Media.  

I work for the media, and I know that my flashlight is used to highlight something I want people to know or talk about.  To keep my job, I have to have things to light up.  To move up the career ladder, I must highlight things that will get people talking–and even to flashlight more people talking about what I talked about–to create the bigger murmur.  I can either join the chorus of voices, lead the chorus of voices, or attempt to highlight something else–and wrest the focus, the murmur of the crowd, the other flashlights, on a topic I want to highlight.

Recent articles on Sarah Palin forget one thing–they turned the flashlight on her.  Her Facebook page is one of a billion Facebook pages; her opinion is one of a billion opinions.  She has no more sway if we don’t flashlight her.  We would never have known about her Facebook page, except that someone with a flashlight wanted to get the crowd’s attention.  Media control people’s knowledge and awareness.  In that darkened room, no one really is aware of my opinion without the media.  My blog comment here will reach exactly 120 people over the course of my life–only because these are my friends and they don’t need a flashlight to see me.  I’d be lucky if this post made it outside my close circle of friends.  My opinion here couldn’t make the murmur happen–and flashlighting someone without the expectation that this will cause a murmur is a waste of batteries, it seems.  Fluff stories.  Feature articles to pass the time.  

I hope as new technology transforms all of us into Media—with our own flashlights–that we choose carefully what to highlight–that we don’t spread the rants of bigotry, lies, distortions, and divisive arguments around the internet or TV.  Let’s choose truth to highlight–even ugly truth, but we make sure it is truth first.  

As flashlighters in a darkened room, we are responsible for vetting what we highlight—we are asking the whole room to turn and look at us.  We are asking the whole room to think about what we are flashlighting them to see.  What we flashlight may not be indicative of the thoughts of the whole room, but it can influence people so much that other people will think they are the thoughts of everyone, might even change their minds, or it might cause them to assume that the whole world is thinking this or that.  Gradually, that assumption will win over naysayers.  

You can use this to the world’s detriment, or use it to sway the world for its good.  Palin may cry foul over the media’s flashlighting, but she loves the light.  And she knows how to manipulate it.  You can END this story by turning the flashlights off of her.  Ignoring someone is the fastest way to shut them up, to make them irrelevant.  You can kill “news” by putting it in a vacuum.  You can choose to flashlight INTELLIGENT opposition, not lies.  It doesn’t help the Republicans or the naysayers to the Healthcare plan to continue spotlighting Palin’s rants.  Turn off her light; let smarter voices be heard.

The media, ultimately, is responsible for the life of a bad, or good, story.  

Please, for the sake of our time and sanity, stop highlighting things that tear down truth, and spotlight the truth instead.  You can still get the murmur, get the crowd talking.  We have to train the crowd to murmur against real injustice, murmur about the making the world better–something that makes a difference, not that makes a buck out of a murmur.

In the dark, the flashlights are the only way anyone can see.  Use them well.

Sarah Palin’s Death Panels


[Pardon me for veering away from science fiction for a moment,but the following has a bit of writing and fiction involved in it.  I don’t usually get political, but I thought it was interesting.]

Let’s give credit where credit is due.  Sarah Palin, by herself, created the “Death Panels” as a work of fiction.  Constantly associating them with Obama is bad authorship.  Obama would be plagiarizing if he stole the idea from Palin, who is the creator.  

Anyone who can take what was meant to be a clause that provided End of Life Counseling and turn it into some sort of tribunal is a fiction writer with nefarious purposes (unlike those of us who have no nefarious purposes).  

End of Life counseling would be nice.  Not many of us look ahead towards our deaths.  I remember how calm my parents were when they came to us and showed us the shiny bullet-like urns they had bought for their cremation.  Or how they asked us to draw up a list of things we wanted from them in their will.  Or as they prepare to retire and don’t have a house to call their own (as a minister, my father was housed in a parsonage provided by each church).  As they approach death, they are thinking through all these things.  Did they have help?  Yes, they did.  A pastor-friend who talked to them about wills and cremation.  But it’s good to talk about the end of life and what you want that to look like.

Who wants their last days controlled by a hospital, or by people who don’t have your best interests in mind, or who, by not having a will or any written statement, just don’t know what you want in your last days?  

The clause in the Healthcare makes it VOLUNTARY, but also gives the doctors compensation for this counseling.  It’s only fair and it’s better to discuss what YOU want at the end of your life, rather than what someone else forces you to have.  Hospitals can keep us alive, nearly indefinitely…now we get to choose HOW we are treated at the end of our lives.

I urge the media to stop referring to these as Obama’s Death Panels, and start referring them to their proper author, Sarah Palin.  If she wants to talk about them, let her wear the albatross that they are.  If she wants to deny folks the right to talk about their own treatment, then let her be treated with the kind of hatred she is stirring up towards the President.  

It’s her Fiction.  Let’s give her the credit.

[update: NYT article says we’ve been here before.  Which means Palin plagiarized.  Wow.]