18 June 2010

Collective Gossip

In the past couple of decades, there has been a dramatic convergence between news and entertainment. Not only are celebrities professional entertainers. They are also newsmakers, as media and media-users swarm around the latest developments in their personal lives. The moralizing gaze that looks down upon and mocks takes pleasure in the very faults it condemns. At the same time, news about politics increasingly reflects celebrity gossip. Political scandals receive attention not because they reveal wounds inflicted on our society but because they serve up the latest bit of juicy gossip. Concern for the common good gives way to reporting on the escapades of individuals. Finally, the turn from policy analysis to personalities changes public affairs into private affairs, undermining efforts to use government institutions for public well-being rather than for private profit.

In my opinion, this spiritual malaise is the sort of thing Baha’u’llah had in mind when he penned these words in the Kitáb-i-Íqán;

He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vainglory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence, and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century. That seeker should also regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. He should be content with little, and be freed from all inordinate desire.

–Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Íqán. 213-4. p. 193
The life of the soul is to progress. When gossip extinguishes that life, we don’t progress. It seems to me that a major force driving demand for this media sensationalism is the desire of individuals to feel a sense of moral superiority over prominent people in society; or a desire to know other people are down in the gutter with them. I think this impedes our power to bring about positive change, both in our own lives and in the life of society. By focusing on the thoughts of others we forget our own faults. I cannot change your faults. And you cannot change mine. The only way either of us will ever change is if we take charge of our own progress. And in order to do that, our minds must be set on matters of substance, not on frivolities; and on sincere interest in the common good, not in cynicism. It takes discipline to break habits of behavior, thought, and speech inculcated by the broader society. However, it seems to me an active desire to improve our world, both in its spiritual and material dimensions, provides a powerful, positive alternative.

1 comment:

  1. Very insightful description of what healthy news media might look like instead of this illness we currently get.