(This article is a first of a three-part series)
Like education, the mass media has historically been used to support the status quo and power structures whilst pretending to do the opposite. Like education, the mass media undermines our existence as unique human beings, and instructs that we are deprived, deficient and homogenous. While ‘entertaining’ us with traditional ‘schooling’ — it urges us to simply consume, not question. It thus reinforces institutional dependency on so-called professionals and experts, while simultaneously devaluing our creative and analytical potential.
Indeed, the parallels between the mass media and education are striking. It is becoming increasingly clear that the mass media educates — for many people, it is a far greater source of information on the world than textbooks or academics. Specific tools (curriculum, teachers, and examinations) are used to convey messages (about progress and development, in particular) to a large audience. Moreover, both the education system and the mass media view human beings as ‘masses’, faceless, nameless, context-less units, who need information to save them from their own ignorance. With so many similarities, it is clear that probing into the impact of the mass media can strengthen our understanding of the education system as well.
In other words, what we ‘know’ about the world is largely a function of what we are told: the often sensationalistic and superficial analysis we get from this monopolised media. The few large conglomerates who own most of the world’s media succeed in diverting public attention away from key issues, root causes, systemic factors, our roles and responsibilities — indeed, everything that is critical for nurturing a democratic society. All over the world, the middle class is kept busy with soap operas, music videos, game shows, news, and sports. By locking us in the passive role of listeners, education and the media almost guarantees our quiet acceptance of someone else’s knowledge and analysis. We are muted zombies, ever watching, never acting. People do not reflect on why or how their families, communities, and societies are facing life-threatening crises and what they can do about them. Progressive life is thus neglected. This may help to explain why allegations of match-fixing on the Pakistan cricket team generated far more attention and action than our extreme societal issues.
This disinterest in our own lives is further exacerbated by education and the media’s promotion of authority through specialists. Experts are propped up time and again to show that we, the viewer-consumers, are incapable of understanding the world, our localities, even our families, without their professional guidance. In the face of their authority, we become silent and obedient. Indeed, the process of ‘information-dissemination’ by experts leaves us feeling isolated and weak, incapable of doing anything to stop and change the massive machines of government and business. We say to ourselves: “What can I do? I’m only one person. It’s for the scientists to fix, for the government to decide. I have no power in this system.” Perhaps nowhere else has this been more visible than in Sialkot where worse than the perpetrators were those who stood alongside and watched and filmed the barbaric act of two brothers being beaten to death.
Exactly like schooling: if one dares to raise a critical question, they are quickly labelled either anti-national or unpatriotic. This false sense of ‘objective’ analysis in education and media is one of the greatest threats to independent thinking and living. It allows the mass media to complement the indoctrination we received in education, to constantly submit to the experts’ version of the truth.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2010.