Media Criticism: Hate Becomes a Commodity

One of the plagues of human history has been the belief that there are certain people or groups of people who don't share the same moral status as everyone else, when it comes to the kind of treatment they receive. These individuals and groups are society's scapegoats. Traditionally, they have been subjected to symbolic violence, in which they have been depicted in words and images and other forms of expression in degraded ways. Beyond that, they were often subjected to physical violence, as well, depending on the society and the scapegoats in question.

The list of individuals and scapegoats who have been forced into these roles is legion. They are the innocent and the guilty; the mad and the sane. They are Jews, blacks, Christians, pagans, heretics of all sorts, political critics and criminals, saints and scientists, et al.

Today, we see a new variation on this endless historical game of dehumanization and degradation. Now, we have a political system and media that gain much of their profit and power by turning public figures into scapegoats, arousing the emotions of anger, ridicule and disdain in audiences and voters. The most obvious members of this new group of scapegoats are the Dan Quayles, and Tammy Faye Bakkers, who have characteristics, and play a role in public life, that lends itself all-too-naturally to this kind of treatment. But beyond them, there is, in this system, now, incessant pressure to generate scapegoats -- to invent fools and villains for public consumption, so as to win political contests, make money and receive public acclaim. Republicans do it to Democrats; Democrats to Republicans; the television news media to anyone they can, although they have their favorite targets.

Under the cover of a court-decision that says public figures have less protection than other people, when it comes to privacy, slander and libel, America's media system is now in the business of inventing scapegoats who have fewer rights than the rest of us. The right to not be smeared, worldwide; the right to not have one's suffering turned into a sadistic circus; the right to not be bombarded by insulting questions -- these and other rights we assume belong to the rest of us, fall by the wayside. To gather the information and images they need to create their stories, the perpetrators of this system violate a second set of rights as well -- rights to not have one's privacy invaded; to not be followed, pressed in on, surrounded, and turned into prey.

With the emergence of a worldwide media culture, this is now a global phenomenon. And information that can be used to damage people and put them in the scapegoat category (or further into the scapegoat category) has now, incredibly, become a form of wealth. With the proliferation of media and the Internet, which is turning millions of people into journalists of a sort, and into something much like a public figures, and with the growing use of surveillance technologies and computer files, this system now threatens to get completely out of control.

We are developing a global media system in which Hate is becoming a commodity. What is new about this system isn't that it manipulates hate to achieve various ends. Rather, it is the scale and pervasiveness and sophistication with which it does so, based on high-tech tools of communications and image manipulation. As a result, we are all being drawn into a worldwide virtual gladiator game in which the stakes are all too real for the victims and for everyone who must now live and be brought up in an environment that encourages many of humanity's worst instincts.


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