Friday, June 11, 2010

Meditation On Disinformation

false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth

As usual, the panels, the elevator-encounters, the readings, the late night parties, the guest of honor speeches, and the hallway carnivals at WISCON (that marvelous feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin) left me high as a satellite for days. Truth be told, I haven’t come down yet.

At the “Reducing Global Machismo” panel(see Timmi’s summary below), Karen Joy Fowler asked the panelists (M: Timmi DuChamp, Andrea D. Hairston, Alexis Lothian, Cat Rambo) and folks in the audience what we could do about Fox News and the Disinformation that spews forth from it and similar media outlets. A great question, a sobering question.

Here is my meditation on Disinformation:

If there is no society (as former Prime Minister Thatcher once contended in her neo-conservative fantasy of humanity), then there’s just war. We isolated human agents inhabit a kill-or-be-killed battle-landscape, a grab-what-you-can, defend-it-to-the-death empire. All that we are, we owe to ourselves, our individual efforts, our battle performances. Oh, yeah, kill who’s in your way before they get the jump on you. Such a (fictional) empire of rogue individuals is the perfect setting for Global Machismo. All hail the man with the big stick! (Or Maggie in Macho Drag!)

The logical fallacies in this neo-con fantasy are too numerous to cite even with Arabic numbers at my disposal and polyglot of languages, English, offering the poetic majesty of billions of speakers though out time and space!
Endlessly chanting the rugged individualist myth doesn’t make it fact, but repetition is truth, and we live and die in our stories. Fictions direct our lives, creating/destroying our possibilities.

Five corporations own everyMEDIAthing and get to have their say all the time! Five corporations control the flickering screens that write on our brains, that etch the neural pathways that get us to act and react before critical discourse or desire or conscious belief have time to check/correct/alter our actions—well, there goes the neighborhood, the water, the air, the soil, the future.

We’re in deep do-do. What’s an agent of history, a race woman, a member of society, a collective bargainer, a queer agitator, a guerrilla theatre artist, a storyteller to do? To paraphrase Mr. Al Gore, we cannot afford to careen from denial (the situation is not really that dire) to despair (it’s so dire that there’s nothing we can possibly do).

I say to myself:
Finding a way to Reduce Global Machismo is a difficult problem to solve. That means it’s fun. Because, hard is fun. Don’t get weary, think! Maybe someone has told you again and again that human nature is fixed, stuck on foolish and selfish, and political action is boring and pointless. All the issues, wrongs, and catastrophes are on such an overwhelming scale, what else is there for the rugged individual to do but have a good time? Many someones have insinuated that only rigid killjoys are political activists and they never, never have fun. They are much too grim for a sense of humor! They think about everything. Thinking is a buzz kill.
Now really, Andrea, are you anything like that?
I talk out loud to myself, a theatre thing:
Consider that having contempt for thoughtful interactions in a media world of Disinformation is a perfect set-up for five corporations to do the thinking while the rest of us are having “mindless fun!”

So sorry, Mrs. Thatcher, I like symbiogenesis as a primary biological metaphor. See SYMBIOTIC PLANET: A NEW LOOK AT EVOLUTION by Lynn Margulis
Mitochondria and chloroplasts are the cooperative way to go—get into everything, be the energy engine!

Or for a praise song to a community of folks dreaming and scheming their way out of predatory capitalism and Thatcher’s there is no society madness get Pearl Cleage’s latest novel, TILL YOU HEAR FROM ME or any of her novels for that matter. While they’re busy changing the world, Cleage’s political activists definitely know how to have fun! Freedom is an outrageous high!

Or for an activist to support who is working against Disinformation, check out:
Sut Jhally—He is best known as the producer and director of brain popping films and videos (including Dreamworlds: Desire/Sex/Power in Music Video; Tough Guise: Media, Violence and the Crisis of Masculinity. and Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear & the Selling of American Empire) that deal with issues ranging from gender, sexuality, and race to commercialism, violence, and politics. Sut Jhally is progressive voice at the edge of the Overton Window (see Cat Rambo’s post on Reducing Global Machismo below), pushing against the neo-conservative definition of what’s moderate or liberal.
He is also Founder and Executive Director of the Media Education Foundation. Check that out too for info and what to do!
Like hydrogen and oxygen, let’s surprise ourselves with water!

The world we can imagine is the one we can make!
What other ideas you got?


Kara said...

I love the line "like hydrogen and oxygen, let's surprise ourselves with water."

Ocala Wings said...

I appreciate the connections you've drawn between machismo and disinformation. I fervently hope that repetition does not, in fact, create truth, as you suggest; but it certainly creates familiarity which within the dominant paradigm too often breeds not contempt, but cliches.

There is a school of thought that says reality is the sum of our collective visions. Since most early sci-fi was written by white men and published by white men, it was their collective vision of how the world works and of how our future would unfold that was repeated over and over in the stories many of us grew up on. And because of the repetition, many of us accepted their visions as fact, or at least, reasonable possibilities. And I think you're right: many of us still believe rugged individualism will yet save the day--as if it ever has. As if an individual ever accomplishes anything alone, without a host of support behind "him."

However, I'm an optimist. I choose to believe that we can create our own collective visions, different from the ones we've been given, and that by working together we can change the future we appear to be heading for. Of course to do that, we really do need to learn to think for ourselves and challenge everyone we meet to do the same.

At heart, I believe we are all more similar than we are dissimilar. If we can find any common ground that unites us, we can plant the seeds of a collective vision that moves us toward a better future. Then, with a lot of water, we grow a garden--together.

Activists and feminists with a sense of humor? We're only not funny to those we scare.

Greg said...

I agree - working the problem can be fun! How often have we done a show when a cast member is absent. How do we relish the times when the band must change key on the fly because the singer has no voice?

We love working the problem because it's difficult, and also because it needs to be done; and we know there is a way to make it work if we visualize it within ourselves. Yeah, and the process: it's a good time too - finding something new.

Is it time to apply old habits to new goals? Time to find new tactics?

As(George)Clinton said: "Whatever it takes. Whatever the party calls for".

Karen J Fowler said...

Hello! Thanks for putting up this very thoughtful (and encouraging) post. I didn't even try to articulate the connection between international posturing of machismo and Fox's disinformation, though in my head they are closely connected. I feel that Something Must Be Done about Fox, without a clue as to what. Even when Fox's obvious lies are in the process of being debunked, I see them driving the conversation. The rest of the media follows them about like beta dogs and suddenly, even on liberal talk radio, we are talking about the ridiculous war on Christmas instead of the increasingly invisible war in Iraq.
I would be very happy to ignore them if only the media could be coaxed into doing the same. But they are so angry! So shiny!

Andrea Hairston said...

@Kara--It's a beautiful image. It's one of my favorite chemical bonds!
@Ocala--I'm a prisoner of hope. But I have studied the production of stereotypes that start as repeated narratives and end up as the cage people are living and dying in because we believe in the truth of them. We have to push back against those controlling the narratives.
I so appreciated all you said about common ground at the panel discussion as opposed to compromising ourselves away to who we aren't. I'm game for finding that ground!
@Greg--I think the "whatever it takes" is easy to say, but hard to do. It's common ground and sticking to it! I know that from rehearsing a show and running it night after night.
@Karen--SO SHINY! So we find the common ground and we make what we have to say and how we want to be very bright!

Anonymous said...

I love your piece. But.... you lost me at the mitochondria - never did do to well in science class. Could you explain the connections and the science for us right-brainers?

Ocala Wings said...

I see your point, Andrea, about the inherent danger in repetitive narratives, and I agree we cannot afford to ignore them; they will not go away just because they’re wrong or stupid or we want them to. And I agree with Karen: those who frame the repetitive narratives not only drive the conversation, they become the authorities, with the power to define the questions and the answers to any issue or situation.
But if we are to become the ones who frame the narrative, we can’t simply replace lies and fallacy with truth and facts. Fox “News” and their “friends” don’t use facts; they play upon people’s base emotions, mostly fear of being unable to control access to their basic human needs—health care, food, jobs, housing, etc. Logic never trumps emotional responses.
Common ground begins as the emotional recognition that we are on the same side of a problem or issue, that our experiences are similar, that we understand, at least to some extent, what the other person has gone through. Finding common ground, then, requires deep listening, compassion, and patience.
For example, everyone agrees health care costs too much, but when someone says to me that it’s because of undocumented workers, or welfare mothers, I draw them out about their experiences (everyone wants to talk about their problems) and I listen carefully. I appreciate how difficult it’s been for them. Then I share my experiences, finding where our stories are similar, finding a bit of common ground. Then, when I point out that the CEOs of insurance companies are making 8 figure salaries and that insurance companies are the only industry that is exempt from anti-trust laws, they believe me. And before long, their anger is no longer directed laterally, at poor people, but at the corporations making fortunes at our human expense.
And to be effective, it absolutely requires patience, sticking with it, as Andrea said. It is not the message they’re used to hearing, so we have to repeat it over and over, all of us, the same messages, until we are defining the narrative. Which we are beginning to do. Here and now. Difficult, fun, certainly work worth doing.

Andrea Hairston said...

@anonymous--Lynn Margulis and others contend that symbiosis drives evolution. Mitochondria and chloroplasts are thus prime examples of very successful symbiotic relationships--most animal and plant cells have mitochondria or chloroplasts which started off as "independent" organisms and now look at them!
@Ocala--I think you are so right. We should share stories rather than fight over ideology and disinformation slogans. I do this in my theatre work or I have done this--I worked with all sorts of people--refugees, pregnant teenagers, recovering drug users, social workers, community college students, professional artists, elite college students, musicians, weavers to create theatre pieces as a group. We have to listen to one another, deeply. We have to come to know each others' stories. This is difficult work, but usually the group has agreed to sticking to it for the long haul. If you think you'll be heard, it is often easier to listen.
So how do we get this to be part of public policy, rather the fashionable attack dog mode of killer discourse?

Karen said...

Andrea: So how do we get this to be part of public policy, rather the fashionable attack dog mode of killer discourse?

This is the problem, isn't it? Ocala, this is a wonderful laying out of the kind of dialogue that's needed and the patience and time it will take. Of course, we must all be participating in this in a daily way and we must all try to become as gifted at it as you seem to be. I am trying to do that.
Meanwhile, Fox is in 24-hour attack dog mode, covering large parts of the landscape with its gushing oil spill of disinformation. We have to find a way to work the large scale as well as the small. I worry that the web and the blogosphere, the only public means of communication in which we can easily participate, lends itself particularly well to attack dog mode.
I wonder if there are things we can do to amplify some of the handful of spokespeople already working out there -- Amy Goodman, Rachel Maddow, Thom Hartmann, Katha Pollit and many others until they become the household names Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are. I wonder if we can create prominent new spokespeople like Sut Jhally. I'm really hoping for some concrete steps we can begin to take, but cannot think of any myself.
(Corollary question: Can we become louder without becoming attack dogs? Should we become attack dogs? Are we, as suggested at the panel, too genteel and what would it do to the type of inclusive, personal story-telling that Ocala is talking about if we unleashed?)