It takes more than me­dia to change the cul­ture

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS -

There is a moun­tain of pain and anger in Amer­ica about the way the vote to put Brett Ka­vanaugh on the Supreme Court turned out.

With the Se­nate mak­ing it of­fi­cial to­day, the swing vote on the court is now in the hands of a jus­tice who just dis­played to the world overt par­ti­san­ship and a re­mark­ably un­even tem­per­a­ment.

We can’t change that. But we can learn from the pain, which con­tains an im­por­tant les­son about con­fus­ing highly vis­ceral me­dia mo­ments with real so­cial change.

Get­ting caught up in a TV hear­ing and typ­ing a hash­tag about it is not the same as putting your body on the line in a protest march to do the hard, gritty, dar­ing work of so­cial rev­o­lu­tions.We have come to be­lieve too much in the power of me­dia to change our lives with­out the work, risk, pain and some­times suf­fer­ing it takes to ac­tu­ally do that, whether that’s march­ing in the streets or knock­ing on doors to reg­is­ter vot­ers.

Be­cause mil­lions of us were emo­tion­ally rocked by one-half day of cred­i­ble, deeply­mov­ing tes­ti­mony seen on TV screens a lit­tle over a week ago, we thought it was go­ing to change the arc of Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion, the misog­y­nis­tic pres­i­dent’s sup­port of him and the bone-deep pa­tri­archy of the United States Se­nate it­self. Silly us. See­ing some­thing on TV like the brave tes­ti­mony of Chris­tine Blasey Ford and then rid­ing the so­cial me­dia wave of sup­port for her along­side the con­dem­na­tion of Ka­vanaugh that im­me­di­ately fol­lowed made some of us feel good — like we were part of a move­ment of change to­ward a bet­ter, more eq­ui­table, righ­teous Amer­ica. But it was only a me­dia mi­rage when it came to wrest­ing real power from the hands of the kind of men who have been hold­ing it since the dawn of this Repub­lic.

Ask the peo­ple of South Africa what it takes to get such hands to sur­ren­der what they hold. Hell, ask those still liv­ing who marched in Mis­sis­sippi in the 1960s for voter rights what it takes. Voter sup­pres­sion is still go­ing on all over this coun­try.

How did we get to this state where we con­fuse me­dia mo­ments with real change?

De­spite the fact that I have writ­ten dozens of times since the ear­li­est days of the de­clines and falls of Bill Cosby and Roger Ailes that pa­tri­archy is Old Tes­ta­ment old and won’t end overnight, I am part of a tribe that de­serves some of the blame.

Since the late 1960s, many me­dia an­a­lysts and some me­dia stud­ies pro­fes­sors have been over­sim­pli­fy­ing our so­cial his­tory in part to in­flate the im­por­tance of their field. They at­tribute ma­jor po­lit­i­cal and so­cial change al­most ex­clu­sively to me­dia mo­ments when, in truth, there are many forces re­spon­si­ble for such changes.

This mighty-me­dia ver­sion of our na­tional past in­cludes nar­ra­tives like this:

One day, CBS and NBC News sent their cam­era crews into the South in the early 1960s where they filmed po­lice of­fi­cers in places like Alabama and Mis­sis­sippi turn­ing fire hoses and at­tack dogs on peace­ful civil rights marchers. When de­cent, fair-minded Amer­i­cans sit­ting down to sup­per in the north saw the at­tacks on the evening news, the civil rights move­ment was for­ever changed. Right­eous­ness was on the rise and racism was in re­treat with Pres­i­dent John­son push­ing through the Civil Rights Act in re­sponse.

Or, if Repub­li­can can­di­date Richard Nixon had just shaved on the night of his TV de­bate with John Kennedy in 1960, used a lit­tle makeup base and pow­der to cover the fur­rows and frown, he would have been pres­i­dent, and the na­tion would have been spared the trauma of as­sas­si­na­tion in Dal­las in the ‘60s and Water­gate in the ‘70s.

And let’s not for­get the le­gend that ev­ery­thing changed in the anti-war move­ment when CBS an­chor­man Wal­ter Cronkite came back from Viet­nam and told the na­tion we were not go­ing to win the war.

For a more re­cent great mo­ment in the mighty-me­dia nar­ra­tive of Amer­i­can his­tory, re­mem­ber how the image of Anita Hill look­ing up at all those old, white, male se­na­tors as she came to tes­tify against Clarence Thomas was go­ing to change for­ever the way we un­der­stood the tremen­dous im­bal­ance of power in the U.S.? Not ex­actly. And there we were again last week, ex­cept the old, white, GOP men had a fe­male proxy ask­ing the ques­tions of Chris­tine Blasey Ford. They did that for the op­tics — much like they ran the five-day FBI “in­ves­ti­ga­tion” to try to calm the out­rage be­ing ex­pressed on me­dia.

But af­ter all the change it felt like we were mak­ing un­der #MeToo in re­cent years, those men in the Se­nate still hold in­or­di­nate power, as they proved with the vote to­day. And, worse, this vote gives them an­other mem­ber of their tribe now con­trol­ling the most im­por­tant ju­di­cial vote in the na­tion, a vote that can keep power in the hands of their ag­ing regime long af­ter they have the de­mo­graph­ics to back them up as dom­i­nant cul­ture.

And all our mil­lions of me­dia plat­forms can’t change that for us.

We need to quit be­liev­ing that tech­nol­ogy will save us, that our new me­dia will ex­pose bad politi­cians, con­nect good peo­ple to each other in op­po­si­tion to them and mag­i­cally carry a mes­sage of right­eous­ness that will lead us to a bet­ter place. Re­mem­ber all the sto­ries about so­cial me­dia and the “Arab Spring” a few years back?

No, we have to do that. Me­dia will not save us. I be­lieve 100 per­cent in the power of me­dia to change the world. I’ve bet my pro­fes­sional life on that. But not by it­self; me­dia is only a tool. We have to use it righ­teously to save our­selves. And now is one of those times when we have to reded­i­cate our­selves to that mis­sion.

In­stead of sit­ting at our key­boards pour­ing out our rage on Face­book or Twit­ter to other peo­ple at key­boards who in­tel­lec­tu­ally live in our same si­los, use the key­boards to or­ga­nize, to get peo­ple out to vote in the midterms. For­get try­ing to be nasty or clever on Twit­ter for the next few weeks, use your fa­vorite so­cial me­dia plat­form to mo­bi­lize a rally or or­ga­nize a car pool to get older vot­ers to the polls.

We have be­come cy­ber cit­i­zens liv­ing too much of our lives in me­di­ated space, whether it is all-day with a par­tic­u­lar ca­ble news TV chan­nel or on­line with so­cial me­dia, while oth­ers have con­cen­trated on hold­ing power in places like the Se­nate, House, state leg­is­la­tures and Supreme Court. We have let our me­dia lull us into

like we are ef­fect­ing epic change. To­day, while many of us rage on in so­cial me­dia, Brett Ka­vanaugh, Lind­sey Gra­ham, Charles Grass­ley, Don­ald Trump and other mem­bers of their tribe of elites cel­e­brate their con­tin­ued hold on real power.

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