In Korea, there’s a word for the chaos of the mass media and pop culture that chases the next viral video, the next big news story, or the next celebrity scandal: Mass-comm, for mass communications. The mass-comm takes a lot of blame for everything from news stories blown completely out of proportion to celebrity suicides (both of which are tragically too common). But unfortunately, the chaos of mass media isn’t something unique to the Korean culture. In fact, the mass media of the American culture is arguably more popular and has a far grater influence over the global mindset due to its massive audience around the world. But size differences aside, both the mass-comm of Korean and American culture align on at least one trait, that their attentions focus disproportionately on what the most people will watch, read, and talk about, rather than what the objectively most important issues at the time happen to be. And that’s no fault of anyone in particular, but a rather unavoidable rut that any “popular” service falls into. So naturally, the mass media leans towards sensational, emotional, and viral stories rather than logically the most impactful ones, and that creates a bias in the general mindset of the people which is disconnected from the reality of many important events.
One such bias made possible by that exact fault of the mass media is the disproportionate emphases on sensational threats to safety and security over threats that are, rationally, more important or relevant. For example, while the most talked-about and reported-on threats to our nation often concern terrorist organizations and political issues with other groups outside of the country, this completely overlooks issues within the nation that also pose a threat to our safety. Bill Gates emphasizes this notion in a recent TED Talk, specifically focusing in on the impact that strong healthcare infrastructure (or the lack thereof) is an aspect of a community’s security just as important as the military or politics.
In fact, disregarding more domestic issues over problems in foreign affairs is, I think, a major product of the mass media’s misrepresentation of those issues. Perhaps as a result, we see issues in foreign affairs as “problems to be solved”, whereas a majority seem to view problems more internal to our communities as “built-in, defaults that can’t be changed”. In other words, issues like poverty, income inequality, and healthcare generally get far less attention and support towards solving the issues, when compared to support for international conflicts.
That’s unfortunate, because the United States does spend an ungodly sum of money in developing and mobilizing the military, and the nation as a whole is very much aware of the foreign actions of America. What the nation is not so aware of, though, are the seemingly less significant, domestic issues. But while the issues as portrayed in the mass media may appear to be somehow less imminent or relevant than, say, a rampant terrorist group in the Middle East or death of 4 Americans in a disaster halfway around the world, internal, domestic issues matter. I would argue that healthcare and education, specifically, are more important than almost any other investment the nation could make. And yet, for the fault of the people or the fault of the media, stories and issues about education and healthcare are far from the most interesting and viral stories we come across in the news, and they get far less attention than the deserve. And more importantly, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to these internal issues as we need them to receive.
But there is a silver lining to this situation. In the status quo, the issue isn’t that the people of a community flat-out don’t care about the issues that matter most to them; rather, people like to discuss and support events in the issues that they see as most important to the rest of the community. The problem in this case originates from how people find and determine which issues to pay attention to and genuinely care about. Often times, because of the distortion of emphasis in the media, impactful developments in healthcare and education pass unnoticed by most. But if we can choose to actively talk about the state of education and the state of healthcare, and the many ways that both systems could be improved – if we made a conscious choice to listen to those issues that were previously out of our focus – and invest as much will and support into fixing those issues internal to our communities, I think it would make for a much more realistic, more responsible direction of our support and resources.
The media likes to talk about conflict. War on terrorism, war on drugs, battles between companies X and Y… But perhaps the real “wars” in which we should invest our effort is, at least in part, nearer to our homes than we thought.
If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy my next post, You are alone.
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