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A Failure to Communicate
–by Sana Amanat | March 05, 2007

Photo credit: wannabehipster

Last Sunday evening, a singer and a politician walked away with the highest achievement in the movie industry. And no one was in the least bit surprised. Jennifer Hudson delivered a stellar performance that created such an Oscar buzz, that we almost forgot that America’s most beloved diva, Ms. Beyoncé Knowles, was technically the lead role. “An Inconvenient Truth” has gone beyond its confines of a low-budget documentary and has gained blockbuster heights, making global warming an urgent reality to be dealt with. Ellen DeGeneres started the evening out with a bang, when she stated the irony of America’s democratic process. “America didn’t vote for Jennifer Hudson on American Idol and she’s here tonight with an Oscar nomination… And America didn’t vote for Al Gore and he’s also here tonight.” Laughter ensued, appropriately so, and with that comical critique of our country’s voting abilities, I realized how important it is for America to change its communication abilities.

We’ve entered an era where communication has been digitalized and our access to information is only as far as our nearest keyboard. Maybe it’s because our attention span is limited these days, or maybe it’s because the media has catered to such a fast-paced lifestyle – but again, it’s the a “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” sort of question. In a world where our morning cup of coffee can be texted to our local café, lest we wait those seven minutes in line, we gain our information in the same way – in a rush. We want to know as much as possible, in as little time as possible, which causes two things: 1) we get a superficial understanding of the world and 2) in order to capture our attention, the media feeds us what we want – a superficial understanding of the world. This topical analysis is what makes this society so isolated from the globe. The American way of life may affect the rest of the world, but we aren’t affected by them, unless of course we get bombed. Then we get angry, and bomb back, and fuel our news sources with information that justifies our government’s actions, and ultimately encourages the masses to have a pro-war mentality.

Photo credit: michale

But I digress. This isn’t about America’s war, or America’s ignorance per se. It is the role that communication plays in our country’s education. Much of what we know in the world, we see on television, online, in a movie, or in a documentary, if it’s publicized enough (thank you Al Gore). And that isn’t a bad thing. We just have to adjust our efforts in making sure that this media-generated output is responsible for its content. We’ve so often touted the importance of “freedom of speech” that we’ve violated another important right: “speech with responsibility” It’s everywhere we look. Take a recent news article in AsianWeek from, Kenneth Eng, which espouses his justifications on hating blacks. Is he serious? Granted, it wasn’t printed in a mainstream newspaper, but even one person reading his malicious comments can be enough to cause a trickling effect of miseducation—and that is far worse than a lack of education. Editorial extremes like Bill O’Reilly or Lou Dobbs have blighted the image of serious journalism, giving more attention to biased opinions than real facts. Of course, this is all in the effort to sensationalize the news, and increase ratings. But we’re also reporting on events that really, don’t matter. Who’s Anna’s baby’s daddy? Why is Britney Spears shaving her head? No, it doesn’t immediately affect us, it’s just entertaining, but it also takes up time from reporting real news – did anyone know that allegedly Jesus’ bones were found? I think that would be some interesting news to report about. I found the above info on a random news site, but CNN’s Latest News Headlines, however, did inform me that Anna Nicole’s casket had been finally moved to the grave. Well, now I can rest.

Photo credit: willgame

So not only do we want news in a rush, we want it to be entertaining, moving, and powerful all at once. Some time ago, I had a conversation with my brother where he was convincing me to move out of journalism and into screen-writing as a profession. He told me something that a colleague of his had mentioned to him – our children’s education has moved out of the classrooms and into the living room; MTV is the new PH.D, and movies a mere portal to higher learning. As I watched Al Gore walk away with an Oscar, I recalled again what my brother had told me, and watched in amazement as I realized the direction our country’s media had to head into. If a politician is reporting news through movies, and reporters are delivering drama through the news, then there’s a glitch somewhere we need to fix. A former Vice President, had won an Oscar, and not because of his acting abilities, but because of his efforts to communicate a worthy issue, in a detailed and moving format – film. Last year, “Crash” – an edifying drama about the underlying racism in this country – won Best Picture. I wonder then, will our media outlets follow suit? People are changing; technology is changing, so information output should be accommodating to that. Perhaps movies, documentaries and short films, are the future of the media—as long as they have the facts right, give all the details, and never give in to biased interpretations. If sensationalized news is what we pay attention to, then change the format in which news is delivered. It will entertain, move, and at the very least, make people think about the world differently. But whatever the format, the end result is clear: the media are the new teachers of America, and miseducated teachers churn out miseducated children. It’s time our teachers, go back to school, and start giving us the real facts, the right facts, the truth. And to that statement, I will, appropriately, close with this quote from a movie:

The gunfire around us makes it hard to hear.
But the human voice is different from other sounds.
It can be heard over noises that bury everything else –
Even when it’s just a whisper.
Even the lowest whisper can be heard over armies –
When it’s telling the truth

The Interpreter. Universal Pictures, 2005


Sana, 24, is a graduate of Barnard College with a Bachelors degree in Political Science, concentrating in Middle Eastern studies. She has worked in advertising and marketing for TIME and RAVE Magazines, and is currently a freelance writer in New York City.

The views and opinions expressed in these comments do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The CulturalConnect.


March 11, 2007, 11:20:30
Viali This article gets props from me. The media is such a powerful tool for education. However, used in the wrong way it’s equally efficient for miseducation. Rationally, I don’t believe the situation can ever change though. The media is just another aspect of this world which is under the influence of two opposing forces. I do believe it’s a journalism war: on one side you’ve got malevolent pens and on the other benevolent pens (like the one that wrote this article). It comes down to deciding what you believe in and fighting for those beliefs.

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