Verónica Pamoukaghlián

The Power of Banality: Did You Hear Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Split?

Donald Trump and Argentinean president Mauricio Macri are both millionaires whose political campaigns rely heavily on the concept that politicians are all corrupt and ideology is a sham. We need to cut through the noise and get real.

 

Globalization and over-connectedness have transformed us into constant, avid consumers of the “newest” and the “latest”—the latest iPhone, the new trending topic, fresh news. Elections are decided based on a strategy of media scandals created to obscure central discussions about the economy, education, and international politics.

About two weeks ago, a bombing in Syria left nearly two million people without access to running water. This humanitarian tragedy did not interest the individuals responsible for designing the cover of the Uruguayan newspaper El Pais, which didn’t grant the news a single line. Instead, the daily paper dedicated its cover page to the beginning of legal proceedings against the Vice President of Uruguay, who apparently lied about having obtained a university degree.

We live in the golden age of scandal. A scandal today has more power than a lifetime of honesty or a lifetime of corruption. As a Syrian mother held onto the remains of her son, buried under the rubble in Aleppo, millions of people devoured thousands of kilometers of meaningless words about the breakup between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Actually, there wasn’t much to say about the Hollywood pair’s split, but commentators from newspapers, blogs, and TV never tire of stirring the empty pot. Their creativity to spin the story—a private matter they know virtually nothing about—into new shocking headlines is truly amazing. But it is even more surprising that supposedly “serious” information is treated in the same way as show business gossip.

The day after the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I, like millions of people around the world, thirsted for content on the subject. On CNN, in one show after another, different commentators repeated the same ideas, often using the same words, and replaying the same fragments of the debate over and over. The topic had been exhausted within the first half hour, but willing consumers were at hand—I was one of them—and the machine had to keep feeding them.

Within this interweaving of sheer nothingness in which we are caught, both in the United States and in Latin America, a criminal complaint based on meager evidence, amplified to unimagined levels by the corporate media, played a key role in Argentina’s last presidential election. And the coverage of the first debate between Donald and Hillary, rather than focusing on the important issues, focused on the Trump’s possible cocaine addiction (based on his frequent sniffing) and the fact that he called one Miss Universe “Miss Piggy” after she gained some weight.

Public opinion is king. Public opinion wins or loses elections. Banalities and scandals engineered with the cunning of a Hollywood screenwriter serve to distract the masses from the really important issues and to steer them towards the opinion that is most functional to power.

Spokespeople for corporate power never tire of filling newspaper headlines with phrases like “all politicians are corrupt” or “politicians are all the same;” people who are interested in politics—smart, informed people—are the last thing corporate power needs. And then candidates decorate their campaign speeches with clichés and scripted stories about the “ordinary people” they have met on the campaign trail. “I will create jobs,” Donald Trump says, and it makes no difference if the strategies he proposes betray an utter ignorance of the most basic concepts about economy or industry. Meanwhile, Argentinean president Mauricio Macri, a millionaire from the cradle very much like Trump, is photographed on a bus in Buenos Aires, surrounded by extras, in order to appear more in touch with the commoners.

Important news, like the one about the two million Syrians left without running water, are relegated to the pages of the newspaper that nobody reads, the tiny headlines at the bottom of the Internet pages. What gets views, sells newspapers, and gets subscriptions, the absolute master of public opinion, are sensationalist stories, whether they deal with politicians or starlets. A comprehensive government plan, ideas, complex economical analyses, none of that is marketable. But if a candidate is caught being unfaithful to his partner or calling an opponent names, that can decide an election.

What the mainstream media says is often accepted as the absolute truth. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there, waiting for someone who will listen to all the voices, analyze the facts, and draw their own conclusions. 

For the second debate between Trump and Hillary, the bankruptcy specialist (he has filed bankruptcy at least six times) was expected to grill Hillary about her husband’s infidelity, and in spite of the scandal of the Access Hollywood tape, he fulfilled his promise by inviting Bill Clinton’s accusers to the debate hall. The media circus of the first round was the most watched presidential debate in the history of the United States. But surely the numbers will keep growing, with the promise that there will be blood, and that Trump and Clinton will go at each other’s throats, like two cheerleaders fighting over the favor of a handsome quarterback.

There are still people who are interested in ideas, but their numbers are dwindling. Newspaper headlines automatically become “the truth” and by the time evidence that they were false turns up, public opinion has moved on to another topic.

No one is interested in different opinions, multiple viewpoints. A clear example of this is Uruguay’s public opinion about the government of Cristina Kirchner. The vast majority of the Argentinean cable TV signals that reach Uruguay do not feature any pro-Kirchner stations, and Uruguayan newspapers usually follow their cues. As a result, most Uruguayans, regardless of their political affiliation, share the views expressed by the anti-Kirchner newspaper Clarin and its entire associated media.

What the mainstream media says is often accepted as the absolute truth. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there, waiting for someone who will listen to all the voices, analyze the facts, and draw their own conclusions. But that is no longer in fashion.

According to the Toronto Star, Trump lied 34 times during the first presidential debate (58 times according to hillaryclinton.com). However, even though Trump was cornered and had to resort to phrases like “I have a winning temperament” and most political analysts agreed that Clinton performed better, several audience polls hailed Trump as the “winner.” In the second debate, Trump acted like a spoiled brat to the point of threatening to throw Clinton in jail; his supporters, however, thought his performance was fabulous.

The many allegations of sexual assault by Trump that have come forward give us a glimpse of just how little interest hardcore supporters of this or that candidate have in learning the facts. When Trump implies in his speeches that he would never assault those women because they are not attractive enough, his crowd cheers.

Trump supporters watch TV stations that support Trump, Cristina Kirchner supporters watched (not anymore, because Macri took them off the air) shows that supported Cristina. News shows do not seek to inform, but to manipulate public opinion by way of biased sensationalism.

The only thing that can save us is independent thinking, informed critical thinking. Headlines are not enough; we have to read good articles, good books. Reading every single word of a newspaper whose political orientation we know only too well is not enough. In order to form an opinion about any issue, you need to read two or three different versions of the facts.

And the navel-gazing of American, Uruguayan, and Argentinean newspapers does not help us. You have to look at the cover of The Guardian or Le Monde occasionally, media from around the planet, to learn something about what is happening in the rest of the world. In spite of this bleak state of things, we must resist. And the only way to do that, the only weapon we have to fight the ever-growing monster of banality, is to keep THINKING.

 

 

Verónica Pamoukaghlián

Verónica Pamoukaghlián is an Armenian-Uruguayan writer and award-winning filmmaker. She is a literary translator at Amazon Publishing and a regular contributor for Lento (Uruguay), Brainblogger, and Africa Insider. Her poetry has appeared in The Southern Pacific Review, The Armenian Poetry Project, The Armenian Weekly, Words Fly Away (Fukushima Poetry Anthology), Prism, Naked Punch (London), Sentinel Literary Quarterly (London), Poesia en el subte Anthology (Argentina), Arabesques Review. Short fiction in Book Lovers (Seal Press 2014) and the SEAF Literary Anthology 2014 (Seattle). Essays have appeared on The Acentos Review, Naked Punch and elsewhere.

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