Projeter la culture : le langage des moyens de communication
“How is it possible that Nixon won? I don’t know anyone who voted for him!” That’s how one famous journalist expressed his surprise after the presidential election of 1972 in the United States. Moving to the present, why do statistics show that while 50% of people in general practice their faith, the percentage plummets to 5% among those working in film and television? Shifting locale, in Italy the referendum regarding experimentation with embryos in June of 2005 enjoyed unanimous support among the means of communication. Why did a mere 25% of Italians choose to vote? Paradoxes of our era: though technology enables us to experience in real time any significant event on the planet, do we not perhaps sense a growing gap between the beliefs and opinions of citizens and those of the mass media?
The language of the media attempts to construct a “transparent” world where “what you see is all there is.” The rich complexity of human activity is replaced by instantaneous, concise and objective sound-bytes. Headlines, up-to-the-minute bulletins, sms... they burst violently into our lives uninvited, asking nothing more from us than an affective response, rarely a rational one. Instantaneity is the key word to the new culture created by communication technologies. But is what you see what is actually going on? A yet more incisive question: Are we being informed, saturated, or simply manipulated?
Understanding the language of media requires a radical mindset shift.
Those who wish to shape and influence culture need to study the media’s code and thoroughly comprehend its rules, and its possibilities and limitations. In a way, understanding the language of the media forms part of the rhetoric necessary for public discourse at the beginning of the 21st century.
Influencing culture also requires an adequate comprehension of the screens: the computer, the video game, the television, the cell phone... In addition to information, technology has enhanced interaction. Unprecedented possibilities have arisen for interactive social communication. The natural disasters in Indonesia and New Orleans constitute clear examples. International solidarity immediately gave rise to aid efforts and individual participation was eminent. We can feel proud.
The problem begins when these screens create a “fictitious world” – what some have called the “third environment,” – into which people retreat and isolate themselves, and from which they make vital decisions, leaving aside their real relations with family, friends and colleagues. It’s not surprising, given the way the film industry, for instance, promotes a new movie: the soundtrack is prepared for commercialization; the official movie web page is promoted and television ads abound; a videogame based on the film is marketed. All these platforms – music, Internet, TV, gaming -- influence the public, whether or not they see the movie, diffusing values that present a particular world view, and amount to a defense of certain behaviors and lifestyles.
The days following the death of John Paul II demonstrated how the news can create a cycle that acquires a life of its own. If they last long enough, these “news cycles” can turn into “historical moments”. In the events surrounding the change of papacy, we witnessed what some have called the “globalization of fascination,” which sparked unexpected reactions in all corners of the world. Nonetheless, the “news cycles” could be bad. What should be the focus of the media: to bombard the public with increasingly aggressive details or to calm people down? What road should we take with retransmissions of events like March 11 in Madrid or July 7 in London? Without a doubt, media organizations have to prepare for hypothetical adverse “news cycles” that require informative coverage, a retransmission that is always ultimately a valuation and response to the facts.
Despite the omnipresence of the media, personal communication continues to be key. Each person needs to decipher the lexicons of the enormous quantity of facts presented to him or her daily, not to mention attempt to communicate, to be heard and to relate to other people. Everyone is trying to make sense of it all, trying to find a key to the meaning of news stories. The meaning necessarily refers to something beyond the medium, some higher context. Communication between people continues to be decisive and indispensable. As spectators and surfers, as users of the means of communication, we need a formation that can enhance our critical-reasoning skills to sort through the avalanche of information. A constructive critical attitude depends on reason, on the effort to understand reality – what one sees and what one hears – without settling for momentary, superficial opinions. Developing a critical capacity requires study and a healthy openness to reality.
Studying the language of the media leads us to place reflection before reaction, formation before improvisation. A critique from the outside isn’t enough; what’s called for is a responsible participation in the communication industry.
A tale to end with: “It is said that once all the Virtues, the Sentiments and Passions of men got together to play hide-and-seek. Enthusiasm danced, followed by Euphoria, and Joy leaped about so much that she ended up convincing Apathy, who never cared much for the game. The first to hide was Laziness. Generosity almost lost, because every hiding spot found seemed perfect for the others. Egoism, on the other hand, found a very good place from the beginning: clean, ventilated, comfortable... and just for him. However, not everyone wanted to participate: Cowardice didn’t feel like chancing it, and Pride considered it a very stupid game (in reality he was bothered that it hadn't been his idea), and Truth preferred not to hide: “What for, if in the end they always find me?” The story continues, but it goes in a direction not relevant to our theme.
In 2004, in the penultimate audience John Paul II had with the UNIV Congress, he encouraged all to learn the languages useful for transmitting positive messages and introducing others in an attractive way to high and generous ideals. This task is the most urgent challenge to those who want to shape a new culture, and an essential part of this task is education in the responsible use and reading of the word, of narrative, of image, and of artistic creation.
La rencontre est aussi une occasion de connaître la ville de Rome, sur les trâces de l'histoire de l'Eglise dès les premiers siècles. Lire