“Those who say that the media and our political leaders are out of touch with the ‘real’ America have a point.” Thus begins Stuart Muszynski in his fascinating article on the Huffington Post called “Taking America Down the Rabbit Hole”. Muszynski (who runs “Purpe America“, a really cool educational organization that explores America’s values) claims that the news media has become a form of violent entertainment by “framing everything [in politics] as a fight.” This pattern of violence infects more than the news media, of course. Muszynski says it permeates much of our television airwaves and he specifically holds “reality” TV responsible for its use of violence. He tells a story of someone who works for a non-profit that raises money for an “important and worthwhile cause.” According to this person, the co-chairs of the non-profit “have been increasingly disagreeable, catty and outright, publicly mean.” Muszynskin explains the behavior by stating that it turns out “they’ve been watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
This violence has real effects on our culture, according to Muszynski. He warns that “Our children and even adults replicate the language and actions they see on TV, on the Internet and in the newspaper.” From a mimetic theory perspective, this is fascinating because of its truth about human nature. As I read the first five paragraphs, I kept thinking:
“C’MON! SAY MIMETIC THEORY!!!”
Then came the sixth paragraph. “It’s human nature to mimic what we frequently see.” Exactly. But there is something missing from Muszynski’s analysis. He’s right that we humans are mimetic, or imitative, creatures. And it’s easy to see how the news media often frames political debates as a violent battle between gladiators, and how politicians frequently fall into the trap of demonizing one another. The problem, though, is that this pattern of violence is much bigger than the news media or politicians. In fact, when we blame the news media, television, and politicians for their violent rhetoric, we usually do so using violent rhetoric in return. Muszynski says that current American political conversations are not sustainable. “By vilifying one side over the other and turning everything into a fight, public policies become intense wars that will be reversed once the other side comes to power.” I appreciate the truth in that statement, however, I can’t help but think Muszynski is mimicking that fight. His solution to the vilifying in media and politics is to vilify the media and politics. The final paragraph of his article is evidence to my point. The way to fight the corrupt power in American culture is through … yup, you guessed it, power. “So let’s demand art, politics and citizenship that reflect the values and goodness of America and spur us to be our best.”
Now, I want America to be a more peaceful place and I agree that the escalating, combative rhetoric in politics and on television is a problem for American culture. But I disagree with Muszynski’s solution. Demanding that “art, politics and citizenship reflect the values and goodness of American” and vilifying the news media and politicians is simply another form of violent rhetoric, which is exactly what he is critiquing. Violence, even violent language that seeks peace, breeds more violence.
What’s the way out of this cycle? One of the first steps in transforming our pattern of violence is to acknowledge that we all (even good, peaceful people) fall into the “rabbit hole of violence.” We all have our scapegoats that we enjoy vilifying. Acknowledging this truth about human nature leads us to the next step, which is transforming the pattern of violence into a pattern of forgiveness. Only through forgiving ourselves and others can we begin climbing out of the rabbit hole.