Unplugging yourself from media for the masses

This adjustment to your life style may produce more benefit than any other aspect of a Buddhist life, for instance, more than an intensive daily meditation practice. Though little mentioned in the early discourses, in the modern context this is huge.

Modern culture was devastated by two parallel developments in the twentieth century that working together have magnified the power of government and corporations to shape the popular culture in harmful directions: mass media and the public relations/marketing industry. Supplementing print media at the turn of the century came radio, moving pictures and the gramophone, television, video games and home video, and all of the various forms of access and intrusion explosively afforded by the Internet. On the foundation of modern psychology around the turn of the century, which discovered the irrational underbelly of human motivation, came the public relations industry, successfully wielded in the interests of mass government propaganda in the United States to sell US involvement in World War One and in Germany to elicit support for the Nazi Party and its plans, all the while selling everywhere increasing numbers of the products of ever expanding industrial production. Today, children spend more time each day wired to the devises of mass media than they spend in school, certainly far more than they spend in interaction with their parents, and for parents, often of less leisure, it is not much better.

I call these developments devastating because they have overwhelmed the highest values and ideals of civilization and of the religious life, things like frugality and restraint, intellectual curiosity and kindness, to create efficient producers, consumers and supporters of the current corporate/state agenda. The means by which this has been done is particularly alarming from a Buddhist perspective, because of its unconscionable appeal to the basest human impulses of greed, hatred and delusion. Consumers of entertainment witness thousands of violent deaths each year and are vulnerable to tens of thousands of ads promoting junk food, unnecessary gadgets, useless cures and means of self-gratification and self-enhancement, all the while being sucked into a ruthlessly competitive and intolerant world in which they learn that violence is solution to every difficulty and stuff and wealth are the means of salvation. What is more, this system of mass manipulation is motivated itself primarily by greed for profits – Bitter seeds produce bitter fruits. – and overwhelms the quiet voices of wisdom and compassion – parents, village elders, the wise, teachers, clergy and monastics – that under other circumstances would be expected to uphold the purest values and ideals of the culture.

It is incumbent on all who wish to live a Buddhist life to live apart from these toxic influences of mass marketing/public relations. Here are some suggestions to adopt in whole or in part:

  • Never watch or read an ad. If you are watching TV and an ad comes on, mute the volume until the danger has passed. If an ad pops up on your computer hit the “back” button, quick. Be ready to take cover under a large cushion if all else fails.
  • Don’t own a TV, or if you do, use it very sparingly to watch commercial-free programs.
  • If you are a sports fan, go to games personally in your community, support the local high-school team, rather than catching professional sports between ads on TV.
  • Find reliable non-commercial news sources on the Internet (commercial sources are rarely reliable in any case). Find real journalism rather than hate- or greed inspired punditry.
  • View movies and other shows of social, spiritual or intellectual merit. Avoid mindless shows, such as those that convey celebrity gossip. Ask, does this entertainment option endorse anger or violence or class-consciousness, or does it promote kindness, open-mindedness, non-violence? What are its values? You will find at least 90% of the options lacking, but there are uplifting options out there. Documentaries are often good options.

 

The challenges of this regime are that most of us have media addictions and routines. Certain TV personalities become like personal friends or family, certain sports stars the same. We also expend a lot of time in front of the screen, often accustomed and deserved downtime, and the alternative ways of killing that time are less familiar or less enticing, alternatives like reading, conversation, star-gazing, macramé or board games. Also, adopting this regime generally requires the cooperation of family members or roommates. But, hey, we make sacrifices to maintain a consistent meditation practice as well.

7 Responses to “Unplugging yourself from media for the masses”

  1. Evan R. Murphy Says:

    Sage advice! Thanks for the reminder!

  2. M. Kumar Sagar Says:

    Namaste Venerable Sir,

    I hope this finds you in good health and high spirits. I tried to read this blog and realized that it is blocked here in China, where I arrived 2 days ago for a Buddhist Pilgrimage!

    I trust you have received my invitations to see the Fiji, NZ, and Bodhinyana Monastery (Ajahn Brahm) in Australia albums on Picasa.

    With deep respects and metta,

    Mahendra

  3. Randy Says:

    Very well put. Disengaging from the hypnotic trance that masks the realities of personal experience and ‘real time’ interaction with the world (note: one can of course take a non-dualistic view and reflect that it is more a matter of recognizing the ‘identity’ that is self/world but gee…) – where was I? Ah! Yes! It seems ‘the’ point of Buddhism is ‘realizing’ what is there once the veil is pulled away and certainly most of us have a long way to go from the superficial surface of experience that comprises most of our conscious experience to the reality that lies so many, many… levels beneath.

    Assuming of course we are not having a ‘hell’ of a ‘good’ time on the surface.

    On…

    The surface.

    Thanks for the post.

    Randy.

  4. bhikkhucintita Says:

    Hi, Randy. Come visit some time. Our first problem is the we are having a ‘hell’ of a ‘good’ time on the surface, that is, we think we are, and therefore have little incentive to peek past the veil at all.

  5. Ross David H Says:

    I believe in the analogy of “TV is to boredom as anaesthetic is to pain”. Boredom, like pain, is something a healthy person feels from time to time, and it tells you that something is wrong you should fix (in this case, do something productive). Having TV near at hand is about like having a large stash of anaesthetics always at hand, and using them instead of taking the thorn out of your side or going to the doctor when you feel pain.

    Of course, some people DO need anaesthetics on a regular basis, but that should be an unusual case. Having a TV in your home ought to be as rare.

    I have noticed (both with family and friends) that people are quite willing to hear criticism of the prevalence of cell phones or Facebook, but quite resistant to the idea of giving up TV, which I think means it is a much more addictive medium. Unfortunately, I haven’t figured out a way to convince my wife or daughter of this yet! So we have a “TV room” that I rarely enter. Maybe I’ll show them your blog post, it might help if I’m not the only one they’ve heard of saying to do without one…

    • bhikkhucintita Says:

      Hi, Ross. The Buddha has an apt if rather graphic simile for what you are talking about: the man with leprosy who gets temporary relief by cauterizing his affected hands over hot coals but only makes his condition worse. Mindless TV is like that. Try that one out on C and J.

  6. Suranganie Dayaratne Says:

    I totally agree with you. No more values exist today, due to this dangerous tool, which comes as a good friend to our homes, and at the end, ruin the peace, good companionship and relationship among family members and friends, as all are addicted, like those who have consumed over doze of dangerous drugs.

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