In its most simplistic sense everything we are being told, we are getting sold. So what happens when all the media you consume is so heavily biased towards keeping your attention that only the “spin doctored” survives? Let me frame it like this, in Paul Dolan’s brilliant book called Happiness by Design, he introduces with the following (xviii)
Your happiness is determined by how you allocate your attention. What you attend to drives your behaviour and it determines your happiness.
When I read this it seems fairly obvious that media, which is really a battleground for our attention, is going to deeply inform our state of being. So when the representation is fundamentally different from reality, what happens?
The negative cycle.
My previous blog on the Creative Singularity focused on the science around what happens when we believe that we are in a negative hole. So, I will summarise some of the genius of futurists Diamandis and Kotler’s book Abundance by reminding you that: our brains are pessimistic by design; good news is drowned out in “bleeding is leading” media, and our survival instinct limits out desire to climb out of the negative (p30 -33).
So that brings us to problem number two. The gap between marketing and our reality (and we can apply this to brands in every possible shape or form).
Yale’s J.M. Balkin wrote an insightful article called How Mass Media stimulate political transparency. He observes that, in TV especially,
It subjects culture to a Darwinian process: The less entertaining is weeded out, the more entertaining survives to be broadcast. Hence coverage of public events, politics, and even law must eventually conform to the requirements of ‘good television,’ that is, the kind of television that grabs and keeps viewers’ attention by absorbing and entertaining them (Balkin, 1998).
We in the media are so used to “selling” our brands – be they ideas, people, products or news – that we are poisoning the very font we want our audience to drink from. There is an ever-growing lack of trust in the public, and why shouldn’t there be? After all, our experience of the world is so vastly different from the marketed version of it. Compare the shot of any fast food restaurant burger with the plastic mulch that arrives. Where did the juicy, shiny version go? Oh wait, it existed once for a photo shoot, and was never seen again. Or, remember the 1990 movie Crazy People, where Dudley Moore had the advertising industry telling the truth with hilarious results.
The truth is, marketing’s relationship with the truth has become tenuous because it’s all just, well, marketing. And if everything is just spin, trust is eroded, and we are left with a very, very unhappy populace (oh, and this time I do mean very!)
So what is the cost when our “sale” doesn’t match reality?
The cost is Donald Trump. A man who claims he can kill someone and not lose a single voter?
Why? Because when millions upon millions of people are so fed up with the mis-match between the media and their personal reality that hearing even the most vitriolic “truth” becomes the refreshingly better option (oh yes, it’s Crazy People for politics). The cost is Hillary Clinton, where her being a the first female president can eclipse her terrible record of flip-flopping on core human rights issues (gay rights, Saudi Arabia, Gaddafi, war in the Middle East, big banks or watch John Stewart on Hilary). The message is clear; winning trumps principles.
We are losing because the race isn’t even about substance, it’s all just appearance.
Setting the record straight.
The really interesting thing about our escape into media “reality” is, in my view, because we as consumers are trying to avoid a very bitter pill. But here it is. Life is fucking hard. You didn’t get that memo? Well, let me be clear here. I am the strongest advocate for telling positive stories in the media because our perception does become reality. However, there is a vast difference between giving air time to the positive and selling the yarn that life is skipping through the buttercups holding the hands with some catalogue model.
Reclaiming our burdens
The Buddhist term of dukkha translates roughly to “suffering” or “distress”. But really it just points to the fact that nothing in life is easy, or permanent. And certainly not permanently easy! I am not going to segue into, but the hard stuff is worth it. Sometimes it’s not. Tim Lawrence’s blog has the most beautiful mediation on the complete bullshit of the statement, “everything happens for a reason” where he made the most profound of statements,
Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.
It’s hard! Work is hard. Success is almost impossible. Studying is hard. It’s mind-numbingly long and protracted and difficult. Our health is hard to maintain. Our relationships require constant hard work. And then there is death, and government and taxes and Donald Trump. It’s hard people!
The problem is if the media sells us on a belief that it’s not hard, then the discrepancy causes disappointment, hopelessness and a sense of failure. Nat Ware calls it the expectation gap.
The funny thing is, the moment you focus your attention on the fact: life is hard; rather than reducing happiness, we instantly remove the dissonance caused by our expectation for it not to be. Try it.
Brett Lotriet Best is the Founder & Creative Director of EdenRage Media, check out their Immersive Storytelling work at www.edenrage.tv.