So, I’m bored on a Saturday morning. Should be exercising. Instead, I’m channel surfing, and I stumble on the movie “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead” (2007.)
I am SO not recommending this film. But I do have to give it high marks for Bad Horror Film Providing A Stage For Apt, Timely Social Commentary. Specifically, Mr. Romero revisits the recipe of his cult classic “Night of the Living Dead” (now that’s a great horror movie!) so he can critically investigate this modern world of media, instant and continuous communication of banality, ready delusion, self-flattery and paranoia.
Perhaps today Romero would include the most recent media metastasis: The Fake News.
Put simply, living an actual human life and authentically participating in actual, authentic relationships is NOT the same as obsessive, voyeuristic peeping of media feeds or near-compulsive, exhibitionist recording and exposing of … everything. Anything. And the latter is changing us. In some disturbing ways.
Thomas de Zengotita describes this cultural phenomena sans zombies in his 2005 book “Mediated.” We more and more play-act our lives rather than live our lives, he says. We have less and less ability or even particular need to note the difference between reality and virtual reality.
It is one thing not to know the difference between truth and untruth. It is another thing entirely not to care about the difference (see the 2016 Presidential Election.)
Back to Romero’s movie …
As zombies lurch around eating everyone, male protagonist Jason faithfully and courageously stands guard over his recharging video camera. Romero means for us, I presume, to argue backwards from there regarding our emerging dystopian values. Later, female protagonist Debra, Jason’s girlfriend, dares to be angry with Jason for filming the mayhem as opposed to doing something useful about it.
Debra, again I presume, is the depiction of a cultural artifact. To wit: a human being with actual, moral expectations of self and others.
As the credits roll, Debra narrates: “The more voices there are, the more spin there is. The truth becomes that much harder to find. In the end, it’s all just noise.”
You just don’t expect gripping profundity popping out of the middle of a cheesy horror film. And it pushes me over the edge. I can’t dodge this any longer. Pornography is no longer the most obscene consequence of the Age of Media and Internet. Shameless self-importance combined with willing delusion wins the prize.
Take blogging, for example. Blogging is all the rage. Everyone has a voice. About everything, it turns out. Everyone has something to say. Everyone should be heard. All the time, in fact. And it’s worse than “just noise.” It’s mind-numbing. Exhausting. I keep feeling like I’m trapped in my Aunt Edna’s living room, forced to watch 106 Kodak Carousel racks of slides from their trip to the Holy Land.
Okay, I admit I don’t have an Aunt Edna, but, wanna know a secret? None of us is a uniquely fascinating human being in our day-to-day personal lives. Funny thing, I don’t know when or how this got to be a secret. It was once common knowledge that human beings are rather ordinary.
But the Age of Media changed all that. It’s not enough that your heart is filled with joy because your first-born took his first steps. No. You gotta upload it on YouTube, because it never occurs to you that homo sapien has been bipedaling for a long, long time. It’s a great personal moment, yes; but not a particularly compelling collective moment.
See, if you keep feeding your children, that’s what they do. They stand upright and walk. Later, they ask for money. Film that and put it on YouTube.
Another radical observation: While it’s true that everyone has a voice, it’s NOT true that everyone has something to say. And no one has something significant to say about everything. I’m saying, for example, just because John Lennon was a brilliant song-writer in the best band ever doesn’t automatically qualify him to comment on the Viet Nam war.
And that’s the point, of course. There are no qualifications, and zero personal shame about not having any.
Last fall, “ABC’s 20/20: In An Instant” tapped a former patient of mine for an episode. She asked me to be a part of the story. On camera.
I paused. Hmm. Hers is an utterly heroic, human story. It has the potential to encourage and inspire. Yet, how might this profoundly human story be marred, distorted or exploited were it to be intruded upon and interpreted by the media?
I said yes. After several hours of filming, I got the distinct impression the director was hoping I’d become emotional. That I would cry.
Right on cue.
(Steven Kalas is a Nevaea therapist, author and Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune. You can write him at email@example.com.)