Sunday, June 8, 2014

On "The Slenderman" Assault

One of the things I've learned in the last 30 years is that the medium might not actually be the message but different mediums have very real and decisive differences in effect.  Pretending that electronic media, TV and radio and movies, doesn't have a vastly greater potential effect than print or word of mouth, untransmitted, is irresponsible and dangerous.    Yet our judicial system has taken the easy way out by pretending that, for the most part, those real differences, demonstrated most compellingly by the use of despots and dictators to enslave, harm and murder enormous numbers of people in the 20th century, are not there, regulating media that have proven their vastly enhanced potency and potential  danger are essentially the same thing as a two or four page newspaper put out with an 18th century press and distributed by stage coach.   I believe that, in the period in which right-wing judges have abandoned the suppression of smut in favor of total "free speech-free press" libertarianism,  we have seen one part of the judiciary, the far right, use what was once a liberal ploy to its own ends, using it to attack and likely damage if not destroy government by, of and, most important of all FOR THE PEOPLE using a vocabulary given it by the ACLU and the financially invested champions of unrestricted, unfettered media.

But the internet was supposed to take care of that, it was supposed to make Every Man a reporter, editor, publisher, it was supposed to insure that all ideas are presented so that the right ideas, the best ideas, the most idealistic of ideas wins the struggle in which, by some magical thinking, the ideas that are optimally beneficial will inevitably defeat the worst ideas, the lies, slanders and salacious libels, the calls for hatred and violence, even the calls for committing genocide.

That idea is most stunningly uninformed.  It willfully ignores the history of the past century of electronic, mass media and its use by both industry and governments.  It is willfully blind to the fact that, if anything, mass communication can use the worst in us, the laziest in us, the most addicted to the easy sensations of the unthinking excitement of a lynch mob the pleasure of in-crowd enhancement of its identity by asserting its superiority to other groups, social, ethnic, racial, gender,  etc.

This post began in reading the online discussion of the story about the nearly successful murder of a 12-year-old girl by two other 12-year-old girls inspired by some idiotic scary online story, "The Slenderman" that has, as they say, gone viral, among a cult of online devotee to this malevolent make believe figure.   Slenderman seems exactly like the kind of "person" who would appeal to and inspire the actions of those already twisted by the unnamed sickness that such "viruses" can cause, as can the very real figures such as those Adam Lanza is reported to have found inspiring.   Among the online chatter I've seen about this some of the "thinking" about it is obviously an attempt to protect the imaginary "Slenderman" from blame in his role in inspiring the diseased thinking of 12-year-olds, who are reportedly going to be tried as adults.  Our libertarian society seems to be accepting a world in which children who have been led to sick fantasies by people older than they are, have fewer protections of their real status AS CHILDREN than an imaginary man.   Even the victim has been implicated in her own attack by questions as to whether or not she was involved in some childhood cult of Slenderman fans, perhaps attacked because she wanted out.

I don't see how this can continue.  The increasing effects of mass communication to twist socieites and governments can't be swept under the Constitutional rug forever.   Eventually people will gain the language to think about and discuss the horrors that those produce, the language to contradict the current language of speech-press libertarianism.  That is inevitable, because, if anything, the internet has shown it has the power to magnify those horrors.   Eventually this reality will change peoples' thinking and it will be used politically.  
Either liberals can keep carrying water for the commercial interests that have put the anti-liberal, libertarian lies about the great good of unrestrained, unrestricted electronic mass media in their minds or they can change that and control the outcome to both maintain the really important speech freedom, that which can enhance the common good.  Or it can, once again, allow the right, which has no interest in enhancing the common good, to manipulate things as they did in a line of rulings from Buckley v Valeo to Citizens United and onward.   Liberals have no right to be irresponsible in this issue, taking the lazy and easy route of free speech, free press absolutism.

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