- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club Information
- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Introduction
- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Chapter 1
- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Chapter 2
- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Chapter 3
- Ideas Have Consequences Book Club: Chapter 4
In this chapter, Weaver demonstrates that media today entombs us in Plato’s Cave — a dark hole with only a refracted, controlled picture of the world and people who cannot perceive truth.
The vested interests of our age, which, from all kinds of motives, desire to maintain traditional values or to get new values set up in their place, have constructed a wonderful machine, which we shall call the Great Stereopticon. It is the function of the machine to project selected pictures of life in the hope that what is seen will be imitated.
Our society is unified in a common culture today not through religion, as in premodern cultures, but through state-run education and through the channels of information and entertainment. Weaver claims the cultural unity from mass communication and information has a greater influence even than the schools. As someone who isn’t on Facebook, who doesn’t pay attention to the news, who doesn’t care about sports, and who doesn’t watch tv, and who hasn’t been to the theater in years, I certainly sympathize with his point. Turns out that often people don’t have much to say other than rehashing what they’ve been watching.
For the average reader [the media’s presentations] is a construct with a set of significances which he no more thinks of examining than did his pious forebear of the thirteenth century […] think of questioning [the church’s] cosmology.
Because Weaver was writing in the 40’s, his media is outdated, but his point still holds. He examines 3 outlets: newspapers, movies, and radio.
- Newspapers: News media thrives on conflict, and “are under strong pressure to distort in the interest of holding attention.” When I do listen to political news, I get the feeling most of it is really about stirring up false drama in order to get on the news for publicity’s sake. Indeed, Weaver comments on “public relations” departments being set up: “writers skilled in propaganda prepare the kids of stories those institutions wish to see circulated. […] It is easy, of course, to disguise such an office as a facility created to keep the public better informed, but this does not alter the fact that where interpretation counts, control of source is decisive.”
- Movies: Weaver cuts right to the heart of the problem of movies: “the beliefs with underlie virtually every movie story are precisely the ones which are hurrying us on to perdition. The entire globe is becoming imbued with the notion that there is something normative about the insane sort of life lived in New York.”
The thing that needs to be censored is not the length of the kisses but the egotistic, selfish, and self-flaunting hero; not the relative proportion of undraped breast but the flippant, vacuous-minded, and also egotistic heroine.
- Radio: Weaver discusses points about the radio that were a short-lived phenomena of WWII and what we now think of as “old timey” radio. Comparing his critique of radio with what radio is today made me wonder if some of our complaints about smart phone technology and the like won’t also be irrelevant in another generation. It’s new now, and it will take awhile to adjust, but the adjusting will happen. However, a few things about radio he had to say are part and parcel with the medium and not just a cultural use of them: “The radio is, last of all, a prime instrument for discouraging the thought of participation. It is the natural monopoly of communication. For turning whole populations into mute recipients of authoritative edicts, what better means could there be?
Underlying all media outlets is the foundation of publicity/popularity and advertising, which means the lowest common denominator and the easy answer will be catered to. They promote “the idea that the goal of life is happiness through comfort. It is a state of complacency supposed to ensure when the physical appetites have been well satisfied.” So we lose the assumption that life is about discipline and sacrifice and develop a strong antipathy toward abstract ideas. After all, the philosopher is “a notoriously poor consumer.” It is not a mode to be encouraged if our goal is an ever bigger and brighter economy.
My Commentary: On the Written Word
I want to address briefly Weaver’s bringing up of Plato’s distrust and dislike of written communication, in conjunction with Weaver’s quote: “Has the art of writing proved an unmixed blessing?”
I think this point has a quick and easy Christian answer that we should not forget. The answer doesn’t shut down the discussion, but it should influence it.
- There is no such thing as an unmixed blessing in a fallen world (except salvation).
- God chose written communication as the means for us to know Him long before Plato was born. Because of this, we know that any “Good Society” in this world will most definitely be dependent upon the written word.
How does that change the discussion? Or does it?