The Magnifying Glass: How the Media Distracts Us From Real Issues

by October 15, 2013
filed under Activism, Entertainment

2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Pre-Show

On August 25, 2013, the VMA’s hit like a nuclear bomb. Magazines reacted with the appetite of rabid dogs smelling fresh meat. Twitter attacked, and the slut-shaming began. The Internet blew up. Viewer comments were relentless.

“Robin Thicke looked like a fat Beetlejuice.” “Miley Cyrus needed to undiscover her tongue. She treated her black backup dancers like props—I don’t think the phrase ‘racist twat’ would be out of place here.” “I mean, she doesn’t even have much to twerk in the first place.” “And isn’t Robin Thicke married, for God’s sake?”

The mothers of America were “just not impressed.”

Searching the web for “VMAs” on October 1 – over a month later – results in a Miley-centered article published less than 5 hours ago.

A young woman strutting around in her underwear is clearly a big deal. It’s not like we don’t see this in Victoria’s Secret commercials. We are obviously unaccustomed to such displays of hypersexualization.

Anyway, 4 days later, with the world reeling from Miley’s romp in that flesh-toned lingerie ensemble, Kim Jong Un’s ex-girlfriend, Hyon Song-wol, was executed by firing squad in North Korea.

She was killed along with 11 other members of the Unhasu Orchestra and Wangjaesan Light Music Band, for allegedly recording herself having sex and selling copies of the tape. Some of the other victims had been found possessing Bibles, and were therefore assumed to be enemies of the state. With the musicians executed, their families have been sent to concentration camps: They’re guilty by association.

The system of concentration camps in North Korea – clearly visible on Google maps – is extensive. An estimated 150,000 – 200,000 people are imprisoned in 6 main internment camps. Inmates are deemed untrustworthy or politically offensive.

At the UN Commission of Inquiry held in South Korea this August, defectors described conditions within the camps’ walls. The vast majority of prisoners are on the brink of starvation. In order to survive, people often eat frogs – rice is an impossibly rare, indescribable delicacy. When Shin Dong-hyuk, a former prisoner of Camp 14, dropped a sewing machine, guards punished him by severing his finger. Public executions are commonplace. Jee Heon-a described to the UN panel how a mother was forced to kill her own newborn child.

Kim Jong-Un, following in his father’s footsteps, has provoked world-wide anxiety with threats directed at the United States, Japan, South Korea, and even Australia.

So why are we talking about a 20-year-old humping a massive foam finger, again?

At some point ignorance becomes dangerous. If literally every person on earth was as obsessed with celebrities as Entertainment Tonight would like us to be, we’d find ourselves in a difficult situation. We’d be unaware of human rights violations – not only in North Korea, but in Syria, Myanmar, Egypt or here at home. We would be unprepared for travel, or engaging with other cultures. When we’re holding a magnifying glass to the life of Miley Cyrus, or the relationship between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, or whatever feud is happening on Big Brother, it’s easy to become caught in a little bubble separate from our own reality.

And it kind of makes sense why so many of us like it there. North Korea obviously isn’t the only nation with an incredible set of problems – and the media lets us know it. With Syrian residents living in the aftermath of a sarin gas attack, chilly relations between the United States and Iran, and a multitude of other frankly depressing current events, it’s understandable why we might prefer celebrity gossip over the gut-wrenching stories of our world.

Even though it’s sometimes disheartening, we are in fact a global community. Despite the meme, there is no safe, easy, or cheap way to not live on this planet anymore. Globalization is a thing. It’s not going away. Since businesses have begun developing on a world-wide spectrum, embracing globalization could lead to endless career opportunities. Plus, if we have a working knowledge of current events, we can practice forming opinions about things other than Miley’s unattractive hairstyles. These healthy opinions can spark interesting and engaging discussions between friends, family and coworkers. When we create intelligent arguments, it becomes easier to influence others, and to form groups capable of taking action.

We might even change the world.

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