Bathwater Barracuda

It was our privilege recently to spend some time in the beautiful coastal plain of Georgia, where, “…somehow my soul seems suddenly free from the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin, by the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.”

We took a meandering route far from the bigger cities and towns. Traveling the Interstates alone, you would never know that the biggest business in Georgia is still agriculture. You would never touch the soul of the state. Judging a place by a view from the “I” is like watching network news in order to understand people.

We love the Georgia coast for many of the same reasons we love the North Georgia mountains. The sky across a marsh is just as big as it is from the top of the mountain. The shade of a cypress in a bend of the river is as quiet and hidden as the deepest cove. The people feel the rhythms of the land first, and the clock second, just like they do here.

Our travels took us across the coastal plain and down the road to Brunswick, Georgia, where corporate news talkers and paid protesters have migrated from out of state to demonstrate the “rising tensions” emanating from the now famous trial taking place there. They’re camped out on the courthouse square or biding their time in motel rooms waiting for the opportunity to be seen on national and international news, feeding on the tragedy like barracuda on a fresh wound.

Away from the microphones, however, the residents of Brunswick and the surrounding area seem to have forgotten that they are supposed to be tense and worried. We spent a long lunch in a fine little Jamaican restaurant visiting with Chef George of the Jerk Shack, passing the time of day with some folks who, incidentally, happened to be black, and there was not one mention of the trial. It was a similar story everywhere we went – restaurants, shops, grocery stores, exhibits, or chatting with the person at the next gas pump. Black, white or purple, everyone we met was friendly, relaxed; no one seemed to care about the trial until we got within range of the cameras and microphones.

This is not a commentary on the merits of the trial which, though it has already been decided in the pixel universe, has not yet been adjudicated by the courts. This is not a suggestion that racism does not exist or that there is not plenty of room for improvement in the way people with different perspectives and life experiences relate to each other.

Rather, this is a statement about the toxic influence of corporate media, driven by the desire for profit and the promotion of political agendas, twisted into a warped version of reality that quite often stands in direct opposition to personal experience. In other words, if you haven’t been told that you’re tense and afraid, or if you just don’t believe it, you’re probably not going to get that way as a result of your daily interactions with people. But if you believe that you should be experiencing “rising tensions,” the chances are much greater that you will.

There was an expression commonly used when I was a child that seems fitting today for the pretentious “celebritocracy” which has anointed itself to be the image and the voice of American life. If someone was considered to be thoroughly full of themselves one might say, “He’s drunk too much of his own bath water.” Bathwater in the media is always at flood tide.

Occasionally there are signs that the public has grown weary of the endless parade of bathwater celebrities: politicians, pundits, experts, sports figures, talk show hosts and talking heads. Ratings have trended downward across the board for the perennial rituals of celebrities talking to celebrities about other celebrities, congratulating themselves and giving each other awards. Corporate media has responded with scores of “reality shows” that promote stereotypes and celebrate bad behavior, but there are so many that it’s difficult for any single show to capture a large share of viewers.

So media has doubled down by turning up the volume and the contrast, and fishing for an audience like a shrimp boat dragging a net through endless news cycles – and they’re not above chumming the waters. News is always breaking, but when something is fixed, we rarely hear about it. Everything is imminent. Everything is unprecedented. By keeping us in that narrow band between apprehension and emergency, corporate and political media accomplishes two things: Profit, and control.

Yet precious few of us ever stop to ask, “Why are they showing me this? Why is this important? Is it really important? Is this representative of a widespread trend or is this cherry picked to promote an agenda?

The trial in Brunswick is the final chapter of a tragedy. Cameras and microphones feed on tragedy today like barracuda feed on an open wound. We’ve seen it here in our own town. For someone who looks beyond the provocative headlines at information less newsworthy, like statistics, an appropriate question might be, is this event more important than other tragedies, or does it demand a bigger audience because it can be leveraged to promote a social/political agenda? When 50 people are shot in Chicago and most of the victims are black people, why isn’t the media camped out there to report about it?

Of course this is just one man’s opinion. Another man on another day might have had a very different experience than I had in Brunswick Georgia, over the course of several days, with a variety of people, in a number of neighborhoods and businesses among the very same “identities” that media claims divide us.

I stake no claims on the possession of the universal truth of this matter. But when it comes to personal truth and the information I choose to own, the information that guides my response to the events of this world and the people in it, I have to go with my own experience over the pixelated opinions of bathwater barracuda. Fortunately, there are no real barracuda in the marsh. Just don’t bleed anywhere near a camera.

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